Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy by choice

Most of us think of happiness as a reaction. Medical experts can tell us all about the chemical responses our brain has to certain stimuli and the chemicals that are released that make us feel happy. The problem with this kind of happiness is that it locates the source outside of us. There must be a stimulus.

As many of you know for the last six months I have been wrestling with a back problem that has left me in more constant pain that ever in my life. I have a whole list of what it isn't, but we still don't know what it is. So we manage the symptom as best we can. I share that not for sympathy but for context.

In the Church's calendar today is Gaudete Sunday, from the text of Phil 4:4.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.

You can see the irony.

But the more I prayed over it, the more I came to understand. St. Paul can tell us to rejoice always because joy is not a reaction. It is a choice.

How many people, particularly at the holidays, look at their lives and feel themselves robbed of the people and things that once gave them joy by relocation, lost loved ones, injustice done to them or just work that seems pure drudgery? For many "Merry Christmas" seems either a distant memory or something they have never know.

The good news is that in a single verse St. Paul gives us the formula. He tells us to rejoice always but he also tells us where to find the joy — in the Lord.

To find the joy regardless of circumstance we must pray, and in that prayer we must lose ourselves, abandon ourselves completely in the Lord. Because when we abandon ourselves we also abandon our pain, our suffering, and our loss. When we abandon ourselves in this way, we are free to be enveloped in the love of Christ. Then we are able to see the world around us through His eyes. And when we do, we see the signs of His love and presence all around. Trees, lights, decorations, music, cards, presents, family and friends are nice when we have them. But even when some or all of that is taken away, a true Christian can rejoice and say "Merry Christmas."

Joy has one true source Love, and the most perfect love comes from God. So

Rejoice in the Lord always.