Central idea: Prepare for joy. Doctrine: Joy. Practical application: Becoming more joyful.
Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)
To view Lectionary 9, click here.
Central idea: Prepare for joy
Reading 1: Zep 3:14-18a
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
- The prophet Zephaniah sets forth the three boons of salvation: forgiveness of our sins and failings, security from anything that can harm us, and fellowship with God.
- It is not astonishing that we would sing for joy upon the arrival of our salvation. It is astonishing that God loves such that he will rejoice and sing joyfully over us.
Responsorial Psalm Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
- I think when the Chosen People imagined God’s definitive presence they pictured it would be in a cloud, or a pillar of fire, or by means of wonders, or through blessings.
- But God’s plan was to visit his people in the flesh of the Son of God. Even in the flesh of a new-born baby.
Reading 2 Phil 4:4-7
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- It is not possible for a human being, subject to constantly changing moods, to always be filled with glee.
- But through our prayerful dialogue with Our Lord, our hearts and minds can keep recalling the truth, goodness, and even beauty of the Gospel and that this good news is for us!
- This is why there can always be an underlying happiness and security in belonging to the Lord and knowing by experience that he is near. And there will be times in which joy does break out in us.
- Inside us, peace and gratitude should reign. As a consequence, outside us, our behavior should be marked by kindness to all.
Alleluia Is 61:1
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
- The glad tidings Christ brought are the Gospel message of salvation and sanctification, that is, of the forgiveness of our sins and our transformation by grace more and more into the image of God by sharing in the divine life.
- This could be enough, but the glad tidings of the Gospel are even more. The Gospel is the very person of Christ, God-with-us in human flesh.
Gospel Lk 3:10-18
The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.
- Catholic theology recognizes natural truths, discoverable and knowable by reason, that prepare us for faith in Divine Revelation. Some of these are the existence of God, the immortality of the human soul, and the existence of the natural moral law which we should follow. These are called preambles of faith. They ready the human mind for the assent of faith.
- John the Baptist lays out advice to ready the human heart for the assent of faith. When people ask what they should do to be ready for the Messiah, he basically says lead a better moral life.
- To everyone, be generous in sharing what you have with those who have not.
- To tax collectors, stop cheating people.
- To soldiers, stop using violence and the threat of violence to bully and extort people.
- The people who question John the Baptist have a healthy fear of the consequences of not being ready to meet the Messiah. They definitely want to be wheat that is gathered into the barn, not chaff which is burned up with unquenchable fire.
- The Sacraments give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which makes us adopted children of God who can confidently call God “Father” even now. As God’s children we will be “given a share in eternal glory.” Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 736) So joy properly belongs to the Christian.
- According to the Psalmist, “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice” (Ps 105:3). But as the Catechism points out, “this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, ‘an upright heart,’ as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God”(CCC 30). Thus, while joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, much is demanded on our part. If we are mentally lazy, weak of will, attached to sin, and individualistic, we should not be surprised if we do not rejoice in the Lord.
- Meditative prayer can bring us joy. As St. Basil says, “When we contemplate the blessings of faith even now, as if gazing at a reflection in a mirror, it is as if we already possessed the wonderful things which our faith assures us we shall one day enjoy,” namely, the beatific vision, seeing God face to face as he is (CCC 163).
- Many people want to reject that they are created and that they are made in a certain way and so ought to live accordingly. Yet, meditating on the truth that God both created us and sustains us in existence every moment out of love, our “utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence.” (CCC 3010)
- For Christian spouses, marriage—the state in life that most persons are called to—has its own God-given act proper to it, which is a great source of joy. As Pope Pius put it, “The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation” (CCC 2362).
- Our highest earthly duty is charity, or willing the good of the other. One of the fruits of this sincere gift of self is joy. (CCC 1829)
- One of the deepest and most surprising truths of the faith is joy in suffering. As the Catechism puts it, “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (CCC 2015).
Practical application: Becoming more joyful
- Joy belongs to the Christian and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We come from God. We are redeemed by God. We are being sanctified by God. We will one day see God.
- So we should ask God for the gift of joy for ourselves and for those around us.
- We should also petition Our Lord to help us remove any obstacles that stand in the way of this joy. We can also ask to learn if our own obstacles to joy are in our minds, or in our wills, or in an attachment to some sin, or to a lack of docility in being taught and led. The removal of our own obstacles to joy could take a long time because unhappiness can be a deep-seated habit.
- In this season of Advent, we can meditate on the Incarnation of Christ and the heavenly destiny he has offered us. The Old Testament prophecies presented to us in the daily Lectionary readings are very beautiful, as are the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. They can be a source of joy in this season.
- Our meditation ought to include our creaturely dependence on God and a joyful acceptance of the human nature he has given us. We can find joy in obeying the law by which we are made. Any prudent act, any just act, any courageous act, any temperate act, can be accompanied by joy.
- If we are married, we can examine whether we are giving ourselves exclusively and unselfishly to the other “within the limits of just moderation,” which includes not separating the unitive and procreative ends of the marriage act. Selfishness and sin can never bring us real joy.
- Since a fruit of charity is joy, we can cultivate joy by carrying out our highest earthly duty of acting for the good of the other.
- Suffering with Christ can also, surprisingly, give us deep joy. So whether the suffering is big or small or actively sought or unbidden or even unjustly inflicted upon us, we can offer the pain up “in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.”