This weekend we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday,” taken from the Latin word “gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” with the implication of the attainment of something long awaited. During Lent, we celebrate Laetare Sunday, which is also named after a Latin word for “rejoice,” with the implication of having overcome a time of struggle or suffering. These two Sundays especially call us to true Christian joy in the midst of preparation, for Christmas now and for Easter during Lent. Christian joy is not mere human happiness, much less pleasure. The theologian Fr. Henri Nouwen described joy as “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing –sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Or, as St.Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Joy is the overflowing of love.” Of course, this love has God as its final source and end, whether people on earth know it or not. Thus, as C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy, true joy comes from contact with the divine, which awakens in our hearts a desire for the greater realms.
One may ask why we would need the reminder and encouragement to experience real joy, for surely that is what everyone wants anyway. However, the world frequently ignores or even suppresses the call to real joy in favor of lesser forms of happiness (or even apparent happiness) that are not really satisfying, but are much easier to have and control than real joy. By contrast, the joy that comes from heaven brings forth an unwillingness to be content with merely earthly things, in favor of the mysteries and holy realms that are beyond our understanding and beyond our control. It inspires the willingness to makes the sacrifices and engage in the struggles that real love involves, participating in Christ’s love for During the Advent season, Guadete Sunday calls us to thank God for the good things of this earth, but also to look beyond them to a realm of which they are only a first sign. As Christmas approaches, we seek the joy that only love can give; we renew again our knowledge of the love of God that is the source of all human love; and we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation when this divine love took human form.