“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
On this third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudate (i.e. Rejoice) Sunday, we shall reflect particularly on St. Paul’s words in our Second Reading today. No doubt, this third Sunday of Advent is called “Rejoice Sunday” because of St. Paul’s words in this passage of Scripture. Even though we do not sing the “Gloria” as the other Sundays of Advent, there is something different about this Sunday, the colour of the vestment recommended is not purple but rose.
Today, the Church is saying to us: “Be Happy and Rejoice.” As always, there are certain questions that come to our minds when we hear that phrase: “Be Happy!” What does it even mean? Is it possible to be happy all the time? What is the magic formula to finding lasting happiness irrespective of all that may be happening around us today? We shall now consider how our readings at today’s mass respond to these questions.
1. Happiness is a Command.
A meticulous reading of our second reading today would show that St. Paul is not simply wishing that we would find happiness rather he is exhorting us to rejoice not just once in a while but always. St. Paul is technically saying: “make yourself happy all the time.” As such, even if we were to face death on account of our faith in God, we should still find a way to rejoice. Even if things do not go as we planned or desire, St. Paul says: “Rejoice Always.” Now someone would ask me: “How?” This is it: happiness is not something that happens to us, it is something we choose to become.
God already created us happy. The smile of a child for no reason is proof that humans are naturally happy creatures. If at any point, you feel unhappy, it is because you have chosen to be unhappy. Unhappiness is never as a result of our circumstances, rather it is our reaction to these circumstances. Our Responsorial Psalm today is Mary’s reaction to knowing that she had been chosen by God to be His mother. She had a choice to be sad or worried about the responsibilities ahead but she choose to sing: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God…”
In today’s first reading, we hear Isaiah speaking prophetically the very words that would be accomplished by the life of Jesus who we are expecting to be born again in our lives at Christmas. Even though this prophecy had not yet been fulfilled, Isaiah found the courage to say: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God.” Dear friends, happiness is not a matter of chance, it is something we deliberately decide to do. Happy people are not necessarily those who have the best things in life but those who choose to rejoice in whatever they have.
2. Pray Constantly; Surrender Everything to God.
Another secret of constant happiness is found in the very next phrase of St. Paul’s instruction: “Pray constantly.” Scientifically, research has proven that those who pray more tend to live healthier lives and have fewer chances of suffering from high blood pressure and stress. Prayer is life; the less we pray, we less alive we become. Jesus Christ prayed always to teach us that our best life on earth can only be lived by constant recourse to prayer.
If you desire to be happy, then learn to spend more time in prayer and don’t pray like someone who has no faith – Jesus told us not to heap up too many phrases when we pray and not to pray like the hypocrites who loved to stand obsequiously in the market place. To pray at all is to transport oneself to heaven, it is talking to God and listening to Him and this requires faith. Without faith, it is impossible to pray. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6). When things happen that you don’t understand or accept, surrender everything to God. Drop your worries at His feet, trust that He can handle it and you will find peace even within the storm – like Jesus who was asleep in the boat (Cf. Mark 4:37-39).
3. Give Thanks in all Circumstances.
Sometimes, we behave as if we know what is best for us. We assume we know better than God who allows seemingly negative circumstances happen to us instead of us to just trust that God knows exactly what He is doing. Until you come to a realization that everything happens for a reason, you will find it hard to be grateful. Truth be told, within every unhappy person is ingratitude. If you cannot be thankful, then you cannot be happy.
Too often we focus on what we don’t have and fail to appreciate what we have. Indeed, we never know the value of what we have until we lose it. In reality, there are no unfortunate circumstances in life because life itself is a fortune and within every moment is something to be grateful for. At times, we discover our talents and our best comes out during hard times. No matter what you are going through right now, follow St. Paul’s advice: “give thanks in all circumstances…” Do not be selective in giving thanks for you never can tell if that which is causing you pain now is actually a blessing in disguise.
4. Do not Quench the Spirit; Abstain from Every Evil.
If you buy a car and decide to turn it into a swimming pool, would you enjoy the benefits that the manufacturer of that car intended for it? No way! In the same way, there is no way we can enjoy life as God intends when we disobey His commandments. There is no way we can find true happiness and peace from sin. In the very first sin of mankind, the devil deceived man into thinking there was something to enjoy by disobeying God and within every sin, there is a promise of something to be gained but just as Adam and Eve regretted their bad choice, we realize that there is nothing we gain from sin. St. Paul states clearly: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If you hate being unhappy, then learn to hate sin with a passion. You cannot eat your cake and still have it.
5. Give God His Due: Avoid Pride.
Our final lesson today comes from our Gospel passage. John the Baptist had become the most popular man in Israel. His ways were so different from the rest of the people. He baptised man and brought them out of the darkness of sinfulness to the light of Christ. John the Baptist seemed to be fulfilling the dreams of the people of Israel as regards the Messiah that they eagerly awaited.
Having heard of his fame, the religious leaders of the day had to go and ask John the Baptist who he was. It was at this point that John the Baptist, a fearless preacher and proclaimer of the truth showed the depths of his humility by announcing: “I am just a voice… but among you stands one… who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. Humble people are always happy people, they are never let down or disappointed, rather God exults them.
If you read the full passage of our responsorial psalm (Mary’s song of thanksgiving), you would see how God works: “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden… He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree…” (Luke 1:51-52). After John the Baptist displayed such great humility, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus himself declared: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, fill me with joy. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 61:1-2.10-11, 1st Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8.19-28).