(See the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 24)
A survey of parents in 2019 asked: “What do you want most for your children in life?” Some said financial stability or a good job, others said a stable loving family, and some said good health. However, most of the parents in surveys responded, “I want them to be happy.”
“Happiness” is sometimes used interchangeably with “joy,” and I suppose a significant number of the parents surveyed would agree. However, looking at the two concepts as related but different may help us understand one of the messages for this Sunday’s readings.
One set of distinctions I found that succinctly differentiates the two defines the terms this way. “Happiness” is a feeling based on circumstances. “Joy” is an attitude that defies circumstances. The distinction can be helpful when we reflect on the readings for this liturgy.
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah calls the people to rejoice: “Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations.” Our response to the reading is, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” The opening stanza of the psalm (Psalm 126) reads: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.”
We hear the call to rejoice, or the joy that is celebrated, in many parts of the Scriptures. The song of Mary (Magnificat) is a prominent example: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Joy is something that lifts the spirit, as “happiness” can do. The difference is that “happiness,” which is based on feeling, is not something that everyone necessarily experiences; “joy,” which is based on an attitude, is available to everyone. The Scriptures today not only exhort us to joy but give us some help in finding that joy.
The first step is a recognition that God is a loving father ever mindful of we his children. He knows us (even by our name) and cares for us. This recognition is a solid basis on which to build the attitude of joy. God’s care and concern is seen both communally and in the life of the individual.
The psalm recalls Israel’s freedom from captivity in Babylon where the people were set free after 50 years in exile. The Gospel account recalls the recovery of sight to the blind son of Timeaus. God acts and hears the cries of his people. Faith in the God who acts in the life of his people helps us recognize his love.
The second step is perhaps more personal. It involves our personal recognition of God’s blessings in our own lives. The more we recognize how much God has blessed us the more we are apt to experience joy. The Gospel account recalls the healing of Bartimaeus. He cries out, in faith to Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus in turn restores his sight saying: “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
The healing that has occurred will be remembered by Bartimaeus his whole life. God has acted in his life and fills him not only with sight but joy. The encounter here is grand and indeed miraculous, so much so that even we are invited to share in Bartimaeus’ joy 2,000 years later.
The celebration of the Eucharist is our thanksgiving to God for our salvation through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Jesus’ saving activity is, at the same time, communal – he has saved humanity; but also very personal – he has saved me. God’s blessings also happen in the simple things of life. He is acting every day and through the night. The key is for us to recognize the blessings in our lives. The more we do so, the more we will find our joy.
The third step is to be grounded in God’s fidelity. God is faithful and true. This does not mean we will not face difficulties in life nor does it mean the elimination of suffering. The first reading proclaims that one day God will restore “Ephraim,” which is a reference to the Kingdom of Israel (not Judah, destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 BC). The people endured suffering but God can and will restore even the lost.
The Lord says: “Behold, I will bring the back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst…. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”
Joy does not eliminate suffering, but it helps us endure. Joy does not eliminate pain, but helps us rise above it in hope.
God gives us the ability to rejoice, the basis for rejoicing and the fruits of a joy-filled life. Parents’ hopes for their children are reflective of God’s desire for all of us to be joyful. His bountiful love and mercy provide us the means to rejoice. Recognizing that love, celebrating that love and relying on that love help us to build the attitude of joy and share it with others.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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