“You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Psalm 16:11)
Christmas has come. The simplicity and quiet of the celebrations this year (compared to how it is normally when the entire family gathers at my parents’ house) is lending itself to being more Christ-centered and reflective. I’m enjoying that a lot. It can be a difficult enough task, so any help is welcome. Fr. Mark’s homily on Christmas Eve was a compelling call to strip away all the wants of this life and want, above all, a “happy ending” to this life, or more truly a “happy eternal beginning.” Then yesterday, my friend, Erin, shared a little with me from Fr. Mike Chenier’s Christmas morning homily.
Fr. Mike is my friend, Mike, whom I mentioned previously in the post asking for prayers for his sister, Amy. That post can be found here. Excepting a miracle according to God’s great will, Amy is expected to live another one to three months. She is confused a lot of the time and has difficulty communicating now. The whole thing continues to break my heart. I have wept for Fr. Mike, who has been dear to me for so long, and for Amy, who ranks among the sweetest and most good-humored people I’ve been privileged to know. All of it breaks my heart in a way that tears away any pretense I might hold onto of knowing what this life will or won’t bring for me or my loved ones. The sense of vulnerability, our inability to sustain our own lives, and the prevailing authority of God as the Author of our lives is strong. I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind in the last few weeks.
What Erin shared from Fr. Mike’s homily has provided some necessary rounding out of these contemplations. I do wish I could have heard his sermon but the bits of summary have given me ample mental soil to work with this Christmas. He preached on joy, on the joy of Mary and Joseph and his and Amy’s joy, too. Joy instead of bitterness; that’s what was chosen by the Holy Family in the face of unavoidable suffering, certain hardship, and disconcerting mystery. Total entrustment of their lives to God’s Providence allows for this joy. The loss of all the plans and expectations for their personal lives; facing the unknown of what God was asking of them, taking from them, and giving to them, all of it could have led to fear and bitterness, even self-pity. Sorrow over the losses could take hold with no release; surely we all know people for whom this has been the case. This was not so for them. The sorrow and grief may be real but they are not the highest powers. Instead there is joy. True joy that comes from peace; true peace that comes from hope; true hope that comes from faith in the God who promises to never leave us, to always carry us back to Him, to be our “fullness of joy” for all eternity. Fr. Mike shared that in this most harrowing of times for his family, there is joy. Amy has joy; he has joy. I don’t know if I can think of another example that more effectively teaches me of the difference in depth and worth between joy and happiness. What a glorious sign of holiness when a soul still genuinely rejoices in the Lord when all sources of happiness are stripped away. I am humbled by the sight of this holiness in my friends.