Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
These words from St. Paul open the celebration of the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. It reminds us of an important core value of our faith, Christian joy.
In “The Book of Joy,” the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk about the eight pillars of joy. The first four are called the qualities of the mind, namely: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance.
The last four are qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
We have often reflected on perspective and realize how this can make a major difference in how we are to experience and live in the world. Viktor Frankl puts it very powerfully: “Our perspective toward life is our final and ultimate freedom.”
From here on, the other qualities of the mind deepen that freedom. Humility allows us to accept the truth of who we are, blessed with gifts from God, and forgiven and loved “because of”—not “in spite of”—our weaknesses and sinfulness.
Such an acceptance and appreciation of oneself makes us see the good in others.
Genuine humility leads to a good sense of humor, to laugh at oneself, not in a shallow or dismissive way, but with acceptance and understanding of one’s humanity.
The Greeks have two types of drama, tragedy and comedy. Some claim that comedy is a higher form of wisdom.
The thread that binds and synthesizes the two is the fourth quality of the mind: acceptance. As “The Book of Joy” puts it: “Acceptance is the only place where change can begin; it allows us to move into the fullness of joy…
“The ability to be present in each moment is nothing more and nothing less than the ability to accept the vulnerability, discomfort and anxiety of everyday life.”
Thus, the stage is set to the qualities of the heart. The pillar of forgiveness comes naturally with acceptance. Forgiveness is the pivot point in the journey to joy. Forgiveness is freedom from all negativity and false sense of autonomy.
Forgiveness as pivot point
Pope Francis’ experience as a young 17-year-old man is a beautiful story of how forgiveness is our pivot point. Moved by God’s mercy, the young Jorge Bergoglio decides to offer his life to God and enters the Jesuit seminary.
Thus begins his journey to the priesthood, the bishopric, and now, the papacy.
In Ignatian spirituality, “it is [knowing] one is a sinner yet called to be a companion of Christ… in his mission” to heal a broken world and wounded humanity. The response to the invitation is deep gratitude, coupled with the zeal of a forgiven sinner who has seen Christ, experienced his forgiving love. Out of gratitude follows Christ.
Gratitude now completely opens the door of the heart. I am convinced that gratitude is the natural state of the heart.
The ability to love is rooted in gratitude. “Returning love for love,” as Ignatius of Loyola put it, is the deepest form of gratitude.
Living in gratitude allows us to live in the present moment because it makes us stand before God, who is perfect love, and simply be. Gratitude places us in that moment, the present moment when everything seems to be there “and we ask for nothing more.”
This is living life totally present to the moment that makes possible the seventh pillar, compassion. Compassion begins with being present to the other, the “willingness to enter the chaos of others to answer them in their need.” (Fr. James F. Keenan, SJ)
In the words of “The Book of Joy”: “Compassion is a more empowered state where we want the best for the other.”
Dr. Thupten Jinpa’s book, “A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives,” says: “Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved… what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies.”
The “acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies” bring us to the eighth and final pillar of generosity: magnanimity. It is living life with greatness of soul. This is pure joy, Christian joy, expressed beautifully and powerfully in the words of Mary’s “Magnificat”: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
In a similar vein, Paul’s letter to the Philippians says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
From Ignatius of Loyola: “Give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”