November 27, 2009

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Find joy in hardships during Advent and Christmas

Sean GallagherMarketers and songwriters try to convince us that joy is the defining virtue of this time of year.

It won’t be too long before you’ll hear songs—both sacred and secular—singing its praises. You’ll see Christmas ornaments and other holiday decorations emblazoned with “joy” for all to see.

We wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the conventional wisdom about the tenor of this time of year.

In fact, as much as the broader society tries to gloss over the Christian roots of the “holiday season,” we’d say that it can only be described as joyful because joy is an essential part of the first coming of Christ that we are preparing to celebrate.

But what exactly is joy? The pervasiveness of it at this time of year can almost make this important Christian virtue devoid of meaning.

Marketers and songwriters seem to equate joy with a life filled with things we like and wholly lacking in sadness.

Is this how we Catholics understand joy?

Not really. We find joy when God suddenly invites us to take a new and wholly unanticipated path in life.

We find joy in serving the needs of others, even when we are tired and weary.

We find joy when our plans go awry, and we’re faced with unexpected crosses.

We find joy in fulfilling the ordinary duties of life.

And we find joy even when we think we may have failed in those duties.

That’s not the kind of joy that you will see praised in holiday greeting cards sold at Wal-Mart or Hallmark stores.

But it’s the joy that we’re invited to meditate upon in the joyful mysteries of the rosary that many Catholics pray frequently during Advent and Christmas.

In the Annunciation, Mary humbly accepted a mission that God had planned for her from all eternity, but which she could not have anticipated in any way, shape or form. For us, this is joy.

In the Visitation, we see Mary, in that often tiresome first trimester of pregnancy, serving the needs of her kinswoman Elizabeth in her equally tiresome last trimester. For us, this is joy.

In the Nativity, Mary’s hopes for the way that she would give birth to her special son were probably totally upset when she found herself far away from home and with Joseph as the only loved one at her side. Yet she accepted it as humbly as she did Gabriel’s message. For us, this is joy.

In the Presentation, Mary and Joseph were simply fulfilling the duty imposed on them by the Law of Moses when they took the baby Jesus to the Temple. Yet, in Simeon and Anna’s message to them, this ordinary obligation was transfigured. For us, this is joy.

And in the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, we can easily imagine that Mary and Joseph felt they had failed in their duty to care for their holy son. But when they heard his mysterious words to them after they found him, they surely knew they were hearing the voice of God. For us, this is joy.

Parents today continue to share in these joy-tinged trials that Mary underwent 2,000 years ago, even if our experience of them isn’t as dramatic as hers.

But do we see them through her joy-filled eyes? With the help of her prayers, we can.

And when we do, we will experience and inevitably share with others a joy that is far more attractive and profound than the one that marketers and songwriters are trying to sell to us at this time of year. †

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