The contagious and lasting nature of joy: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

joyToday we celebrate Gaudate Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. Today’s color is rose—a mix between the Advent purple and Christmas white. The rose is a reminder we are getting there, we are happily on our way. And we rejoice because we know where we are going. To Bethlehem.

I want to offer a few random thoughts on joy.

1. First, there is something contagious about joy. There is a wonderful video on Youtube of a subway filled with strangers. A guy goes into it and just starts laughing. At first, everyone dismisses him and ignores him. Then some others start to chuckle. Then, after a minute or so, the whole train is filled with laughter. It is a beautiful video. It makes me think about the contagious nature of joy. In the gospels, we always see people happier after having been around Jesus. They feel acknowledged, recognized, loved, healed. Jesus is inside us, and so people should be happier because we’re around. I will say that again. People should be happier because we’re around.  Our houses, families, classrooms, workplaces, circles of friends, neighborhoods–should all be happier for having us as a part of them.

You know I was in Haiti and stuck there several days because of the hurricane. My brother, from Ohio, found us a way to jump across some islands and get home. Fred Harris, who was part of the group, was so happy he wanted to get my brother a gift to show his appreciation. He got him a gift card for ChickFilA to give to him. You may know I love Chickfila. The card never made it to my brother. But I do have a conscience, so I told my brother. He asked if I had written a thank you note. I told him to take care of that and to just put in there, “MY brother enjoyed the Chickfila very much. His joy is my joy.” You know, we should take joy in one another’s joy. It is because it is contagious, life giving.

2. My second thought about joy is this. Sometimes joy is easy. For example, I’ve had a great week this past week. We had our Christmas program at school. I’ve been to Christmas parties, priest gatherings, and dinners, my family was town, we’ve won a lot of games, I had a great birthday and figure I got about 300 hugs that day. My goodness God is good. Sometimes joy is easy.

But sometimes it takes work to be joyful, to “lift up our hearts” as we say at Mass. Like when we lose the game, when things don’t go our way, when we lose a loved one, when a relationship ends, when the lands don’t produce anything like in our readings. Yet God commands us in the scriptures (Philippians) to “rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: Rejoice!” He commands it! So it must be possible. Here’s the thing: our joy is in the Lord, not in passing things that brings great happiness or deep sadness. Our joy is in Jesus! I asked my nephew Adam who is 5 what I should say about joy today. He said, “Tell them to be happy.” I said, “But how can we always we happy?” He said, “Because God loves us!” That’s it folks! We can always rejoice in the Lord, because he is always there and he cares.

Here’s an example. Msgr and I go to the hospital to be with folks all the time. I’ve been there many times lately. When I’m standing there with families as they watch their loved one fade away, I am not in a “happy happy joy joy” kind of mood. But I still would say that I have a joy. Because we have the Lord! Because his resurrection! Our joy is in something deeper than a fleeting emotion. It would be a shame to reduce our faith to our human highs and lows.

On a related note, I gave a talk this past week to our Daughters of Mary. The question came up: are there tears in heaven? My instinct is to say yes, that Mary and Jesus and everybody in heaven cries—not in sadness, but in love and concern for us. We know Jesus wept over Jerusalem at the lost souls. We know of the seven sorrows of Mary. So I said yes: there are tears in heaven. Pope Francis talks about how we should pray for the “gift of tears.” But then I got to thinking about how Revelation talks about how, in the end, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But then I realized that of course is speaking about the Second Coming (the rapture) and not simply heaven as it is now. I kept going back and forth this week. So I called up a nun friend of mine. We were talking about this and I said, “So what do you think?” She said, “How could it not be so? How could there not be tears in heaven?” I said, “Well, I suppose the argument against it is that we know that heaven is a place of perfection.” She said, “But Father Michael, tears are not an imperfection.” Boom! Tears make us what we are: human. And Mary and Jesus were perfectly human and remain so. Point being: I think that in heaven there are tears, and maybe a tinge of sadness here and there that stems from fierce love of those below. But I believe there is also an even deeper and more enduring kind of happiness and joy there, one that never fades or dims, one that will remain unaffected by any sort of mood swing, etc.

Last thing: Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of life and the unborn. She said to Juan Diego, a little peasant: “Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy?” Our dear mother is the fountain of our joy. We will have many celebrations here: Last Mananitas at 5am, breakfast afterwards, school Mass in Spanish, Mass at 6pm in Spanish, and big party after that. If you don’t speak Spanish, that’s OK: God does. Come and celebrate!

Let us thank God for our contagious joy, for our lasting joy, and for our Mother who gives it to us.