What I see in the first reading of this Sunday’s liturgy from the Book of Deuteronomy is a little Jewish fellow tickled pink and humming his way toward Jerusalem and into its Temple. He is obviously joyful. He is remembering the history of his father, “a wandering Aramean,” who went down into Egypt, only to be mistreated as a alien, oppressed with hard labor and afflicted in every dimension of his life. But God acted “with terrifying power, with signs and wonders.” And his father and all his descendants thereafter came into the “land of milk and honey,” the land of promise. It was all God’s doing and so the Jewish man, smiling, takes his little basket with the first fruits of his fields to offer them to God in the Temple.
When have you ever felt such joy? Was it on your wedding day or at the birth of your first child? What is when you finally made a big accomplishment or received the gift of a lifetime? Was it when you knew you were finally delivered from some terrible tragedy?
In the Gospel reading from Luke today, Jesus must have felt real joy in the desert after his three temptations by the devil. He flexed his spiritual muscles and won in a way the people of Israel failed to do in the desert after leaving Egypt. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that God was sometimes joyful enough to sing over Israel like someone sings at a festival. Joy was what David was feeling when he danced enthusiastically before the Ark of the Covenant. And John the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth over the presence of Jesus, still hidden in his own mother’s womb.
This is what Christian life is supposed to be like: a deep, abiding joy in the heart. Christians know that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus smashed every dark power that would hold human happiness back. This is the Gospel message. He rescued our bodies from death, our minds from ignorance, our hearts from hatred, our spirits from despair. Jesus’ Death and Resurrection put us permanently in the loving heart of God.
The seed of this kind of joy was planted in us in our Baptism and it is that seed that we are asking Christ to water especially on this Sunday of Lent. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus that marks Christian life. We Christians live joyfully because, as our second reading today from Romans tells us, “The word is near you, in your heart and in your mouth. . . . No one who believes in him will be put to shame. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So, no matter what happens in our life, no matter how negative things can get to be, we are able to cope.
Our Christian joy is meant to be catchy. The world around us craves joy, our families, our businesses and our schools, our neighborhoods and society. Even the U.S. Constitution declares to a searching world that one of our inalienable rights is “the pursuit of happiness.”
Do you remember the Wendy’s commercial some years back, “Where’s the beef?” That is really the world expressing its deep desire and hope for joy, whether it be the people of Africa or China, the people of Europe or Latin America. Everywhere and always the human heart wants to celebrate.
And that is exactly what joy leads to: celebration. We Catholics celebrate everything—even funerals. We celebrate especially at Mass. We come here, each of us, with experience of the love of God in our lives this past week. We have our stories. We come to give thanks together and to encourage one another. We come to celebrate what God has done in the Death and Resurrection of Christ and will continue to do in our Christian lives. At Mass, we are like the little Jewish man carrying his basket of first fruits to the Temple. We are like Jesus in the desert feeling triumphant in God.
How could Mass on Sunday not be a celebration, except that perhaps we have forgotten about or are not in touch with God’s activity in our own lives? How could Mass be boring for people who have brought their saved lives to it? This is a church full of “saved people,” who know it and are grateful for it.
The celebration in this “room” should catch the attention of the whole neighborhood. The singing and praying should be heard beyond the walls of this church. The neighborhood, indeed the world, needs to see us smiling at one another, greeting one another in peace. It needs to see us eating and drinking the “heavenly food” of the Eucharist together. Our celebration is about God and God with us, and the whole world should feel welcome to join us.
To be a Catholic is to celebrate both in church and outside church, in our personal prayer, in our family life, in our study and work, even in our difficulties. Nothing will draw attention to the Church more than our celebration.
We celebrate Lent as a parish this year with the theme of Cana in Galilee. We want it to be a time for asking Christ fill up our water jars as a parish with new wine as he did at Cana. On this first Sunday of Lent, we at St. Joseph are asking Christ to fill the water jar we name “Celebration” with the new wine of joy. We pray for wider smiles on our faces, lighter spirits as we live our everyday lives. We pray for a deeper celebration in our liturgies. As we prepare for Easter, we want to remind ourselves and show the world, too, why and how to celebrate.
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