Gaudete Sunday, Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always!
Midway through the penitential season of Advent, the Church bids us to set aside for a moment our austerities and rejoice in Christ’s coming which is soon to be accomplished. This Sunday is marked with a spirit of joy, and we are even commanded to be joyful as we hear the entrance antiphon: Gaudete in Domino semper! – Rejoice in the Lord always!
We may wonder, however, in what this command to rejoice consists. Must even those who are sad and sorrowing rejoice? What of those who mourn the death of a loved one? What of those suffering from clinical depression? Must all these rejoice and be joyful?
What is the “joy” which the Church demands? From where is this joy derived? What do we mean when we state that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a mere emotion
When the Church demands her children to rejoice, she is not speaking of a mere emotional act. No, rather, she directs us to the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are neither emotions, nor even virtues, but are rather the acts of a man in the state of grace when led by the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, when we speak of a “fruit” in the natural world, we mean the product of a plant. So too, when we speak of the “fruit” of a man, we mean that which he produces – first, and foremost, this is his actions.
Hence, when a man acts according to the light of his reason, these actions are called the “fruits of reason”; but when a man acts according to the inspiration of the higher light coming from the Holy Spirit, these acts are called the “fruits of the Holy Spirit”.
Hence, the joy which the Church enjoins upon us on Gaudete Sunday is not an emotion, nor even a virtue, but an act. And this act is not so much an act of man’s power, but an act proceeding from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Joy as proceeding from charity
Joy is an act proceeding from the theological virtue of charity insofar as joy is caused by love – either through the possession of the beloved or because the proper good of the beloved exists in the lover.
Now, the theological virtue of charity is the love of God who is perfect and unchangeable goodness. Further, by the very fact that he is loved – i.e. by the very existence of charity in the soul of man – God is present in that man: He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
Now, since the act of joy proceeds from the possession of the beloved in the lover, and since (by sanctifying grace) the Most Holy Trinity dwells in the soul of the man who possesses the virtue of charity, it is clear that all those who are in the state of grace must needs rejoice.
Therefore, the Church can indeed demand that the faithful rejoice and be joyful, since those in the state of grace must be joyful at the presence of God within their souls. Whosoever possesses charity will always make acts of joy, for the Trinity whom he loves is present within his soul by grace.
Can a man be both sad and joyful?
But then we come to a difficulty – how can those who are sorrowing (on account of some natural evil, or even on account of some moral evil) be joyful? Must those in the state of grace have absolutely no sorrow? Or, to put the matter another way, can those who are sorrowing exercise the fruit of joy?
There is a twofold joy in God which arises from charity. On the one hand, the soul rejoices in God insofar as the perfect Goodness of God is considered in itself. In this respect, such joy cannot have any admixture of sorrow at all – for the Goodness of God is infinite and perfect in every way.
On the other hand, a soul rejoices in God not considered in himself, but rather in the Divine Good as participated by man. In other words, the soul rejoices in the fact that it participates in the Divine Life through grace. Because of the imperfections and sins of man, this joy will have admixture of sorrow, so long as we are in this life. Indeed, even the great saints grieved for their past sins and for the sins of others.
Hence, while the perfect joy in God’s own Goodness must be wholly free of any sorrow, the joy which stems from the participation in God is often mingled with sorrow (insofar as our cooperation with grace is imperfect).
And this is why the Church demands that our joy be continuous – for true joy is lost only through sin, because it is only through mortal sin that the Beloved departs from our soul at the loss of sanctifying grace.
Nothing can take God from us save mortal sin. Not depression, not the death of a loved one, not financial trouble, nor even the sins of others. Therefore, the Church must command us to be joyful, as she demands that we remain in the state of grace. If all our joy be perfect joy which comes from the presence of God within us, we will rejoice always so long as we be in the state of grace.
Furthermore, because we are preparing for the coming of Christ whom we love, and because joy increases as the Beloved draws near, the Church names this Sunday – which marks the final period of preparation before the celebration of Christmas in which we consider the coming of Christ in the flesh and prepare for his Second Coming at the end of time – Gaudete “Rejoice” Sunday.