Rejoice Greatly. The Lord is Near
Today’s liturgy, Gaudete¸ “Rejoice” Sunday, is all about the joy and happiness that is intended to characterize Christian life. Christians should radiate joy, happiness, epikeikeia, gentleness, forbearance, understanding, based on the presence of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit that gives conviction of Christ’s victory and presence. Christian life is witness to all this. Just as, for Catholics, the Sanctuary Lamp is witness to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so is Christian life a sanctuary lamp to God’s presence, to God’s kingdom, on earth. Christian life, Christian joy, is witness that the Lord is near, that in Christ salvation, redemption, has come as God has willed it.
From the point of view of dialogue with questions of the day we may note that the terms divine presence and salvation are matters that a good section of our modern world rejects. There are those who seek a salvation for humanity without God or organized religion, in particular without the Catholic Church. Lanterns and lamps can be signs of God’s presence in the world, just as the Sanctuary Lamp is a witness to the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The sanctuary lamp can be an irritant for those hostile to what it stands for. Salvation without organized religion is a theme in the thought of the Russian writers, and nearer home in that of Tom Murphy. The Internet Wikipedia entry on Tom Murphy notes that recurring themes in his writings include the search for redemption and hope in a world apparently deserted by God and filled with suffering. It further notes the Murphy’s play The Sanctuary Lamp explores major themes of redemption, love, guilt, spirituality and the existence – or non-existence – of God. In common with much of Murphy’s work, the play deals with the battle against nihilism and finds a form of redemption and hope in mankind’s ability to show compassion, love and find an individual spirituality. The Lamp itself becomes an image of the light of the human soul unattached to dogma or religion.
It is worth recalling in this context an address of Pope Benedict to pilgrims at St Peter’s, Rome, on the Third Sunday of Advent 2007. He said: “The mystery of Bethlehem reveals to us God-with-us, the God close to us and not merely in the spatial and temporal sense; he is close to us because he has, as it were, ‘espoused’ our humanity; he has taken our condition upon himself, choosing to be like us in all things save sin in order to make us become like him. Christian joy thus springs from this certainty: God is close, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful spouse. And this joy endures, even in trials, in suffering itself. It does not remain only on the surface; it dwells in the depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and trusts in him. Some people ask: but is this joy still possible today? Men and women of every age and social condition, happy to dedicate their existence to others, give us the answer with their lives!” He instances the example of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, citing her words; “Being happy with God
means loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him”. The Pope then concludes: “Yes, joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. If, instead, people make an idol of happiness, they lose their way and it is truly hard for them to find the joy of which Jesus speaks. Unfortunately, this is what is proposed by cultures that replace God by individual happiness, mindsets that find their emblematic effect in seeking pleasure at all costs, in spreading drug use as an escape, a refuge in artificial paradises that later prove to be entirely deceptive”.