The other week I was watching a morning news show. On the show was a priest, Father Jonathan Morris, of the Legionaries of Christ. He was part of a discussion about the war on Christmas by the atheist and secular groups within the United States. The commentators spoke with agitation about this onslaught against the meaning of Christmas and our ability to publically celebrate it. Towards the end of the discussion Father Morris said them “You guys look so angry about this War on Christmas — I can tell.” He had been commenting to them about absurdity of the attack on Christmas; but he also said: “If our Christmas is going to be all about getting upset at people who are trying to take away our Christmas, isn’t that silly, too?” He wasn’t down playing the need to defend our faith and its expression; on the contrary, he thought it an important activity however Fr. Morris said people should speak up “but without losing the peace.”
His comments rang very deep in my heart. I could almost see St. Peter writing in his first letter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Christians are, by their nature, a hopeful, joyful people; or at least we should be if we understand the gifts given to us by our Lord. At every moment of our lives we should always hold within us a peace and joy that is given to us by God. It is part of our being because we are made in His image. If we truly understand and live this faith we proclaim, the Holy Spirit will burn within our hearts. At times it might be a small flame, and other times it burns brightly and strong. But, if we are living the gift of faith we will always have peace that hope brings and the joy that comes from it somewhere within us. Because when all is said and done we know that God came to us, lived among us and suffered and died for us; we are loved that much – we are not alone. Our faith assures us that we are not waiting and hoping that God will accept us – He is there – He is always there. Timothy says as much in his second letter when he writes: “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” The only real uncertainty we should have is: are we responsive and faithful to the love God gives us – that is our struggle.
It is a struggle that Holy Mother Church has helped us with every day since Christ ascended into heaven. It has been Her mission since that day in the upper room on Pentecost. Holy Mother Church walks with us throughout our lives to reinforce the teachings of Christ; to heal and strengthen us through the actions of God in the sacraments. Through the celebrations set within the Liturgical year we are taught and exhorted; with her help we look within ourselves as, together, we immerse ourselves in the revelation God entrusted to His Bride. By the liturgical seasons we come to feel the pain, the joy, the sorrow and the exultation that Christ himself experienced and by doing so we open ourselves to be purified and sanctified. In short the Church puts a light on Christ so that we can become more like Him. That light, of course, is the light of His resurrection. Everything we do as Church has this light of peace and joy in it – sometimes it is subtle other times it is in forefront; like today, Gaudete Sunday, where in the middle of the season of Advent we stop with our relatively sober reflection on our lives to celebrate the joy of being a Christian. We can’t help it; joy needs to be shared. We know the end of this story, Christ in all His glory. It is an ending that can’t be changed, God triumphs over all. Eventually, if we accept the gift of His love, in all its aspects, we will be there with Him. It is a peace and joy that is foundational.
So, I believe this is what Fr. Morris was trying to impress on the commentators and the listeners on that morning; it is an understanding that we should have too. Regardless, of how we perceive our situation in life. In spite of how we think our actions have been received. In spite of seemingly overwhelming odds against our faith, we should radiate the joy of a people who knows peace – knows Christ.
May the Lord bless our hearts and minds with the peace and joy that He alone brings. May each of us follow St. Paul’s exhortation “Gaudete in Domino semper!” – “Rejoice in the Lord always.”