On the Third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle and the priest (and deacon) wear pink vestments because it is supposed to be a solemn invitation to cheerfulness and celebration. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that we, or anyone else for that matter, feel cheerful and festive on cue. Therefore, we are to find out the conditions and the inner attitude we need to develop to attain that elusive joy which can flow only from a heart that is trusting and resting in the Lord.
The prophet Isaiah (35:1-6, 10) talks about blooming deserts, heartfelt singing, exultation, splendor, joy, and gladness. Who can possibly be against cheerfulness, joy, and a spontaneous celebration? We are all for it, but this quest for joy only adds to our bewilderment because, at times, we do not feel like celebrating at all; actually, our heart might be thoroughly anguished.
Four Sundays ago, we were told by Jesus that we will save ourselves by patient endurance. So, the quest for this elusive, heavenly joy starts with serene acceptance of the grinding aspect of daily life, of routine, of ordinary days and uneventful nights.
This type of joy is born in the desert of toughness, self-discipline, resolve and courage. The farmer, St. James reminds us (5:7-10), after toiling for long days, awaits patiently for a good yield. It is the same idea. This joy is not triggered by something extraordinary but is the result of hard work and sacrifices. To get it, there is actually need for doing violence to ourselves. (cf. Matthew 11:12)
The joy of the Kingdom of heaven is attained by force.
This held true for John the Baptist and holds true even now, Jesus tells us. Picture John the Baptist: he had embraced a life of austerity, self-discipline, hardships in the desert. He had sealed that humble service as Christ’s herald with imprisonment and the prospect of a violent death.
Shouldn’t God be satisfied with such dedication?
Yet John is called to reach that elusive heavenly joy by doing violence to his approach as messianic herald, and to his very notion of who the Messiah was supposed to be like. Everything that he worked for, everything that he preached and endured has to be on the table. John is totally bewildered and so, from prison, he sends some of his disciples to get from Jesus a clarification as to why the Messiah is conducting himself in a way so strikingly different from the one that he, John, had predicted and foretold. John must do violence to his mindset in order to enter the
Kingdom of heaven by force.
Notice how Jesus leads John to do this violent about-face to his mindset and to himself. He walks him through all the healing and restoration of order that he, as the Messiah, was bringing about; and he concludes with: And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:6)
If we want to work towards attaining this heavenly joy, we ought to be ready to do violence to a lot of areas of our mind and heart. And, as we have seen from James’ message, we ought to do so with dogged perseverance, day in and day out, without losing heart. The older we get, the more we might be set in our ways and, thus, we might resist any newness inspired by the Holy Spirit. We might have already our ideas about God, the Church, Christian morality, Gospel values and things spiritual all firmly set, crystallized, and etched in the stone of our mind. Without being aware of it anymore, we might filter what we are taught, and accept only what agrees with our choices and preferences and reject all the rest. This would be the opposite of doing violence to our mindset. It is resisting what God’s spokespersons convey to us from him.
Another crucial area where we might be unwilling to do violence to our mindset is the control we insist on having over our life and, even worse, also the lives of people dependending heavily on us.
A third area would be the area of embracing wholeheartedly the paradoxes of which the Gospel is filled: think Beatitudes; think those in authority being the servants of all; think the command of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors; think being like a grain of wheat that must fall to the ground, rot, in order to bear much fruit, and so on.
A fourth area would be the one of going against our tendency to give up whenever we feel depressed, frustrated, slighted, hurt or paralyzed by fear.
There are many other areas in which we should be doing violence to our mindset in order to achieve that heavenly joy that the Lord offers us today. But, in all cases, it is always a question of surrendering our whole self into the Lord’s loving hands.
The English term closest to this type of the heavenly joy that we are urged to seek is “serenity.” Serenity won’t guarantee us a pain-free existence but will grant us assurance that in every circumstance, good and dreadful alike, at the end, everything will be OK; eventually, it would be truly the best possible outcome, because our life unfolds always under the watchful and love-filled eyes of our heavenly Father.