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Rejoice!

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Rejoice!

It’s winter.  The days are short, we sport jumpers, hats, gloves, scarves.  We eat casseroles and root veg.  We don’t mow the lawn or play outside after dinner.  Just as we move and change with nature’s seasons, so too do we move and change with the liturgical seasons.  We feast when the Church feasts; fast when she fasts.  This Sunday we are rejoicing – just look at our Entrance Antiphon:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  The Lord is near.

It’s sometimes hard, though, isn’t it, to bend the heart to the liturgical season if our hearts are somewhere else?  How can we rejoice if we’re submerged in grief?  Perhaps you’re not feeling happy at the moment.  Perhaps this command to rejoice seems as impossible as a command to fly.  It would be wonderful to feel more joyful, wouldn’t it?  Perhaps if we take a few moments to understand just what joy is, and to look a little deeper inside, we might just find some. Joy is not the same as happiness.

Our translation of Philippians 4:4-7 that forms our second reading on Sunday translates St Paul as commanding the Philippians, ‘always be happy in the Lord’.  Other translations (even the Good News!) use ‘rejoice’ rather than ‘be happy’.  I’m not a Hebrew scholar, so I don’t know why the Jerusalem Bible is translated that way.  Etymologically speaking, joy and happiness are not even distant cousins.  Joy is deep-seated and lasting; a much more profound thing than happiness.  Happiness is here today, gone tomorrow, back the day after.  By way of analogy, think of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4ff), who misunderstands what Jesus is offering her when he says he can give her water such that she will never thirst again.  Happiness is to joy what normal water is to Jesus’ living water. Joy is a fruit of the spirit.  Let’s look at the other fruits of the spirit.  St. Paul kindly lists them for us in his letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

To understand how joy fits into that list, let’s just take it out for a moment, and leave it to one side.  Look at the other fruits: love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Look back over your day for evidence of you using those fruits.  I bet you’ve used the lot.  I know I have – not perfectly and I don’t suppose anyone else noticed, but I know I have.  These fruits of the spirit underpin our works of charity (however tiny) and form the attitude in which they are done.  You can make a cup of tea for someone lovingly or grudgingly.  You can wait for the learner who stalled as the lights changed patiently or impatiently. You can forgive and be at peace, or harbour resentment and fume.  So what about joy, then?  Looking at ourselves like that, do we see joy playing its part in our lives?

If it’s not obvious, that’s because we are so used to it, we don’t even notice its presence. When we fail to be true to love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control, we notice – that’s conscience for you.  But what about when we fail to be joyful?  Do we notice?  How can we tell?  I’m poorly today and not feeling overwhelmingly happy.  Does that mean I’m failing to be true to the fruit of the spirit that is joy?  No, I don’t think it does, because that long-term, deep-seated Christian joy is still there and even today, despite my cough & cold, I have seen it at work. To find joy, I can only suggest that you look inside.  If you’re struggling to see it, ask the one who put it there to help you look: ask the Holy Spirit.  Once you’ve found it, ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more aware of the joy that is within you and rejoice, for the Lord is near.

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