On this Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice,” we’re given three commandments by St. Paul. I’m going to reflect on those three commandments and how we can live them out.
The three commandments that he gives are:
Brothers and sisters, rejoice always.
The second is to pray without ceasing.
The third is that in all circumstances, we are to give thanks.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and, in all circumstances, give thanks. How many of you are able to do all three of those all the time? Anybody? A lot of you are shaking your heads no. They seem like really difficult, if not impossible, commandments that were given. Yet, I can think of people who are like this for each one of them.
For example, rejoice always. Can you think of someone in your life who is always joyful? I want you to picture someone in your life that rejoices always. Think of who that person is. One of the people for me was someone at my first assignment. She is somebody that I always saw as joyful. No matter what happened, she always had a big smile on her face. No matter how difficult things got, she continued to rejoice. When you think about people like that (and I can think of a few people in my life that are always joyful from my different assignments or people that I grew up with) and get to know them well, you discover that their life has not been easy. People that are really joyful people usually have experienced a tremendous deal of tragedy. Their difficulty might include someone in their life who has died early, someone in their life who is dealing with a debilitating situation or, they themselves, unbeknownst to you, may struggle with depression and despair. Yet we look at them and we see someone who is rejoicing always, even in the midst of really horrible circumstances.
People like that give me hope because I realize that I can rejoice even when life is difficult. I can rejoice even when I’m going through my own difficulties or struggles. These people that rejoice always show us something very remarkable. They show us that in order for us to rejoice our lives don’t have to be perfect and carefree. They show us that rejoicing can happen even in the midst of really difficult situations, including situations that probably no one in this world should go through. And yet, they still rejoice.
What that reveals to me is rejoicing is not based on the circumstances in our lives. It’s not based on life going our way, or life being easy, or us having everything that we need or want. Rejoicing seems to be a gift, and a virtue, and a choice that we make. I will be joyful and I will rejoice no matter how difficult my life may be because I know that there are people that do it, and it is possible. Remember those people in your lives that are always joyful, that rejoice always, and know that they carry great sorrow and great burden. They choose to rejoice, and they live that gift of the Holy Spirit. Rejoice always.
The second is to pray without ceasing. That’s another situation in my life where I’ve met people that pray all the time. I don’t mean just pray at specific times like praying the rosary, but they are in constant communication with God. They’re constantly talking to God. They’re constantly discerning, constantly going to God with everything. No matter what they may need in life, they immediately go to God. They immediately pray. When they are making a choice in their life, they go to God. They ask, “God, what do you want?” They’re constantly in union with God. What I also notice about these people is not only are they praying always, but they also pray very intensely during specific times. What I mean by that is they’re at mass every Sunday. They pray devoutly at mass. They may make a holy hour every single day where they spend some intense time in prayer. They pray the rosary every day. They’re very faithful and devout.
We can’t expect to pray always if we’re never praying. We have to spend some time in prayer, in deep prayer, in order for that to flow out throughout the rest of our lives. You may think that it’s impossible, right. How can I pray always? That is impossible. I’ve got other things to focus on.
Here’s something that we always do, right? Do you have your cell phone with you? You are constantly connected. Have you ever had to sign up for a cell phone plan and consider what type of coverage is best? You try to find the best coverage maps so you’ll always be in coverage. If you’re not, you try to find Wi-Fi so that wherever you go the Wi-Fi will be on. Always connected. We also have it in our pockets. Do you know how often the average person checks their phone? Once every five minutes. While I’ve been preaching, you’ve already checked it twice, I think. We’re always connected with this, so we always have it in our pocket all the time. We check it once every five minutes in case we missed somebody calling us or texting us. If somebody wants to get ahold of us, they can get ahold of us any time. We’re always connected.
That gives us an example of how we can pray always. We can always be connected with our God. In just the same way that we have a cell phone in our pockets, we can always be talking to God. Not only once every five minutes but constantly checking in with God. “How am I doing God? Am I doing what you want me to be doing right now in this moment?” Praising God, thanking God, being grateful, praying. All of these are ways that we can always be connected with God and pray without ceasing.
In order for us to do that, we do have to spend some time in focused prayer. Kind of like our phone. We’ve got to charge them every night. We’ve got to charge ourselves every day with focused, deep, intense prayer. When Jesus did this, he always went away by himself to pray. So, at least once every day, go away by yourself to pray and to be with God. That kind of helps us be charged, and then throughout our day, we can be more and more connected with him.
So, pray without ceasing. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing. The third one is in all circumstances, give thanks. In ALL circumstances give thanks. We all know 2020 is the year we just want to get behind us, right? We’ve just been waiting for 2021 to come so that we can get rid of the worst year of our lives, right? Put it behind us. But, in all circumstances, give thanks. That means there has to be things in 2021 that we can be thankful for. I think that might be a good practice for all of us, as we come to the end of this year. Let’s stop and reflect on our year and think about all that we can be thankful for.
For me this has been a year of intense struggle. It’s been a lousy year in so many ways, but some wonderful things have happened in my life and in the lives of those that I’ve come into contact with. For me, 2020 brought me here to Holy Family. I came in February. I look at that with sheer gratitude for what that’s done for me. 2020 has brought me into a group of close priest friends where we get together once a week just to socialize and hang out. I have another group of priest friends that I do the Exodus 90 program with, so I’ve made even closer friends with them. 2020 has been filled with a lot of things to be thankful for.
As we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday, remember those three things. Pray without ceasing, rejoice always and, in all circumstances, give thanks. Pray without ceasing, rejoice always and, in all circumstances, give thanks.