Today is the traditional Gaudete Sunday; gaudete means rejoice! We also celebrate this on the third Sunday of Lent.
This is a reminder that in the midst of our preparations and penitence for the two great feasts of Christianity, Christmas and Easter, we must not lose sight of the fact that ours is a faith of joy. Rejoice because Christ has won for us our eternal freedom.
This Sunday’s first two readings proclaim joy—one of the central Christian graces and virtues. Fr. Hans Kung, S.J. has a thought-provoking line that opens a chapter, “Joy in Life,” in one of his books: “Trust in life is good, joy in life is better.”
Two months ago, a friend of mine shared one point from a lecture she had attended. The speaker said that from age 1 to 7, one must not really worry about teaching kids religion, because they are religion.
This was striking, and I realized how true it is. Children of that age are unadulterated faith and joy personified.
In the same book, Fr. Kung points out that there are three things that animate our life and relationship with God: trust, joy and meaning. Trust in life is good, joy in life is better and finding meaning is best.
For our reflections, we focus on joy and end with meaning. Perhaps joy is the pivot point in our spiritual journey that leads to meaning.
Let me frame everything within a key goal or element in this journey—freedom, or better yet, spiritual freedom.
Ignatius of Loyola has an insight on freedom that we looked at in previous articles. He talks about, first, “freedom from” and second, “freedom to.” The first is a threshold in the spiritual journey that makes us break through and out of the bondage in our life—sin and sinful inclinations, addictions, vices, pride, lust, sloth, etc., and even bondage from our giftedness and blessings.
The “freedom from” comes after a confession of one’s sins and reconciliation with God. But it is also a freedom from one’s blessings and giftedness—an antidote to pride. It is a freedom that is brought about by an awareness and acceptance of the centrality of God’s love in our lives.
Acceptance always requires an element of trust. To accept is to trust; we accept another person’s help, friendship or love when we trust that person. Acceptance borne out of trust will eventually lead one to entrust oneself to the other, and this is where “freedom to” comes in.
It is the grace of joy that helps us transition from trusting to entrusting. As we often hear, joy is a gift that needs no antecedent. Christian joy is a stance towards life from beginning to end. The moment we truly rejoice in the Risen Lord, the definitive victory of Christ over sin and death, it is a grace that is ours to the end of our days on earth.
As Fr. Kung points out, joy in life can last till the end. He ends his chapter on joy by quoting the writer Novalis or Frederich von Hardenberg: “Where then are we going? Always home. Always home? Where, one asks, are human beings at home? And what is their way there, their way through life?”
Fruit of gratitude
From this comes joy to the end, knowing we are going home. As Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father four years before he died: “As death—when we consider it closely—is the true goal of our existence… I thank God for graciously granting the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.”
The phrase “I thank God for graciously granting…” considers joy as the core and fruit of gratitude. It is the thankful heart and soul that experience joy.
I go back to a striking point made about children—that from age 1 to 7, they are religion. In the purity and innocence of their heart and soul, they are religion. Christ himself said, “To such belong the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Gaudete Sunday reminds us that joy is possible from the time we embrace God’s grace to the end of our days. It is the Christian joy that was ours as a child, and as we come full circle, when we return home.
One Sunday morning, more than a month ago, I sat watching my little ward having breakfast. I made sure to be with him early because he was off to a football tournament and I had Mass calls up to early evening.
Looking at him, I realized that Christmas is so clear to children. To them belong the wonder and magic of reliving the birth of Jesus, a time for adults to renew the childlike grace in us.
Then I remembered the thought: children like him are religion.
Some three weeks ago I celebrated Mass with Amb. Bienvenido Tantoco’s family for a special thanksgiving dinner.
It was all family, save for me and Msgr. Chito Bernardo.
In the program, family members continuously mentioned that, through the years and all their experiences, they have come to realize that their business was not just about profits but being inspired by the core values it stands for.
Tantoco would inject comments and gems of wisdom from time to time; the whole room would literally stop and listen, not out of fear, but with genuine affection and respect.
Then, during the ceremonial toast, he said, with a childlike smile, “Kailangan basagin natin ang baso para suwerte. (We have to break the glass for good luck).”
Tantoco, who is now 93, has come full circle and has reintegrated his life in meaning.
I have had the good fortune to witness this up close and personal, as we have a project with him in his grade school alma mater, Malolos Elementary School. And I have been part of their family milestones since 1993.
Once he told Donnie, his eldest grandchild, referring to Malolos: “Donnie, good growth can only come from being connected to your roots.”
After one of our meetings for the project, Donnie told us that his lolo gave him a gift, a watch; his lolo had also received a watch for a gift, but what he gave Donnie was a much nicer one.
Then the ambassador said, “You always give to others what is better. You cannot give to the Lord what is not the best.”
Here is a man who has come full circle. He started with a dream to do well, first for his family, as they lost their father very early and he had to stand as the head of his family, later for his own family and then for Filipinos.
He opened Rustan’s some 70 years ago with the aim to bring world-class shopping to Filipinos.
After much success, he proceeded to set up Shopwise with the aim of bringing “quality you can afford” to the Filipino masses.
Yet, despite his success, he has not lost his simplicity. And as he grows in wisdom and age, he comes full circle. His childlike attitude and demeanor continue to inspire the people around him, and has given him great freedom to give back.
He has returned home, and at 93, he is, like a child, the personification of religion in his trust and joy that not only give meaning to his life, but to the lives of the people he has touched and continue to touch.
Here you realize that the truth of a life well-lived is to live it in trust, joy and meaning. It is possible. Rejoice!