“Be Happy” is the theme of this week’s reflection by Father Patrick Griffin in his series Considering Consecrated Life
Although we have moved on culturally, liturgically we remain in the Christmas Season. In these next days, rarely will you or I wish someone a “Merry Christmas,” and equally exceptional will be the times when someone offers us that same salute. For the past number of years, in the weeks before Christmas, I have regularly been involved in discussions around this holiday wish. The dispute centers on whether or not one should say “Merry Christmas” in place of the more neutral “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” which, presumably, respect more the diversity of our population. The controversy over the red Starbuck’s cups without any indications of the time of the year offered an interesting opportunity to engage in this exchange flowing from the media and advertising. This essay does not contribute to that debate. Let me say, however, that I think that the chance to speak about the meaning of Christmas and the intent of our greetings offers a blessing of its own.
No, I would like to write not about the use of the term “Christmas” but about the other word in the usual greeting, that is, “Merry.” In this season, we wish that delight and contentment will characterize the days and lives of those whom we encounter. Thus, we hear “Happy Holidays,” and we might read about “Good Cheer” and “Glad Tidings,” and we sing “Joy to the World.” As we approach the beginning of 2016, our wish for others is a “Happy” New Year. The intent is clear: we want others as well as ourselves to be glad and at peace.
Joy describes the perspective of this season and its celebrations. When the angel comes to Mary at the Annunciation, his greeting to her is “Rejoice” (Lk 1:28). When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb for joy (Lk 1:44). During this visitation, Mary sings her Magnificat in which she proclaims how her spirit rejoices in God (Lk 1:47). The announcement of the Christmas event by the angels further highlights this sentiment:
The angel said to [the shepherds],
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” (Lk 2:9-11)
The news of the coming of our Savior engenders an attitude of hope and gladness in our hearts and an eagerness to spread this good cheer to one another. Ideally, it should characterize our desire for the entire year.
During this liturgical year, we can be aided in our resolution by the Luke Cycle of Gospel readings which we will hear on Sundays. Luke is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel of Joy” because it contains many summonses to be glad, as we can note, for example, in the passages cited above from his Infancy Narrative. In the third Gospel, the only appropriate response to the ministry of Jesus, so filled with mercy and forgiveness, is delight. The evangelist continues the theme begun in our Christmas Season and New Year wishes.
St. Paul also celebrated the centrality of gladness in the Christian message. The community in Philippi was the first one which he established in Europe. An emphatic sense of joy pervades the letter, which might surprise us as we realize that Paul is writing from prison! Yet he is enthusiastic in his first chapter:
I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you. (Phil 1:3-4)
And in the last chapter he offers this familiar encouragement:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! (Phil 4:4)
These references do not exhaust the passages in which he speaks of the need for the community to be filled with Christian joy no matter the difficulties. Whatever the situation, Paul would insist that as long as Christ is made known and lived, it is a cause for rejoicing.
Our own Vincent also directs attention to the need to maintain a sense of Christian happiness in carrying out our mission and offering mutual support. He writes:
“Mon Dieu! Sister, what a joy it is for me to know that you are happy in the place and situation where you are! This is a grace of God . . . .” (VdP, CCD 5. L.2068. p. 615)
“Another effect of charity is to rejoice with those who rejoice. It causes us to enter into their joy. Our Lord intended by His teachings to unite us in one mind and in joy as well as in sorrow; it’s His desire that we share one another’s feelings… In the same way, let’s rejoice when we hear the voice of our neighbor who rejoices, for he represents Our Lord to us; let’s rejoice at his successes, happy that he surpasses us in the honor and esteem of the world, in talent, grace, and virtue. That’s how we should share his feelings of joy.” (VdP, CCD 12. L.207. p. 222)
Few efforts are more useful in ministry and service of another than a positive attitude which carries both hope and joy.