Homily: Am I Rejoicing Properly?

January 1, 2019 – Happy New Years!

I delivered the following homily this past weekend, on the Feast of the Holy Family, at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:

I had only been a high school principal for about three months when a parent asked if he could meet with me. When we met, he assured me he thought the school was running great, but he was afraid the students weren’t getting a chance to know me. He thought I needed to be more animated, even suggesting I might consider putting on a fake red nose and running around the cafeteria acting silly. Not every day, he assured me, just once or twice to let the kids know that I had a crazy, fun side.

I thanked him for his input, but I also told him that letting the kids know I had a crazy, fun side was not my priority. I wanted students to know that I cared about them and would work hard on their behalf.

When I was a head football coach, I had a few people tell me I needed to “get after” the kids more. By “get after,” I think they meant raise my voice and throw clipboards. I was accused of not getting mad enough at the players when things weren’t going well and not jumping up and down with joy enough when we won.

When these concerns were raised, I told them that “getting after” the players was not my priority. I wanted players to know that I cared about them and would work hard on their behalf.

I am not a demonstrative person; I recognize that. There are just some things I don’t do. I maintain a relatively steady emotional state. When I watch the Colts or Pacers, I don’t throw things at the TV when things aren’t going well, and I don’t jump around and offer high fives when things are going well. And if I attend a game in person, I won’t participate in The Wave, so please don’t ask.

I should tell you I have no problem with people that are very animated – that’s awesome. It’s just not me.

There are a couple of factors that got me thinking about this personality trait and actually doubting myself. First, I thought about what I said in my own Christmas homily – a homily in which I extolled the exuberant and joyful nature of children and encouraged all of us to embrace that childlike spirit. To be exuberant is to be full of energy and excitement. I am a joyful person, but am I exuberant enough? Do I need to consider adding a red nose and offering high fives?

Second, I noticed the word rejoice was prominent in the daily readings in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I conducted a little research and discovered that the word rejoice appears in scripture 248 times. The dictionary offers two definitions for rejoice. The first definition is to show great joy and delight.

Strike two – I am not exuberant and I lack the ability to rejoice properly. I blame my parents, of course. Why was I never taught to rejoice? And I blame my wife. Carol is exuberant and rejoices often. Yet she has never offered to show me how to do either.

I had nearly convinced myself that I was in need of a personality makeover. However, the second definition of rejoice, along with today’s readings, offer hope – both to me and to others like me. Maybe there is a chance for us.

The second definition of rejoice is to feel great joy and delight. I may not be the best at showing great joy and delight, but I can and do feel great joy and delight. My joy does not reveal itself via fake noses and high fives – my joy resides in my heart.

Today’s readings offer the image of the heart as the safe deposit box for peace – the home of internal rejoicing where we feel great joy and delight.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul wrote: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts…and be thankful. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…”  

“Let the peace of Christ control your hearts.” We can take this simple directive from St. Paul and break it into two parts. First, grateful acceptance of the peace of Christ internalizes this gift for our own well-being. Then, allowing that peace to control our hearts externalizes the gift, sending it out to the world.

That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Gift received, gift shared.

Some of the most joyful people I know are not animated at all. However, they exude joyfulness. You can see it in ordinary ways: in the way they carry themselves and in the way they interact with the world around them. They exhibit a contentment and a true sense of peace. They are the first to affirm others, first to offer assistance, first to console. They willingly share the peace that resides in their hearts with others.

That peace and contentedness comes from giving up control, in trusting enough in God to focus on his will and do his work.

Feeling great joy and delight should be my priority. I want God to know that I care about him and will work hard on his behalf.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph offer wonderful examples of people that allowed the peace of Christ to control their hearts. Both chose God’s will over their own, allowing God to guide their actions.

When the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the mother of the Son of God, she responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” 

Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to shame and decided to divorce her quietly. An angel appeared to him in a dream and revealed God’s plan for him. His response: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Against their better judgment, each allowed the peace of Christ to control their hearts. That acceptance led them to unselfishly do the work of God. Both accepted the gift of Jesus. Gift received, gift shared.

In today’s gospel, when they found Jesus after he had been missing for three days, Mary asked, “Son, why have you done this to us?” She did not “get after him” or throw a clipboard.

I’m sure Mary and Joseph were thrilled to find Jesus safe and sound in the temple and were quite proud to see his intellect and witness his interaction with the rabbis. Yet, there were no high fives on the way out.

Instead, we heard that Mary kept all these things in her heart.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Accept the gift of Jesus. May God reside in your heart. May you allow the peace of Christ to control your heart.

It does not matter if we rejoice by showing great joy and delight or by feeling great joy and delight. What matters is that we rejoice! What matters is what is in our hearts.

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