Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rejoice! The Lord Is Near!

We have so much to be thankful for.

First of all, our very existence is a gift of God. None of us could have asked to be born. Rather, from the beginning of time, our Heavenly Father had it always in mind to create each one of us. He used our parents - no matter what circumstances they may have been in - to bring us to life. None of us is a mistake or an accident. God has always wanted us to exist. And He considers our lives to be very good no matter how successful, talented or accomplished we may or may not be.  We can be thankful for our lives no matter how they have turned out because we are known,  wanted and cared for by Almighty God.

Secondly, we can be thankful for the gift of faith. Perhaps because most of us were baptized as children and raised in the Catholic Church, our faith is something we so easily take for granted. But consider all the blessings that come from it. Because of our faith, we have beautiful memories of first communions, baptisms, marriages and retreats. Through our Church we have developed many long-lasting and sustaining friendships. In fact, many of you met your wives and husbands through church. But, most importantly, because of the gift of faith we have had a purpose to inspire our life’s journey, we have had strength to endure hard times and we have the hope of everlasting life. Our faith is a special gift which we should always rejoice over in the presence of God.

Thirdly, we can be thankful that God provides for all our needs. Not many of us here today are rich, but we have what we need. At the very least, we have enough to get through this day. We should never fool ourselves. No matter how hard we have worked, everything we have is a gift from God. We could just as easily get sick, lose our livelihoods and become destitute. We should always be thankful for as much or as little as we have. And, acknowledging that what we have comes from God’s loving hands, we should always be mindful of those who have less than we do. As Saint John the Baptist tells us in today’s gospel, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” By so doing, we will know the joy of sharing in God’s goodness and become even more thankful of what we have.

The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan, is fond of saying, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.” When we are aware of God’s presence, when we are thankful for His goodness, joy inevitably wells up in our souls. We want to lift up our hands in praise and our hearts in song. We want to share it with others.

Too often we live our faith in a less than inspiring way. We become so focused on our personal sin, on injustice in our world or on the shortcomings of our leaders, that we lose focus of God’s mercy, power to save and presence among us. That is not how God wants us to live. Rather, He created us to exude the peace, joy and love which come from knowing and serving His Son, Jesus.

That is why Saint Paul in today’s second reading commands us to rejoice. In fact, it is so crucial to the Christian message that he says it twice. Why should we rejoice? Because the Lord is near. Knowing that our Almighty Father is always by our side expels the anxieties of everyday life. Knowing that He cares for us casts out our fears. Mindful of all the blessings He bestows on us, we live with the peace that comes from knowing that He will always provide for us.

Joy is central to the Christian message. It is by seeing the joy within us, more than anything else we can do as a parish, that will inspire young people to give their lives to Jesus, that will inspire sinners to abandon their poor choices and that will turn hardened hearts to love of neighbor. Nothing speaks as convincingly of the reality of God’s existence and goodness than the smile that comes on our face when we tell the Good News or the peace in our heart as we reflect on God’s love for us.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared this year to be the Year of Faith. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, he wants all Catholics to grow in their understanding of the faith, to live it more fully and to share it with others more freely. To promote the Year of Faith, he held a gathering of bishops from around the world in Rome to discuss how we as a Church could more effectively propose the gospel message to the modern world.

For the Holy Father, joy is an essential element to bringing the good news to others. Upon closing the gathering of bishops, he spoke these powerful words:

Our world is full of contradictions and challenges, but it remains God’s creation. The world is wounded by evil, but God loves it still.... There is no room for pessimism in the minds and hearts of those who know that their Lord has conquered death and that his Spirit works with might in history....In the face of the questions that dominant cultures pose to faith and to the Church, we renew our trust in the Lord, certain that even in these contexts the Gospel is the bearer of light and capable of healing every human weakness.

As a people blessed with life, faith and everything we need, we must exude that joy that comes from knowing God. Despite the difficulties and challenges of life, we know that Jesus has already won the victory. We simply need to witness to His goodness and entrust everything in His hands knowing that, no matter what may happen, He is in control. Believe me, people will notice and will ask us the reason for the joy and peace we have. And there can be only one answer. It is all because of Jesus.

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