Rejoice! This is the command from the liturgy today. Saint Paul reminds us to rejoice always (cf. 1 Thes 5:16-24), the color is Rose, which is the color of joy and hope, we sing the words of the Blessed Mother’s magnificat, “my soul rejoices in my God”, and John the Baptist proposes another clue: “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)
We are called to hope and rejoice even in tribulation. Yes, now more than ever is an opportunity to practice the virtue of hope and rejoice in the Lord’s presence.
Muscles grow after they have been stretched and pushed almost to the breaking point. Marines, Navy seals, etc. don’t become elite warriors by sitting on the couch all day. No, they are trained by enduring and growing through great difficulties. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Despite all the fear and dread that the world wants to fill us with, we hope. Now more than ever is the time for heroic sanctity and daring.
Our Lord’s words are true, but it may be difficult for us to trust in time of darkness. As you might remember a few weeks ago in the bulletin I announced that 2021 will be the year of St Joseph for the parish. Apparently I was thinking along the same line as the universal church because just this past week Pope Francis declared that 2021 will be the year of St Joseph for the universe church. St Joseph rejoiced even during moments of great darkness and uncertainty. He truly would have experienced moments of great terror as he had to protect his family from the death threat of Herod. We cannot imagine the strain in being in his shoes–imaging trying to protect the messiah who has come as a tiny infant–from the powerful and wicked King Herod! He had to pack up, flee, and try to find some kind of means to provide for the Holy Family. Despite all this he never utters a word of complaint against God, but trusts in God’s providence.
St Joseph can show us that joy is not found in the changing exterior realities in life. Yes, it does help to have some material consolations, but ultimately true joy is found by being near to our Lord. First, by being in the state of grace, and being right with God in our soul. Joy is being close to our Lord in the Sacraments and allowing Him to touch us and to be close to us. It is no surprise that studies have recently shown that those who have continued to come to Mass during the pandemic did not experience any noticeable change in mental health—in other words those who go to Mass on a regular basis do not experience mental depressions nearly as much as those who remain away from the sacraments. The world wants us to think that somehow coming to Mass is deadly. It is deadly only for sin. After all, we follow a man who ended up crucified on the cross. His whole life was marked by suffering–from the very earliest moments he shed his blood at the circumcision, his life was threatened by Herod…yet we know he defeated death. We must always remember this!
St Joseph is also close to the Blessed Mother, who is a woman of joy, who also experienced many moments of contradiction and confusion in her life. When she appeared to that simple man Juan Diego outside of Mexico City in 1531, he was very concerned about his uncle. In fact she told him to meet her at a certain spot on certain days. One of those days his uncle was in terrible health and Juan took a shortcut to find a priest. The Blessed Mother intercepted him along the way (what mother would not?)! She told him, “There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care? Do not let your uncle’s illness distress you. It is certain that he has already been cured. Go up to the hilltop, my son, where you will find flowers of various kinds. Cut them, and bring them into my presence.” After climbing the hill, he found a massive amount of beautiful roses in full bloom—a miracle in itself in the middle of December. He gathered them, the Blessed Mother arranged them, and brought them back to the bishop, and when he opened his Tilma, the famous image appeared imprinted on his Tilma. At the same time this was happening, his uncle was healed. The secret to having joy is not found in desperately hiding from difficulties, not found in material consolations, but in being close to the Holy Family: St Joseph, the Blessed Mother, and our Lord. When all feels lost, when all feels frozen and arid, go to the Holy Family! The Blessed Mother provides much more than a hill full of beautiful roses.
On a personal note, my devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe stems from my visit to her basilica in 2011 when I was studying spanish in Mexico City. I cannot adequately describe the experience other than saying it was truly like going into my mother’s house. I am going to share a few of my photos from when I was beginning my seminary days (I began with the diocese of Memphis since that is where I was living at the time and felt called there, before I hear a more definitive call to return home).