The readings for the third Sunday of Advent remind me of a letter sent to Ann Landers several years ago. It reads: Dear Ann, I have a problem. I am happily married to a wonderful wife and we have two children. I also have been seeing a young woman for the past 6 months. My problem is that I love both of them. What should I do? Signed, Confused – P.S. Please do not give me any of that morality stuff. I loved Ann Landers’ response, she wrote: Dear Sir, The only difference between animals and humans IS morality. I suggest you consult your local veterinarian.
As we get closer to Christmas, we have St. Paul preaching from a different location. He wrote this letter while sitting on a cruise ship headed for Aruba. No, that was a different Paul. Our St. Paul was in prison, chained and shackled and he had a choice to make. He could have seen the darkness of his prison cell. He could have chosen to be bitter and brood over all that was wrong with his life, all that he had lost, all that he had surrendered.
Instead, St. Paul chose to focus on the positive, on all that was given to him, on everything that was right, on all that he still had. His letter to the Philippians is a reminder that we may not be free to determine what happens to us, but we can determine freely how we respond to whatever happens. Our attitude more than our aptitude determines our altitude.
St. Paul is telling us that there is a joy that is within that can never be taken away. He does not say rejoice because everything is going well. He does not say rejoice because we have so many blessings in life. He says rejoice in a joy that will be forever. Rejoice in the Lord.
There is the secret to inner joy. We will never find joy in our lives unless it is in the Lord. We will never find joy in our hearts unless it comes from the Lord. We will never find joy in our future unless it is directed to the Lord.
When we experience joy, as Teilhard de Chardin wrote, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but we become spiritual beings having a human experience. Inner joy is not smiling though our hearts are breaking. Inner joy is not being fake and honest with our feelings. Inner joy means contentment because it is rejoicing in the Lord.
However, how do we rejoice in the Lord? What should we do? This is a familiar question when we are faced with a seeming problem. It is a question that is loaded with an intended action for the future. And this is also the same question that they asked St. John the Baptist.
“What should we do?” the crowds asked him. And he said, “Share.” “What should we do?” the tax collectors asked. And he said, “Care.” “What should we do?” the soldiers asked. And he said, “Be fair.”
When we ask about the things that we should do, we probably have realized that the heart of our problems is the problem of our hearts.
To share, to care and to be fair are qualities not different from what we normally do on Christmas or for some, the whole year through. Sharing is deeper than giving. Sometimes, we give something from our excess. But, the notion of sharing is partaking something that was a part of us.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist is a sharing. The parts of the Mass open us to many ways of sharing: the Word, the Bread and the Wine. We share in the presentation of our gifts, which is a reflection of the presentation of our lives.
To care is another way of loving. Caring is an expression that can only be an offspring of love. We cannot show that we care unless we have learned to love. Loving is the product of multiplied and undivided care.
Being fair is a manifestation of being moral. Extortion and false accusation, which the Baptist warned the soldiers, are two immoral things that run against just wages and honesty.
“What should we do?” the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John the Baptist. And he told them to do something about their future. The message of Advent is the future and not the past, for it is a season of joyful hope. The message of Advent is the attitude and not the aptitude, for it is also a season of hopeful joy.
13 December 2009