As you enter the doors of our church, you see the Latin phrase "Introibo ad altare Dei" which translates "I will go unto the altar of God". Certainly, as we celebrate mass, we are at the altar of God, especially during the consecration. The rest of that phrase is: "to God who gives joy to my youth." Are we feeling joy right now as we sit before the altar of God? And, if we are not feeling joy, why aren't we? What keeps us from experiencing joy?
Spiritual joy is different from the conventional concept of happiness. Happiness depends on what happens in our lives, as well as those circumstances, people, and events over which we often have little control. It is fleeting and usually short term in nature. Real joy, however, is that constant, abiding, and personal relationship with God that we experience when we do His will as loving servants. This joy may often be expressed through our enthusiastic demeanor, laughter, humor, or cheerful attitude.
Most of us are pursuing happiness instead of joy. We yearn to satisfy the deep longing of our hearts but frequently confuse joy and happiness.
Joy is a loving, warm sense of an intimate relationship with God. Authentic joy is a spiritual and biblical concept. Joy is the second of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit. We cannot have joy without love.
Happiness, on the other hand, lasts a short time. We tend to pursue happiness and avoid pain. PBS conducted a survey a while back asking people what was their greatest desire. Almost ninety percent answered: "I want to be happy." Like most people, I also want to be happy. I love it when the Reds or Bengals win, when my children and grandchildren do well, and when my arthritis isn't bothering me too much. Unfortunately, that happiness doesn't last.
In today's Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
True joy comes from serving God. If we serve mammon, that is money and possessions, we will be disappointed and frustrated by our constant search for happiness.
In 2004, over 1000 priests were surveyed. The main question asked was : "How happy are you in your priesthood?" Over 90% of the priests responded that they were very happy. In 2009, another survey of over 2000 priests was conducted and again over 90% agreed that they were happy. When the priests were asked the source of their happiness, they answered that that their spiritual life was the cause of their inner peace, well-being, and personal joy.
How can we increase and maintain our joy? Since joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we should receive it gratefully, accept it humbly, and then share our joy with others.
We can increase our joy in several ways. Receiving the Holy Eucharist at Mass is the most intimate way to experience a joyful relationship with Christ. If possible, we should attend daily mass so that we can experience this spiritual joy every day.
The anticipation of eternal life in heaven is another way that we experience joy. Whenever we have doubts about our faith, our family, or our nation, we can take great consolation in the promise of Christ that we are destined to live forever with Him.
Trusting God is another important element in our spiritual joy. Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?" We would all be much more joyful if we could take these words to heart and stop worrying.
And finally, prayer and meditation leads us to spiritual joy. in his first letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul tells us: "Rejoice always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
The key to finding spiritual joy is knowing God's will for us and then surrendering to His will. This can be a difficult challenge, especially for us men, since we reject the idea of surrender. We pride ourselves on being self-sufficient, self-reliant and totally independent. Pride is what prevents us from completely abandoning ourselves to God's will, but when we do, God will reward us with peace and joy.
"O Lord, give me the wisdom to know your will, the courage to accept it, and the strength to do it. Amen.