Joy in the Lord - Third Sunday of Advent (B)

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“I exalt for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.” Thus says the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading at Mass today. These words capture the theme of this third Sunday of Advent: we look to the coming of the Lord and our hearts are filled with joy.

Pope Francis, from the outset of his papal ministry, has called the attention of the Church to the theme of Joy. He has made it abundantly clear that joy should be a defining characteristic of being a Christian. This joy in a joy in the Lord.

In his first major writing, entitled ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ (Evangelium Gaudium), he challenges our natural First World preoccupation with seeing material goods as the path to happiness. He says, “Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy.”(EG 7)

It is true isn’t it? We relate joy with pleasure, with enjoyment, if you like. He comments very insightfully, “I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.” I am sure many of us have had that experience. We have been among very poor people in a Third World country and they are very joyful. We find it hard to comprehend. When they have so little, how can they be joyful? It should suggest to us that joy is not associated with possessions or good experiences. Joy has another source.

The Pope adds, “I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.”

He is right. Joy is linked not to material things nor achievement in life, but to a life of faith which inspires – as the Pope says – “detachment and simplicity.” A person who is full of faith in God is a joyful person. St Paul reminds us that joy is a fruit of the spirit. It bubbles out of us because our hearts are full of the love of God.

It is true that even amidst suffering, joy can be found. The way the Pope expresses it is this: “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”

Joy can reside in the heart even when we are in the midst of struggle or pain. It seems counter-intuitive, yet it reminds us of a truth. Joy is a spiritual disposition and not something determined by external factors.

Pope Francis says that joy will be one of the results of coming into a deep and personal encounter with God. This is what he says:

“Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”

Thus, we can see the significance of the theme of this third Sunday of Advent. Joy is associated with the coming of Christ among us. Indeed our well-loved Christmas carols are songs of joy. We will sing in the coming period, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

Joy is associated in a particular way with our celebration of Christmas. And there is a simple lesson in this for each of us. The more we let the Lord into our life, the more we will experience joy.

At this Mass today I am instituting a number of men into the Order of Acolyte, and one to the Order of Lector as a step towards Ordination to the Permanent Deaconate. I would like to address the candidates with a few words.

For those receiving the ministry of acolyte, the Church reminds you that the summit and source of the Church’s life is the celebration of the Holy Mass and the wonderful gift of the Lord’s real presence among us in the Holy Eucharist.

Pope St John Paul II in his document written for the Year of the Eucharist, Mane Nobiscum Domini, wrote words appropriate for this occasion (n. 18): “There is a particular need to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's real presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass. Care should be taken to show that awareness through tone of voice, gestures, posture and bearing. In this regard, liturgical law recalls … the importance of moments of silence both in the celebration of Mass and in Eucharistic adoration. The way that the ministers and the faithful treat the Eucharist should be marked by profound respect.”

Today you are being called to a ministry that draws you closer to these mysteries. You are to more closely assist the priest in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. You will be given opportunities to minister the Body and Blood of the Lord to your brethren, either within the Mass or as communion to the sick. You will bring the Bread of Life to those whose faith stirs them to reach out for the Lord sacramentally present. Know what you are doing. Know the honour that is yours. Reverence the presence of the Lord. Adore the Lord present in the tabernacle. Never do as dull routine or simple function that which is profound mystery.

Know too that the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist is to enable Him to touch, refresh and heal hearts who long for Him. Each Eucharistic moment is a moment when the power and love of Christ can transform the human spirit.

Finally, my brothers, be resolved always to make your ministry one of charity: love of the Lord and love of the brethren. May the step you take today – in entering into the ministry of acolyte - be a moment of grace to deepen in your hearts and lives a profound desire to serve God and the people of God.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 15 December 2017