CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - A number of years ago, a young college student was working as an intern at his college's Museum of Natural History. One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop, he saw an elderly couple come in with a little girl in a wheelchair.
As he looked closer at this girl, he saw that she was kind of perched on her chair. The student realized that she had no arms or legs, just a head, neck and torso. She was wearing a little white dress with red polka dots.
As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and looked back at the girl, who was giving him the cutest, largest smile he had ever seen. All of a sudden her handicap was gone and all that the college student saw was this beautiful girl, whose smile just melted him and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about. She took him from an unhappy college student and brought him into her world; a world of smiles, love and warmth.
The lighting of the pink candle of the Advent Wreath reminds us that Christmas is almost here. The theme of this Sunday's liturgy is joy and Saint Paul tells us to rejoice. "Rejoice always" (Thessalonians 5: 16).
What is joy? The dictionary defines joy as an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying. It is also defined as a state of happiness or felicity. In Catholicism, joy is a state of soul equated with happiness and it is also defined as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Joy is not to be understood as something superficial or immature. The person who is filled with Christian joy possesses an immense treasure because the true Christian can smile and laugh even in the middle of the most terrible adversities and sufferings. Saint Lawrence, when he was being cooked alive by his torturers, joked and told them to turn him over.
Sadness is certainly the epidemic of our times. A lot of people are walking around without a smile on their face. Christianity is completely opposite to selfishness, self-absorption and narcissism. Christianity demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives. We must be empty of all self-seeking.
There are many things in our modern society that are causing many to live very selfish lives. On the top of the list are four things that need to be looked at very carefully. These four things are: the lack of personal prayer, the infrequent use of the Sacrament of Confession, excessive television viewing and contraception. All four things have caused many people to become deeply self-absorbed and isolated.
More and more people are appearing like zombies who are disconnected from their family and their friends.
Saint Thomas Aquinas listed eight Capital or Deadly Sins rather than our list of seven. He maintained that sadness was the worse one of them all. The famous Italian poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy, placed sadness at the lowest level of hell.
We need to laugh and I agree that we should speak of five marks of the Church, rather than four: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Joyful.
In my parish we promote a strong parish community life that allows parishioners and their guests to experience friendship and community. If you want to experience the true joy of Christianity, be like Jesus. Live for others and not for yourself. Be a gift for others. Family life is essential. Parish family life is essential. No man is an island. Community is essential in order to be human and Christian.
Pope Benedict says that "the Church is Eucharistic fellowship" (God is Near Us, p. 115). As living members of the parish family, we are called not only to worship, but to participate in the community life of the parish. The parish is our church family.
"Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in a great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 166).
I firmly believe that after every Eucharistic Celebration, whenever possible, there should always be some kind of community activity with food. Moreover, sprinkled throughout the liturgical year, there should be well organized parish family life activities that provide an opportunity for the entire community to come together.
Life is difficult and it is not getting any easier. Our secular world makes every attempt to eradicate every visible reminder of the transcendent. Moreover, most of us live very busy lives, exercising multiple tasks throughout a very intense day. Formal moments of total silence and deep contemplative prayer are necessary for anyone who wants to be a true Christian in the modern world. Fr. Karl Rahner once wrote, "The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing."
If we do not develop a serious life of contemplative prayer and Eucharistic life, the ever-increasing difficulties around us will crush us. Rather than experiencing the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will be overwhelmed by profound anxiety and sadness.
Life has different seasons. Sometimes our existence moves forward like a sunny summer day. We feel the closeness of God and our days unfold effortlessly. But then the harshness of winter comes along. We become overwhelmed by the apparent absence of God's presence. Prayer becomes tedious. People seem to bother us. Perhaps the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, sickness, or the disloyalty of a friend brings us into the harshness and darkness of a winter day. Nevertheless, even in these moments we can experience Christian joy.
Fr. Jean Vanier, the French founder of L'Arche, has had continual experience with suffering through his work with the mentally disabled. In his writings, he maintains that darkness is important. "We must learn to be strong and peaceful in darkness, not fighting it, but waiting. We must learn to accept this winter as a gift from God, and we will discover that the snow will melt and the flowers come up."
Blessed Pope John Paul II constantly spoke about the great spring time of the Church. Spring time means that there is still frost, mud and snow on the ground. Trees begin to blossom, but they are not in full bloom. Both the Church and the world are going through upheaval and transformation. Within all of the trials and tribulations that surround us, let us be patient and be filled with hope. The dark night of purification will bring about something beautiful and pure.
"As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations" (Isaiah 61: 11).
My dear friends, let us make this Christmas the best Christmas ever by making a firm decision today to rid ourselves from every behavior that causes us to be self-centered. "Rejoice always" (Thessalonians 5: 16).
A few years ago, a young, attractive, successful woman noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair. As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor. Her worst fears were confirmed. The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery.
When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like a mummy. She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping. Desiring to see what she looked like, she unwound the large bandage from her head and was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor.
Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had one choice to make: to laugh or to cry. She decided to laugh. Sadly, the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis. However, that decision made to laugh in the face of adversity has allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy.
"I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul." (Isaiah 61: 10).
Visit Father James on the web at http://www.fatherjames.org and purchase his new book Get Serious! A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. Click here for the audio podcast of this homily.
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