From the Cardinal: Gaudete in Domino semper (Rejoice in the Lord always!) | December 15, 2023
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Vol. 5. No. 7
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Sunday, December 17 is Gaudete Sunday. It is a day midway through the Advent season when we are called to be especially joyful because the Lord is near.
In the Second reading for Gaudete Sunday (1 Thess 5:16–24), St. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians (and all of us) with these words:
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.
Disciples of Jesus Christ should always be joyful—even in challenging, difficult times—but our anticipation of Christ’s return at Christmas, and at the end of time, compel us to sing out our joy in a special way.
Joy is contagious. We can’t earn it. We have to “catch it” by means of personal contact with others who are joyful. This is the work of the Holy Spirit who spreads joy among those whose hearts are open to God’s love and goodness.
Pope Francis tells us that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the source of all Christian joy. But the road to joy isn’t easy. It requires us to face ourselves and our shortcomings, and to overcome many obstacles along the way.
Sorrow and disappointment are a fact of life. Our emotional, physical and even spiritual “hurts” cannot be buried or ignored. They must be suffered. It is only by the way of the cross that we can participate in resurrection joy.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) whose 10th anniversary we celebrated on November 24, 2023, Pope Francis shows us the obstacles we face without sugar-coating them. But he assures us that joy is always available to us because of the endless mercy of God.
Where do we encounter Jesus and receive his gift of joy? Certainly, we encounter him in prayer and in the sacraments of the Church.
But Pope Francis also reminds us of the Lord’s powerful words: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Whenever we reach out to others, the pope tells us, and can move beyond our comfort zones to embrace the poor and the marginalized, we find Jesus. Whenever we “go forth” and embrace the Gospel’s “missionary spirit,” we discover—and can share—the joy of the Gospel.
In the words of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 61:1–2a, 10–11), joy compels us to “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.” This is the joy of the Gospel. It is not self-gratifying pleasure, but the deep-seated satisfaction that comes from serving others.
By helping each other confront our brokenness, we help each other find joy. This is a great paradox. Instead of a frantic, frivolous pursuit of happiness by empty and artificial means, we find lasting joy by better understanding how we ourselves are broken and then, by extending our arms to others—regardless of their repulsiveness or their seemingly insatiable needs.
As we continue our celebration of the season of Advent, and prepare for the Lord’s nativity, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us overcome all sorrow and despair. Let’s be joyful. After all, the Lord is near. Let us rejoice in Him always!
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Newark
A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope
(A selection from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium)
II. The delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing
9. Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good. In this regard, several sayings of Saint Paul will not surprise us: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14); “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).
10. The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”  When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For “here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.”  Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
11. A renewal of preaching can offer believers, as well as the lukewarm and the non-practicing, new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization. The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ. God constantly renews his faithful ones, whatever their age: “They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint” (Is 40:31). Christ is the “eternal Gospel” (Rev 14:6); he “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8), yet his riches and beauty are inexhaustible. He is forever young and a constant source of newness. The Church never fails to be amazed at “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33). Saint John of the Cross says that “the thicket of God’s wisdom and knowledge is so deep and so broad that the soul, however much it has come to know of it, can always penetrate deeper within it.”Or as Saint Irenaeus writes: “By his coming, Christ brought with him all newness.”With this newness he is always able to renew our lives and our communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him, and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new.”
12. Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer.” In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that “he has loved us first” (1 Jn 4:19) and that he alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.
13. Nor should we see the newness of this mission as entailing a kind of displacement or forgetfulness of the living history which surrounds us and carries us forward. Memory is a dimension of our faith which we might call “deuteronomic”, not unlike the memory of Israel itself. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of his Passover (cf. Lk 22:19). The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance: it is a grace which we constantly need to implore. The apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon” (Jn 1:39). Together with Jesus, this remembrance makes present to us “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), some of whom, as believers, we recall with great joy: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God” (Heb 13:7). Some of them were ordinary people who were close to us and introduced us to the life of faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Tim 1:5). The believer is essentially “one who remembers.”
My Prayer for You
Please join me in praying these words to our Blessed Mother Mary from Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.