Today I shared in a joyful event in the life of our parish when I stood together with a man and woman before God so that they could unite themselves in the bond of holy matrimony. I rejoice with them as they begin a new life together as I do every time I am able to help bring the grace of God more deeply and fully into the lives of His people.
Our way of life in the Church as God's chosen people is to be one full of joy. What is joy? Joy is the happiness of God: full to overflowing, complete in satisfaction, eternal in endurance and indestructible in the face of every power in heaven, on earth and under the earth.
We have been created by God for the purpose of sharing His life and light so as to share His joy and love.
But there is one thing necessary before this can become possible for us: Jesus Christ. The incarnate Lord for whose birth into the world we prepare in these days of Advent is the only one who can bring joy into our lives. And for this to happen we must first accept Him for who He is: Jesus is the Savior. We are sinners and He is the sole Savior of the world and thus the only one who can overcome and defeat the power of sin and darkness in our lives. When this happens we are able to share in the power of His joy.
There are, tragically, some for whom the Church is not associated with the joy of the Lord. The lives damaged and wounded by moments of the deep darkness of sin, which brings the opposite of joy into the lives of innocent believers, have been and continue to be cataloged well by the media through such sources as the internet. We mourn for persons so sinned against and we also repent for any part we may have played in alienating anyone from the presence of Christ the Lord in His Church. At the same time we continue to proclaim the truth that only the Lord Himself is the true source of real healing and love which restores Faith and the joy which is its fruit.
All of us know the darkness of sin which destroys the true joy which comes only through the holy freedom restored by Christ's redemption. Practical steps are necessary in order to begin, or to continue, the conversion away from sin which only will enable us to begin to taste the freedom of the Lord which brings authentic joy to every human person.
The first and greatest day for rejoicing is the Lord's Day, the weekly celebration of the Resurrection, fruit of the Savior's Passion and death on the Cross. Jesus Christ comes in Person, through His Church in the celebration of holy Mass, to "bring glad tidings" of Resurrection and the redemption from darkness and sin which it makes possible.
"On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body" (CIC, can. 1247). (CCC 2193)
By shunning such work or shopping as we are able we are thus freed to obey the command of God to keep holy the Lord's Day. Only Jesus is holy. Only in the Mass do we have the fullness of the Lord in Word and Sacrament. Thus, only by participation in the liturgy of the Eucharist do we truly keep the Lord's Day holy as commanded by God.
That our joy may be more and more complete, we grow in the habit of shunning any commitments which would hinder us from Sunday worship. In this way we avoid treating God casually, as a mere accessory to life and in a way unworthy of those who in Baptism have committed themselves to worshiping God in Spirit and in truth.
God's desire to share His joy is expressed most powerfully in the self-giving of the Lord really and truly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Communion of the Mass. He gives Himself thus to build up the graces of our Baptismal identity, to fill us with His joy to overflowing.
If, as part of our self-examination in preparation for receiving the Lord in this fullest manner in Communion, we become aware that we have consented through our own fault to the sadness of serious or mortal sin we abstain from Communion. We do this so that we may not commit the additional sin of sacrilege by receiving the Lord unworthily. We firmly resolve, rather, to receive the sacrament of Confession at the earliest opportunity so that we might meet and receive Him very soon again with the joy of the heart which knows it runs to meet the Lord whom it loves.
Unfortunately, for many, attendance at holy Mass and reception of Communion have been conflated into one reality: many today automatically go to Communion at Mass on Sunday rather than exercising the discernment which respects the separate consideration they deserve: we attend Mass to keep the Lord's Day holy in obedience to the law of God, but we receive Communion for the increase of the state of grace. If we are not in a state of grace at Mass we cannot return to that state by a mechanical or unthinking reception of Communion while in a state of mortal sin. We, rather, only commit a second mortal sin: that of sacrilege. No, the sacrament of Confession is always necessary under normal circumstances before receiving the Holy Eucharist again after committing a mortal sin, such as omitting to attend holy Mass on Sunday for a less than grave reason.
Jesus Christ is the sole Savior. If we are to be saved He must become more and more the center of our lives. As we grow in this Spirit of ready and generous love, characterized by a self-giving which imitates Him, we share more deeply in the joy of the Lord as His beloved people.
In other practical ways we "put on Christ" so as to receive Him with joy:
"To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest." (CCC 1387)
By praying, singing and worshiping as one, with His holy Body the Church at Mass, we follow the sure route to greater love for the Lord and authentic joy in Him.
On this "Gaudete", or "Rejoice", Sunday let us ask the Lord for more and more of the gift of joy which only He can give!