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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Have You Found Joy?

Robert Barron - Have You Found Joy?

Robert Barron - Have You Found Joy?

Peace be with you and happy Gaudete Sunday to everybody. That means "Rejoice" Sunday. "Gaudete," by the way, is an imperative; it means "do it, rejoice," and we always celebrate this on the Third Sunday of Advent. Well, the second reading for today taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the little passage, I think is one of the most significant in the whole Bible, and I want to just dwell on it today in the homily. It names a truth that is absolutely fundamental to the spiritual life. Now here's the text: "Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice"! Now put that on your screen saver or put that on the wall or wherever you see things. Again, "Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice"!

Now what makes this strange, puzzling, is that little word "always". I mean, I completely get it if you were to say, "Rejoice when things are going your way. Rejoice when you're having a good day. Rejoice when you've won a great victory or you landed a job you've always wanted or you experienced the birth of your first child". Rejoice, sure. But always? How could you possibly rejoice when you've had a bitter disappointment? You've just gotten terrible news from the doctor. You find your fondest dreams are shattered. When someone else got that job that you wanted with all your heart. When you're lying sick in the hospital. Doesn't it seem kind of almost callous, a little cruel, if I were to burst in on you at those moments and say, "Hey, rejoice. Always, in every circumstance". And moreover, who can really be commanded to rejoice? I mentioned "gaudete" it's an imperative. Do it, rejoice. It's an order.

Well, I mean, can you be commanded to be joyful? Isn't joy something that kind of comes and goes and depends upon circumstances typically out of our control? If someone ordered me to be happy, wouldn't I kind of resent that? Well, everybody, this second strangeness, the fact that we're being ordered by our Gaudete Sunday and ordered by Paul to be happy, signals the pathway to understanding the spiritual truth here. It is indeed the case that, I'll call it now the emotional state of contentment, feeling good, feeling upbeat, it's true that that can't be commanded. It's indeed true that those emotional states depend upon factors often out of our control. They depend upon the health of our bodies.

You know how some days you just sort of wake up in a good mood, other days not so much? I can, in the course of one day, I can feel happy and excited and disappointed and angry and depressed. That's just the way it goes, and that's a function of things often out of our control. Wouldn't it be beyond ridiculous if during one of these kind of down periods someone just came along and shook his finger and said, "Come on, be happy". Okay, this helps us to see now. Take everything I've been describing, so all these emotional states that kind of come and go, the things that can't be commanded, take all of that and put it on one side of a divide. That's not what Paul's talking about. That's not what the spiritual masters are talking about. Let's stay with the word that Paul uses, which is joy.

So again, I'm being careful, distinguish joy now on this side of the divide with all these sort of passing emotional states. The joy we're talking about, the rejoicing we're talking about, is something different than all of that. So what is it? Well, let me share again with you, I know if you've been following me, I've used this image a lot. I first came across it when I was in France as a student and going to the great Gothic churches. It's the device of the wheel of fortune, and you see it often in the windows of the cathedrals or sometimes even drawn on the wall. And the wheel of fortune is this great wheel at the top of which is a king and he's reigning. Then the wheel turns, right? And you see a king losing his crown, and then you go to the bottom and there's a pauper, someone without any power. And then the wheel turns this way, and there's someone climbing back up to the top.

Okay, that's life. "You're riding high in April, you're shot down in May". Frank Sinatra sang that in one of his songs. That's life. We experience success, failure, and the two conditions in between. We experience emotional highs, emotional lows, and the two states in between. Hey, how are you feeling today? "I was feeling great yesterday, I'm feeling worse today". Okay. How are you feeling? "Well, yesterday I felt really bad. I'm feeling better today". How do you feel? "Oh, on top of the world". That's the wheel of fortune. Or, "Hey, my business, it was doing really well and I was great, and now I'm broke". "My friendships, yeah, I had a lot of friends and then suddenly I got a promotion, I had to move out of town.

Now I don't have any friends". "Yeah, I was healthy last year, and now I've spent all my time in doctors' offices and the hospital". That's life, the wheel of fortune turns and there's not a lot you can do about that. How stupid if someone's down here and you say, "Hey, get back on top". Well yeah, la di da. Thank you. I have no idea how to do that. I'm emotionally depressed. "Well come on, come on. Get happy". Well, that's silly. You can't make the wheel of fortune turn like that. But now here's the thing, so that's the outside of the wheel. In these depictions of the wheel of fortune, in the center of the wheel is a picture of Christ.

So not the king, not the pauper, not the two in between, but there's Christ in the center of the wheel. As the wheel turns, he remains the same. What does Scripture say? "Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever". Jesus represents in the wheel of fortune, listen now, that place of contact with God. Being grounded in the eternity of God, which indeed is the same yesterday, today, and forever, which indeed doesn't change even as my fortunes change. Even as the wheel spins round and around, the center of the wheel remains unchanging.

What's the point? The point is most of us live our lives, tragically, on the rim of the wheel, going round and round. How are you doing? "Well, thank God, I'm up for the moment". But what's the one thing I know? It's going to change. Or, "Yeah, my life's getting better". Yeah okay, good. It'll get better, and then you know what? It's going to change again. That's the way it is on the rim of the wheel. Don't live your life there, but rather live it in the center of the wheel. And then what? In an attitude of what the Greek fathers called "apatheia", it doesn't mean apathy, it means detachment. Now from that central location, I can watch the wheel go round and round. "Yeah, I know, I'm kind of having success right now". Or, "Hey, I'm feeling good now".

Okay, it won't last. Or, "My life is bottomed out, I've lost everything. I'm depressed". Yeah, I know, but it's not going to last. And I'm not living in that space, I'm living in Christ. Now listen, that's where you find joy, the joy that Paul is talking about. Not emotional ups or downs, but this deep, abiding, I'll use the biblical term, "shalom," right? Peace. And that's why the saints, even as they're going through the worst of times, can still be in a place of peace. You know that great, it's a Quaker hymn, "No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging".

That's what we're talking about. The center of the wheel, that's the rock. And notice the singer is acknowledging the storms. Of course, there are storms. But his point is no storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging. In other words, you're not living in the storm, you're living in this central place from which you can survey the storm as something extrinsic to what is deepest in you. Does that make sense? Or think of the great Teresa of Avila and her image of the interior castle. It's really good. A castle is a keep, right? It's strong, it's safe, it's powerful.

When I access that place, I learn how to live out of that place, then I have this sense of safety and peace and joy even as my life turns round and round. St. John of the Cross spoke of the inner wine cellar. Lovely, because it's the place where spirits are kept, right? But the wine cellar that's deep and protected and safe. That's the place that Paul is talking about and the place where we find joy. And now notice in regard to this place, we can be commanded. I mean, I can't command my feelings, I can't command my fortunes as the wheel turns, but I can be commanded, "Don't live on the rim of the wheel, live in the center". I can be commanded.

So "gaudete," rejoice. Be grounded in Christ. What did Paul say? "It's no longer I who live, it's Christ who lives in me". That's what he is talking about that. See, it's no longer I who live, the old self, the old me that was on the rim of the wheel all the time and caught up in all the anxieties of life. It's no longer that old me that lives, but rather Christ lives in me, which is why he can furthermore say, listen, "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God".

Again, if you're living on the rim of the wheel, you say, "Well, this man is nuts. What do you mean have no anxiety at all? Like ever? Hey Paul, didn't you have shipwrecks? Weren't you beaten within an inch of your life? Weren't you stoned on one occasion? I mean, didn't you go through all this negativity? Didn't you in fact come to be executed the end of your life? What do you mean have no anxiety? You didn't feel anxiety then"? Well, sure he did, at the surface level. Sure, he did as he saw his life going up and down, round and round. But in Christ, the rock, "No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging".

In that place, yeah, I have no anxiety at all. Now we're coming to the end of the sermon here, but how do you find that place? Prayer. Why do we pray? Oh, so we get God to do what we want. Well, that's kind of a superficial understanding of prayer. What's prayer but as John of Damascus said, "The raising of the mind and the heart to God". Prayer is consciously moving into this space, this place of safety. So when you pray your morning and evening prayers, when you pray your Rosary, you do the Jesus Prayer, when you come to Mass and you do Lectio Divina spiritual reading, when you do all these forms of prayer, what are you doing? You're moving from the rim of the wheel to the center of the wheel, to the place where you experience no anxiety, the place where you can rejoice always.

Who lived there? The saints. Why could Mother Teresa have this radiantly beautiful smile when she was living and working in the worst slum in the world? I've been there, I've seen it. Well, because she wasn't living on the rim of the wheel, she was living in Christ. How could Dorothy Day minister every day, day in and day out, with some of the poorest of the poor? Because she wasn't living on the rim of the wheel, she was living in Christ. What enabled Thomas More to go to his own execution cracking jokes? Because he wasn't living on the rim of the wheel but in the center. What enabled Walter Ciszek to endure twenty years of hard labor and Soviet prison camps and not lose his faith? Because he wasn't living on the rim of the wheel. And so with Paul, everybody, on this Gaudete Sunday, we can indeed say, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say it: rejoice"! And God bless you.
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