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Rejoice and be Glad in the Day
When does God rejoice? Jesus tells us in all three parables (Luke 15 NJB), when God rejoices. God, also, invites others to rejoice with Him. The shepherd says, “Rejoice with me, I have found my sheep that was lost” (v. 6). The woman says, “Rejoice with me, I have found the drachma I lost” (v.9). The father says, “But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.” (v. 32)
God rejoices, not because all the world’s problems have been solved, not because all human suffering have come to an end, not because that there is no more war in the world, not because thousands of people have been converted. No, God rejoices because one of His children who have gone astray has come home. Can’t we see how very important every person is to God? It takes only one of us, any one, to repent for God to fill Heaven with joy. Since every one of us is so precious to God, we, as followers of Christ, must learn to treat every person right. In practical terms, this means that we must discipline ourselves to treat every person with patience, kindness and gentleness.
From God’s perspective one little act of repentance, one small gesture of unselfish love, one instance of true reconciliation or one moment of real forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from His throne, to fill heavens with sounds of divine joy. We are called to enter into God’s joy. It is the joy that comes from seeing ourselves rise up and come home after all the rebellion, waste, and anguish. We must truly believe that we have already returned and that our Father has called for celebration and has dressed us with cloak, ring, and sandals. We can claim the truth that we have been forgiven and rejoice with our Father and remove the mask of sadness from our heart.
Every day, we are being asked to rejoice and be glad, as “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24 NIV) But in today’s gloom and doom environment, it is hard to heed this advice. Nevertheless, for our own well-being, it is best that we acquire a joyful attitude, which can make our life so much more cheerful. How do we acquire a joyful attitude? How indeed? It is by focusing on choosing joy over gloom, by consciously choosing to bless others and ourselves instead of curses, by seeing our lives as a gift of God and not as a curse. Daily pray to God for abundant blessings and because we focus on blessing so much we will slowly begin to notice the many small blessings that we are given. This will invariably bring joy and gladness to our hearts and thus cultivate in us an attitude of gratitude. We must work hard, emotionally and mentally, to cultivate this joyful attitude.
Mother Teresa urges her sisters to acquire joy:
“Joy is not simply a matter of temperament. In the service of God and souls, it is always hard to be joyful--—all the more reason why we should try to acquire it and make it grow in our hearts.” (A Life for God, 72)
“A Sister who has cultivated a spirit of joy feels less tired and is always ready to go on doing good. Joy is one of the best safeguards against temptations. The devil is a carrier of dust and dirt—--he uses every chance to throw what he has at us. A joyful heart knows how to protect itself from such dirt: Jesus can take full possession of our soul only if it surrenders itself joyfully. St. Teresa was worried about her Sisters only when she saw any of them lose their joy. God is joy. He is love. A Sister filled with joy preaches without preaching. A joyful Sister is like the sunshine of God’s love, the hope of eternal happiness, the flame of burning love.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 64)
“It is a joyful Sister who gives most. Everyone loves the one who gives with joy and so does God. Don’t we always turn to someone who will give happily and without grumbling? ‘Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.’ Because we are full of joy, everyone wants to be with us and to receive the light of Christ that we possess. . . . . Daily, we pray, ‘Help me to spread your fragrance,’ yours, Lord, not mine. Do we realize its meaning? Do we realize our mission of spreading this joy, of radiating this joy daily as we go about our lives?” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 63)
“What would our life be like if the sisters were not cheerful? It would be mere slavery. We would work without attracting anybody. Sadness, discouragement, and slowness open the doors for sloth, which is the mother of all evils.
If you are joyful, do not worry about lukewarmness. Joy will shine in your eyes and in your look, in your conversation and in your countenance. You will not be able to hide it because joy overflows. When people see happiness in your eyes, they will become aware of their nature as children of God. . . .
Joy is very contagious. Try, therefore to be always overflowing with joy whenever you go among the poor.” (A Life for God, 74)
“To children and to the poor, to all those who suffer and are lonely—--give them always a happy smile; give them not only your care but also your heart.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 125)
Mother Teresa goes so far as not to allow her sisters to visit the poor if they are not cheerful:
“If one of my sisters is not in at least a serene mood, I do not allow her to go visit the poor. The poor already have so many reasons to feel sad; how could we take them the affliction of our own personal bad mood?” (A Life for God, 73)
“Our poor people suffer much, and unless we go with joy we cannot help them. We will make them more miserable.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 118)
“Imagine a sister who goes to the slums with a sad face and a slow pace. What can her presence convey to poor people? Nothing but a deeper discouragement.” (A Life for God, 74)
However, before we can spread joy to the people around us we have to let joy reign in our family and often this can be very difficult. That’s where it challenges us the most. Mother Teresa says:
“In order to spread joy, joy needs to reign in the family. Peace and war start within one’s own home. If we really want peace for the world, let us start by loving one another within our families. We will thus have Christ’s joy, which is our strength. Sometimes it is hard for us to smile at one another. It is often difficult for the husband to smile at his wife or for the wife to smile at her husband.” (A Life for God, 73)
“Someone once asked me, ‘Are you married?’ And I said, ‘Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding.’ This is really something true. And there is where love comes—--when it is demanding, and yet we can give it to Him with joy.” (A Life for God, 72)
So how do we acquire this spirit of joy? We need a change in our mindset and our heart set. We have to see that the work we do is an expression of our love for God put into practice. In whatever work we do, we do our best---with Jesus, for Jesus and to Jesus. Mother Teresa explains:
“When you are cooking, washing clothes, working hard in the office, do all with joy. That will be your love for God in action!” (A Life for God, 205)
“We do not allow ourselves to be disheartened by any failure as long as we have done our best, neither do we glory in our success but refer all to God in deepest thankfulness.
With Jesus our Savior, ‘the Lamb led to the slaughter’ and with our poor, we will accept cheerfully and in the spirit of faith, all the opportunities He makes especially for us—--those of misunderstanding, of being looked down on, of failure, disgrace, blame, lack of virtue, and correction.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 61)
“God loves a cheerful giver. He gives most who gives with joy. If in the work you have difficulties and you accept them with joy, with a big smile—--in this, as in any other good thing—--they will see your good works and glorify the Father. The best way to show your gratitude to God and people is to accept everything with joy. A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love.” (A Life for God, 73)
But, in our stressful, modern world with retrenchment and job loss every minute, many of us walk around as if the whole burden of the world is laid on our shoulders. We have many problems and are preoccupied with lots of them. Our words are heavy, our reflections bleak, our emotions sad, our outlook on life pessimistic, and our self-esteem very low. Often we suffer from strained relationships with our families. We have difficulty developing close relationships with our colleagues and we feel hostile toward our bosses.
So, where can we find joy? It seems so elusive. It is hard to find. The reason could be that we complain and excuse ourselves most of the time! We tend to see life as being good or bad and we like the happy occasions but not the sad ones. But Mother Teresa advises that to be joyful we need to accept both the good and the bad graciously: “Still we need so much grace just to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with joy, love, and a smile.” (A Life for God, 95)
Father Henri Nouwen says the same things, “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives---the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections---that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.
Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” (Bread for the Journey, Jan 12)
“Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many, joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.” (Bread for the Journey, Jan 30)
“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, ‘How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?’ There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.” (Bread for the Journey, Jan 8)
“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offences, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.
Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between cynicism and joy. Every thought I have can be cynical or joyful. Every word I speak can be cynical or joyful. Every action can be cynical or joyful. Increasingly I am aware of all these possible choices and increasingly I discover that every choice for joy in turn reveals more joy and offers more reason to make life a true celebration in the house of the Father.”(The Return of the Prodigal Son, 117-118)
Another way we can find joy is through compassion. Henri Nouwen says, “The joy that compassion brings is one of the best-kept secrets of humanity. It is the secret known to only a very few people, a secret that has to be rediscovered over and over again.” (Here and Now, 102) But how can being with the sick, the dying, being with people wherever they are, whatever their problems, bring us joy? It seems so unlikely that suffering with another person can bring joy. “Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty. . . such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.” (Bread for the Journey, Feb 1)
How can this be explained? Our natural reaction to a person in pain is one of fear. Fear of impotence. Fear that we can do nothing much. Fear that we don’t understand and want to avoid. Fear that we are helpless and powerless and want to run away from. But when we return, we conquer our natural fear. When we are present, we tacitly say to the person, ”I am your brother. I am human, fragile, and mortal, just like you. I am not embarrassed by your tears, nor afraid of your pain. I too have wept. I too have felt pain. I cannot take your pain away, I cannot offer you a solution for your problem, but I can promise you that I won’t leave you alone and will hold on to you as long and as well as I can.” This knowledge that I have been able to conquer my natural fear or that I was there for him or that I have not shirked from being a warm human being, will invariably bring me to a state of quiet joy.
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