Pope Benedict XVI distinguishes between worldly joy and the joy that endures.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, referring to the opening Antiphon often sung at Mass, Gaudete in Domino semper (Rejoice in the Lord always). It is a day that signals the upcoming conclusion to the Advent season.
For this reason, the Church urges the faithful to “rejoice,” as the time of penance and fasting is drawing to an end, making way for Christmas, a season of joy and feasting.
However, what does the Church mean by joy?
Pope Benedict XVI in an Angelus message in 2011, explained the difference between two types of joy.
The liturgy of this Sunday, known as “Gaudete” Sunday, is a special invitation to us to joyfulness, to a vigilance that is not sad but happy. “Gaudete in Domino semper,” St. Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). True joy is not a fruit of “divertirsi” [having a good time] understood in the etymological sense of the word di-vertere (di-version), that is, shirking the commitments of life and one’s responsibilities.
True joy is linked to something deeper. Of course, in the all too often frenetic pace of daily life it is important to find time for rest and relaxation, but true joy is linked to our relationship with God. Those who have encountered Christ in their own lives feel a serenity and joy in their hearts that no one and no situation can take from them. St. Augustine understood this very well; in his quest for truth, peace and joy, after seeking them in vain in many things he concluded with his famous words: “and our heart is restless until it rests in God” (cf. Confessions, I, 1, 1).
Benedict expands on this definition of joy, explaining how “True joy is not merely a passing state of mind or something that can be achieved with the person’s own effort; rather it is a gift, born from the encounter with the living Person of Jesus and, making room within ourselves, from welcoming the Holy Spirit who guides our lives. It is the invitation of the Apostle Paul who says: ‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).”
This means that Christian joy is not something we can grasp at or invent, but something we receive from a personal relationship with God. It is something we receive “from the encounter with the living Person of Jesus.”
If we want to foster Christian joy during this Advent season, we must deepen our own relationship with God. Then, and only then, will we possess a joy that the world can’t take away.
No matter what happens in our lives, if we stay rooted in Jesus Christ, we will be able to emanate a joy that far surpasses any momentary joy we may feel on earth. It is a joy that endures and brings us life everlasting.