Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contains many important scenes. Right at the beginning, Harry is feeling frustrated: Dumbledore – his School Principal – and all his friends are not telling him what is happening and seem to have abandoned him to suffer alone with his adoptive parents. Yet they are all telling him to relax and enjoy himself.
God sometimes seems to do the same with us. For example, today is Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete is the Latin imperative meaning: rejoice! Be joyful! Yet there is much to be sorrowful about. The Royal Commission, for example, has just handed down its final report – and it is very dark reading. As the Archbishop wrote to us this week, I’m apalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some clergy, religious and lay churchworkers, that I’m ashamed of the failure to respond by some church leaders. Yet only last week at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival, the bishops were telling us to be joyful. How can this be?
These very texts through which God asks this also answer this question for us. Why be joyful? First of all, because God commands us to be. St Paul makes this very clear in the Second Reading: Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus. In other words – to be joyful is our very primordial state: we are called to be joyful in Christ because it is for that very kind kind of existance that we are made for. So already there is no question of whether or not we can do that: whatever the situation we find ourselves in, we have the fundamental natural capacity, as well as, in Christ, the supernatural ability, to be joyful, always.
This does not mean that when we are sad or suffering, we force ourselves to be cheery lollipop Santa elves. This is not what God asks. Rather, as St Paul makes clear, real joy is a decision that we make. True, when we feel happy this coasts us up to joy without us making any real effort. But we see with St Paul that God does not call us to be yoyos – pulled up and down by our mere feelings. It’s not psychologically healthy, and is spiritually dangerous. And it is not true freedom. True freedom is to be able to integrate how we feel with all our other faculties – our intellect, our memory, our sense of goodness, truth, beauty and unity, and our will. This is why St Paul makes it clear today why joy is something that is chosen. That, even in the most horrid situations, we are still free and have the capacity and grace, to keep things in proportion, to accept the legitimate experience of sadness we may feel, and also to hold on with greater firmness to the peace and joy in the depths of our heart.
But what is this joy? What is it based on? Mary reminds us today: My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, He looks on his servant in her nothingness, henceforth all ages will call me blessed. What is Mary’s joy? What is our joy? It is first of all the marvel that we are: that there is no one like me, and so that I have a unique combination of gifts which I bring to the world which no one else can do. And that this means that God wants me and loves me: we do not exist of ourselves – we only exist because God, from second to second, shares his existance with me. This leads to a third reason for joy: that, since God loves me, I need never fear anyone, as, if he is God, he is always working to protect and encourage me. And a fourth joy: I cannot do anything to stop God from loving me. And a fifth: he will never let me down ever, and, even when I fall, when I return to him he is bringing me even closer into the sure hope of his kingdom.
This is one of the great advantages to being Christian: long before we need to go looking for other things to cheer us up, we already have in ourselves many reasons for joy. Knowing this is very useful, and in fact vitally important, as it means that, whatever our situation, nobody can ever rob of these things, nor can we ever, in Christ, lose them. Isn’t that marvellous! So let us rejoice in the Lord today, praising God for how good he is to us.