My Dear Sisters and Brothers! The message of this Sunday is that of joy. That’s why it is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. St Paul in the Letter to the Thessalonians wrote to those early Christians and to us as well: ‘Be happy at all times… and for all things give thanks to God.’ To help us to respond to the Apostle’s invitation the Church has given us today two prayers to be assimilated so that they could become our way of life.
The first prayer of joy comes from Isaiah: ‘I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.’
The second prayer of joy comes from Mary’s Magnificat which we prayed between readings: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’
Maybe you feel that this invitation to joy is rather out of place right now. We have just heard the final report of the Royal Commission into sexual abuse of children. Some of our Catholics may feel so ashamed of the findings that hearing the question John the Baptist was asked: ‘Who are you?” they may struggle to say: ‘I am Catholic.’ I feel that for a long time the stigma of the sexual abuse will hover over our Church. I am prepared that in my life time it will not disappear. Maybe the next generation of Catholics, or the generation after them, will be free of that. I hope and pray for that for them. At the moment I find a call to pray for the survivors of the sexual abuse. I also hope and pray that our bishops and superiors will respond in a way which show the care and love we contemplate in Jesus Christ.
My Dear Friends! In this difficult time the message of St Paul: ‘Be happy at all times… and for all things give thanks to God’ is not only valid but an urgent call to all of us. Our joy and happiness are not simply for us. They are a gift we are called to pass onto those we meet. It is joy and happiness which tell the world that our trust is in Jesus Christ.
During the Jubilee Year of 1975 Blessed Pope Paul VI captivated by the enthusiasm of many pilgrims coming to Rome wrote a letter to all Catholics on Christian Joy (Gaudete in Domino). In the Letter he made a brilliant observation which all of us should take to heart and bear witness to in the midst of our own society. The Holy Father wrote: “There is also needed a patient effort to teach people, or to teach them once more, how to savour in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path: the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy of satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice.” The words of Paul VI from 1975 are also prophetic words for us.
The smiling crucified Jesus from the shrine in Europe can astonish some but he can also open us to find joy in humbly and faithfully fulfilling our vocation as disciples of Jesus: to be the light for the world and salt of the earth.
Pope Francis in the first sentence of his first letter to the Church wrote: ‘The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.’
Like the crowds drawn by the preaching of the Baptist we confess our sins but we believe that such a confession results in Jesus’ coming. Jesus did his first public appearance among the sinners who were attracted by the prophet from the Jordan.
Let me finish this homily with the words of Pope Francis from his first letter to the Church which I believe are prophetic words: ‘Life grows by being given away; and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.’ This is the Good News expressed by the smile on the face of the crucified Jesus in that shrine.
‘Why on earth is the man on the cross smiling?’ The smile is not to shock us but to support us in searching for joy and happiness in giving ourselves to others. That was the joy of Jesus.