Tag Archives: Joy

Third Sunday of Advent – A reflection by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

imagesAt a time that stood in the shadow of notorious papal scandal and other church corruption, a time of great distrust of the church, a saint came along to who would change some of this. This man had a great desire to counter these feelings of suspicion and a lack of trust, and replace them with a love of the Lord. If you were walking around Rome in the 16th century you might have spied him, perhaps standing in a piazza or on a street corner. He might stand out because he was frequently seen wearing absolutely ridiculous clothing and sometimes with half of his beard shaved off. What a sight! It was in this way that St. Philip Neri helped to change the course of church history, and bring many souls to know Christ.

While Neri is known for his extraordinary evangelizing, it was this offbeat approach that helped change lives. By joyfully using his extraordinary sense of humor, St. Philip left a huge imprint upon the church and the world. All this was accomplished by engaging others in conversation. These conversations might start with distrust or simply mere curiosity. Then they would eventually turn to laughter, which would become moments of conversion for many.

Introducing others to Christ came naturally to Neri, and in the most joyful way. In fact he once remarked that, A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.”

quote-a-joyful-heart-is-more-easily-made-perfect-than-a-downcast-one-philip-neri-72-67-49Joy is our theme today, the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete comes from Latin and it means rejoice. It is in our rejoicing that our hearts are made more perfect as we prepare a place to welcome Jesus, our Emmanuel.

But wait, we are to prepare a place? What place? And we are to prepare a place with joy? What joy? In our culture, the broader call of these weeks is to prepare for Christmas. You know, by spinning ourselves dizzy with cards, cooking, baking, shopping, socializing and more. However, this day is a marker on the Advent path that directs us to the heart of our joy, reminding us to keep the focus on the Lord.

Each year I vow to practice a quieter and calmer Advent. Honestly, I like to think that I will do such a thing, but I rarely achieve it. This Advent has me busy, but I have attempted to trim some of my activities, resulting in the creation of a bit of needed space. This is a mirror of our liturgical season, so that a place for the newborn Lord might be prepared in my heart. That tiny space is like a manger in my heart. It’s not the best spot, but it will do.

If we can keep our preparation focused on our hearts, rather than on our tasks, and we can also be focused on joy, we might be able access new places. Now the birth of Christ might be anticipated with the silent, patient, hopeful waiting of this season. This is joy to be had now, not postponed. Joy that is only increased as the child is born. This is the joy that helps bring our hearts to perfection.

Yet, in the midst of this, I am aware that it is dangerously easy to make religious practice into a dry and somber act, one that is certainly not joyful. How can we prepare this barren place for new life with joy?

rejoiceJoyfulness is the core of the words of the prophet Zephaniah in the first reading, which tells us to shout for joy, sing joyfully. We hear the message to “be glad and exult.” We are also told not to be discouraged. We should not be discouraged because God is in our midst. God is in our midst, a mighty savior who wants to rejoice over us in gladness; God in our midst having removed all judgment against us. Suddenly I imagine St. Philip, with half a beard and funny clothes, telling people about the promise of Christ in their midst!

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul repeats the same message – rejoice! As if he understood that we might be skeptical, or outright disbelieving, and as if he knew that we would lack joy, he repeats himself, “I shall say it again: rejoice!”

What don’t we understand about this? The Lord is near, and the Lord offers of the peace that is beyond our understanding. This is what is available to us through Christ – a kind of joy not known before. “A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.” St. Philip reinterprets St. Paul who said it first, using different words.

6e8f4a10eca3c8570802ad461dbe4ed7Why then, is this so hard to integrate into our lives? I ask myself this question! Although I make my way, I stumble. I am trying to muster some joy and gratitude, some hope and some recognition of the God that is already in my midst. That God is healing, forgiving, loving, reconciling and is right here, right now.

I don’t know about you, but here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas, and despite all of my words, I’m not there yet. Just what do I find in my midst? I find anxiety over shopping, money, unfinished work on my desk, and not being good enough for God. Yet it is God who is in my midst, who is in our midst – bringing us that joy in great abundance. We are not asked to manufacture joy, we are asked to respond to it in kind.

So now what? That all sounds well and good, but what should I do? This is the question at the heart of Luke’s Gospel for today, “What then should we do?” John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, is drawing attention to himself by baptizing and preaching. Unlike St. Philip who often used levity, John the Baptist is very serious. Make no mistake however; they have more than a few things in common.

People want something, but they do not know what to do, so they ask him. John minces no words. Give more. You have two tunics? Good, give one to someone else! If you have anything, share it. Even the despised tax collectors want to know what to do, and John is as clear with them; do not take more than you are supposed to take. Sounds easy enough, but that went against the standard of the time. Of course, we must stop to consider this; John is addressing us as well. Can we do this?

slideshow_advent_3-1And how is this joyful? It is if we stop confusing joy with happiness, and begin to understand the state of our hearts when they encounter Jesus. When we encounter and stay with Christ, we find the heart of joy. We come to discover that God is in our midst, and we are forgiven. This God in our midst, this God-with-us, has given deep peace. This God, our Emmanuel, has come to save us in the form of the Christ child. That is at the heart of our joy.

Perhaps then, out of that heart of joy, we can find the ability to both prepare a place for the Lord and also to give what we have away. We can do this because of one joyful fact; the more we come to know Christ and give everything away, the more He comes to live in our hearts. Now that is cause for rejoicing! And it is in that rejoicing in Christ that our hearts, perhaps not joyful at first, might be turned to Him.

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Hungry_and_you_fed_meThis was first published in 2012 as part of the Homilists for the Homeless project in the book, Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, by Clear Faith Publishing. To date, in excess of $100,000 has been donated to various charities as a result of the sales of these books. As an original contributor, and as someone actively involved with this project, I remain humbled to be a part of it all.

Please visit our website. In addition to that charitable project, we also offer other books and items, such as works by liturgical composer David Haas, and prolific author and priest, Fr. Bill Bausch, among others. Also featured are calendars, cards, and a book by Bro. Mickey McGrath OSFS. Proceeds from these books benefit the ministers and their various ministries. Please like and follow us on Facebook if you have not done so already. Local Albany people can also find the book at O’Connor’s Church Goods in Latham.

 

 

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Promoting Our Joy – a Lenten reflection by Charles Burre

imagesMeditation on the readings for March 16, 2015
Isaiah 65: 17-21; Psalms 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-12a, 13b; John 4: 43-54

In today’s reading Isaiah writes of the new heaven and new earth, which those who seek to know and honor the Lord will experience. Certainly the world free of all pain and suffering that is described is not yet a reality, but I believe that if we accept the good news that Jesus proclaimed, we can experience so much of this joy right now. We can, and should be, a delightful and joyful people who do not remember the painful things of the past. Yes, even in Lent!

I think that we Christians too often speak of the necessity of suffering in our lives. In fact, I cringe and think “Here we go again.” everytime I hear this message, or come across it in my spiritual readings. Although Jesus did ask us to take up our cross and follow Him, He also said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Why can’t we emphasize this?

The psalm for today says, “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing…You changed my mourning into dancing; O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”

rejoiceOf course, “Life is difficult.” as Father Pat likes to say. Mature Christians need to see their difficulties, trials, and suffering as things that will strengthen their character and cause them to turn to God for help. There is a time and place for counsel and guidance to help a brother or sister through a difficult period. I am not saying that such times of trial should be made light of or even denied. The last thing the person who is suffering needs to hear is “This is nothing. Cheer up!” What I am trying to say here is that, to the outsider, it appears that our faith journey consists solely in the way of the cross. We as Christians can get too hung up on our weeping at nightfall and miss the opportunity to share the rejoicing at dawn.

I also do not want to say that during Lent and the Easter Triduum, we should not let our beings become fully immersed in the passion of Christ. This is after all the core of our faith. But let’s not forget, “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.

One of the songs we sing at our Residents Encounter Christ (REC) retreats in NY prisons is “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” I first learned this song many years ago at our Hosanna prayer meetings. In those days our meetings felt like large revival meetings, as we sang enthusiastically: “I have decided to follow Jesus…, no turning back, no turning back.

noturningbackRecently, while rehearsing this song for an upcoming REC retreat, I noticed the second and third verses on our homemade song sheets: “2. It’s persecution to follow Jesus… 3. It’s tribulation to follow Jesus…” I did not remember these verses from the songbooks we used in Hosanna and suggested to the retreat team that these verses were not what the prison inmates needed to hear. We hold these retreats to make the love of Jesus become real to the inmates and these words detract, even if there is some truth to them at some point in our lives as Christians. The team agreed and our new song sheets omit these verses.

Although we will indeed face difficulties in our lives, because we know that our God will always help us through them, the song we should be singing is the last verse: “Sing glory glory and alleluia…No turning back, no turning back.

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Laughing Our Way Into Eternity – by Doreen Salse

(This post was submitted by parishioner Doreen Salse. Her father, Lino Salse, died 4 years ago today.)

Just outside the Social Hall at here at St. Edward’s, there is a cart with books to borrow. A couple of years ago I found a great one called “Quotable Saints” by Ronda Chervin and took it home with me. In fact, I liked it so much that I guess I am still “borrowing” it.

All the quotes in that little book are excellent and uplifting, but my favorite one is:

Be merry, really merry. The life of a true Christian should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity. —Théophane Vénard.

I loved the idea that the celebration of life starts during our earthly journey and need not ever end. We are already stepping steadily into eternity.

The quote reminded me of my dad who always had a quick and merry comeback. He could joke about almost everything, including his long and lingering ill health. Once, when I visited him in California, he teased my mother until she finally said, “Keep it up! If you don’t stop I’m going to pack you up and send you to New York with your daughter.” He said, “Oh-Oh! I suppose my other choice is to remain here with you, heavily sedated.”

My father had a collection of one-liners gleaned from old-time comedians that made us roll our eyes and groan.

He died 4 years ago and I miss him every day. But not long ago he put in a special appearance, to tell me that there was truth to what Vénard referred to about the festivals of eternity; basically -“you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Recently I dreamed that I was in the house where I grew up. I heard a man and a woman laughing – big, happy, belly laughter, the kind that comes from pure joy. I followed the sound to the front bedroom, opened the door and saw my dad sitting, propped up against a bunch of pillows, on the bed. My mother, young and beautiful, sat up next to him and they smiled when they saw me.

“There you are!” I said and pointed my finger. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“Me? I just flew in from Chicago. And boy, are my arms tired!”

“Ok, Henny Youngman!” I said, “You always did like the corniest jokes”.

He grinned and said, “Sure. Take my wife. Please”.

Relieved, I thought he never really left me and most likely he’d been hiding from me all these years. After a long look at that face I loved since the first time I saw it, I realized he was finally free of worry and pain.

“Pop! You look like you are happy, really happy.”

He said, “I am. I sure am”.

I believe we are visited in our dreams by those whom we have loved and lost. We glimpse them for a tiny hopeful moment, and if we are lucky, they leave us with a peek of the incredible happiness that awaits us.

My dad’s merry nature was a gift and an example to those of us lucky enough to have been pulled into his orbit. I’d like to think that now he is making the angels laugh, and maybe roll their eyes when my father says things like,  I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up – they have no holidays.”

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