Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4: 4) With these words from the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass, the Third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate what is a “break” in the penitential preparation for Christmas.
Like Laetare Sunday in Lent, Gaudete Sunday reminds us that our Christian faith is marked at its core with a deep sense of joy—waiting in joy, the third point for our Advent reflections.
Reading two great writers’ reflections on joy, one gets contradictory points of view. C. S. Lewis writes in “Surprised by Joy” that “joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.” Paulo Coelho writes in “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” that “joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest.”
Perhaps both are right, that joy is both “never in our power” and “often a conquest.”
Joy as ‘a conquest’
When I used to work in Ateneo de Manila’s fund-raising office, we were tasked with many events for the university. These ran for two hours or so, with the main event lasting for a few minutes. When such events are successfully staged, there is a joy that my team and I experience.
I often tell people that there are a thousand and one things that go into an event—or any endeavor for that matter—harmonized by hard work and teamwork, pulled together by a sense of purpose and meaning.
When one pulls it off, one just sits back, takes a deep breath, exhausted, relieved and filled with a sense of deep satisfaction and gratitude one could call joy. This is joy as a conquest. It happens because of dogged effort and steely determination.
One overcomes, the conquest is achieved. Yet at the same time, as joy takes over, we realize that it is never in our power to attain. Joy assumes a life and power of its own.
An image that comes to mind is a scene from “Star Wars” when the young Luke Skywalker was flying on a crucial mission to fire the missile that would destroy the Death Star and save the rebel forces.
After all the preparations, the strategizing and the maneuvering, at the moment of truth Luke lets go of all the technology and gadgets as he hears in his heart and soul the voice of his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to let go and trust the force to guide him.
Joy that is ‘never in our power’
The conquest brings us to the point we can let go. “Joy… is often a conquest” and yet “joy is never in our power.” It is at this point when we let go and trust God’s spirit to lead us, a spirit that is never in our power because it is the source of authentic power.
This is waiting in joy, we pursue—with everything that we’ve got—the goal or the mission with a sense of it being a conquest. We pursue totus ad laborem, giving oneself totally to the work, to the point when we have nothing else to give because we have done and given our best.
One of my guiding lights as a teacher and formator of teachers is a speech delivered by an alumnus of a Jesuit high school in New York, Joseph Califano Jr., who became a US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under the Carter administration.
He ends with a message to those teaching in Jesuit high schools: “My plea to you as Jesuit high school education enters the 21st century is this: Teach your students to try. And encourage them all to experience the exhilaration and exhaustion of spending themselves, in a worthy cause.
“If you do that, then whatever their careers, they will be happier and the world will be a better place for what you’ve taught them.”
This is waiting in joy. It begins with an active dedicating of self to purpose, meaning and mission; giving it your best and when you’ve done your best, you wait with a deep sense of satisfaction and joy.
The satisfaction and joy come from knowing you’ve done your best and because of this, the best is yet to come.
As today’s Gospel narrates to us, John the Baptist’s disciples ask Christ, “’Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
The dawning of Christ’s coming ushers in Christian joy, the fruit of human conquest and the grace that only God can give.
“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” —CONTRIBUTED