Sunday, December 13, 2020

Joy in 2020: Gaudate Sunday

It's the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We've made it halfway through Advent and almost all of 2020. The pink (or rose as it's technically called) candle that we light on the Advent wreath this week reminds us of this and reminds us that we are to rejoice. 

Rejoice? In 2020? How do we find joy even in this year? 

I may submit to you that this year is the year that we have had to learn how to cultivate joy the most. Let me explain. 

Joy is more than happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion. Joy is something that is underlying and greater. We can be joyful people but not always necessarily happy. This year has certainly not been a happy one. We have seen pain and suffering due to this virus and also the pain and suffering that has existed in our country for centuries due to hatred and racism. 

So where is the joy? We each have different things that bring us joy and I still think that this year is the year we have had to search for those things in new and real ways. We have had to give up those temporal things that give us happiness- like celebrating in large groups or going to a concert- and look for what will sustain us for much longer than those temporary things. 

Now, certainly, we can find joy in groups and in music and maybe some of the things that we've had to give up, but we've had to focus on the things this year that truly matter, and this is how we cultivate joy. 

In my adult life, I've grown to make going to confession a habit as much as I can. I try to go pretty frequently. When I was at CUA, it was so easy to run into the Basilica on campus, that I almost started to take the sacrament for granted. Now, I try to go on Saturdays, but sometimes Saturdays are the days I am running around doing errands, so I really have to schedule it in. 

Since it is Advent and Advent and Lent are the liturgical seasons we focus on repentance, I scheduled some time in to go to confession yesterday. I went to a parish and priest that I had never been to before just to kind of get my out of my comfort zone or routine. When it came time to give me my penance, the priest gave me something that in all of my 30+ years of going to confession I don't think that I have heard before. He told me to "Praise the Lord" as my penance. 

And it occurred to me- isn't this what those who were healed by Christ did in the Scriptures? After He had healed them, didn't they go forth rejoicing? It makes so much sense and I couldn't believe that I have never been given this penance before. Why should we go away still lamenting our sin when He has given us His forgiveness? This was the perfect penance for this week focusing on Joy as well. 

When we think of Jesus, do we think of joy? Perhaps we think of Him as a pretty serious guy, but he would have rejoiced with those that he healed. He would've celebrated things with his apostles and friends. He would've enjoyed spending time with His Holy Family. 

On this Gaudate Sunday in 2020, it's a great time to think about what brings us true joy and what brought Christ joy as well. Do we count ourselves as a source of joy for Him and others? 

Today is a great day to meditate on joy and to go forth praising the Lord for all that we do have in our life. Even in a year when we have had to deny ourselves much, there is still joy. We may have had to see it and experience it differently this year, but even in 2020, joy is still there below the surface. 

Yesterday was also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I played for Mass that has a large Hispanic population and I loved seeing all the flowers and roses amid the rose candle yesterday. 

Here's to being a little closer to Christmas, a little closer to the end of this year, and finding joy even in the darkness. 


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Advent 2020: Wait for It

2020 has been about many things and many of those things have been dark and serious. I don't want to make light OF the darkness that we have had to face and are still facing, but during this time of Advent, we are to start thinking of light IN the darkness; to think about some of the more positive things in our lives and wait with joyful and grateful hearts. This can certainly be difficult in this time. I am currently re-reading Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium"  which he wrote back when he began his papacy in 2013. To read it now in this darkness of 2020 is a little jarring, but also a good reminder that darkness will not last forever. 

To jump to something much more trivial but still joyful for me, Hamilton appearing on Disney Plus was one of the brighter lights this year. I had been familiar with and listened to the soundtrack, but had never seen the production. Since it has aired in July of this year, I've probably watched it at least thirty times and I'm not exaggerating. Not having many places to go this year certainly has contributed to the amount of times I have watched it, plus, we do have to find joy in the smallest things these days.

I was recently trying to name my top five songs from the show and the song "Wait for It" is on that list. It's a song where we get a glimpse into the differences between Hamilton and his friend-turned-enemy, Aaron Burr. While Hamilton is "young, scrappy and hungry" (to quote the song "My Shot") and works "Non-Stop" (the song that ends Act One), Burr sings that he is willing to wait for the things that are to come to him. 

I have always found myself somewhere in the middle of these methods of achievement. I certainly am like Hamilton in his go-getter spirit. If there is something that I want, I will work to obtain that thing as quickly as I can. However, in life, we know that don't get everything that we want. So there are naturally somethings that we have to wait for. 

Advent, as we know, is a time of waiting. And I don't know about you, but usually Advent sneaks up on me and then is over before I even realize it. This year, because of the pandemic, hopefully our preparation for Christmas isn't filled with as much busy-ness. We are hopefully avoiding stores, avoiding gatherings, which means less hustle and bustle. I know that I already feel like my first week of Advent has been much more focused and centered than in the past, and therefore more felt. 

It helps that- to borrow a line from Burr- we are "lying in wait". We have been waiting all year for a vaccine and for our lives to return to what they were before March. We are waiting for a time when we can gather and see friends and relatives as we once did. Maybe we've even gotten a little better at waiting? I have never been a patient person. Ever. However, throughout my life, I have gotten a little better at making the most of the times that I've had to wait for something. I've gotten better at shifting focus and being grateful for the things that I have instead of the things that I am still waiting for. 

I think that this time of 2020 has been just that. Hopefully, we are looking at the things that we are grateful for instead of the things that we don't have right now. Where Aaron Burr is certainly painted in a light that makes him look foolish for waiting in the show of Hamilton, I empathize with him. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything. And right now is the time to wait- both liturgically and literally- as we wait for a vaccine. 

So how are we going to use this time of waiting? I've decided for Advent to not look at my phone first thing in the morning and "wait" to use social media until after I've prayed. It's been a little challenging, but ultimately I've done it successfully and it's been productive. I've been using some prayer devotionals that use Scripture and poetry to remind me of times where God has made things new. 

We are in a new liturgical year since Advent has begun. Things may not feel very new right now since we've been in this holding pattern since March. It's been a nice reminder to read from Scripture that God's people have had to wait throughout Salvation History, but God has always been faithful when it was time for something new to begin. For example: Noah and the new life after the Flood, the Israelites and the new life in the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness, Simeon in the scene of the presentation where his eyes have "finally seen the salvation" of the Messiah in Jesus, just to name a few. The whole of Salvation History is waiting- from the beginning of the creation stories until we meet our God and hopefully remain with Him in heaven.  

However we are preparing for Christmas this year, I hope that we are relying on gratitude and God's faithfulness to get us through. He always provides in His time, we just have to "Wait For It". 

Happy Advent!