Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
–Philippians 4:4-7 (RSV)
We hear this passage every Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday, the Latin for the first word of this reading—Rejoice! And it can be easy to rejoice around the end of Advent and Christmas. There is the promise of parties, family time, gifts, and surprises. A festive mood is prevalent every where. Of course we are rejoicing in that! And we rejoice in the spiritual meaning, that of God becoming Man, the mystery of the Incarnation. We rejoice at the appearance of the babe in the manger.
But what do we do when Christmas is over? The Wise Men have gone home. The decorations are put away for another year. It is Ordinary Time again, and life feels…ordinary. We are back to the routine of work, school, and daily obligations.
But St. Paul doesn’t tell us to just rejoice when it’s holiday time. He tells us to rejoice always. Every day! We aren’t to worry about anything!
Right. Sure, St. Paul. Because the electric bill will pay itself, and dinner will end up on the table by House-elf, and the mop is enchanted, like in Sleeping Beauty. Sure! No worries!
The thing is—he means it.
One of the things I started doing this year is keeping a spiritual journal. Now I’ve kept a regular journal since I was about twelve. But this is different. In this journal, I write my prayer practices, prayer requests, helping quotations, prayers, homily notes, and other things that help me in my spiritual growth. I take it with me to my weekly Holy Hour and write down what God puts in my heart there. It’s always with me, jammed in my bag, and is starting to get a little rough around the edges, but I love this little book.
Another thing I record in its pages are things I’m thankful for, the little blessings God gives me everyday. I scribble big things and small things, from hot, steamy bath water to a good doctor’s appointment to seeing wobbly cut-out hearts in a florist’s window.
This can sound hokey. Everyone, it seems, talks about “Gratitude journals” these days. But to me, it is sheer, perfect evidence of how God works in our lives. How many opportunities we have for joy, for thanksgiving! And then, the greatest of all thanksgivings, the Mass, Eucharist—which means thanksgiving. We can go to Mass daily, if we want, and if we have the ability. We can worship God and receive Him every single day. That baby in the manger is God incarnate! And even though the tree is put away, He can never be put away. He is the cause of our joy.
In the bustle of daily life, the baby can get lost. The thanksgiving, the joy, can be overwhelmed by carpools, traffic, daily errands, and laundry. We can forget to see. I know I’ve done it. But if we train ourselves to see, to take in the little bits of joy that God gives us everyday, we can practice thanksgiving all the time. And then, maybe, we can start to find the “peace that surpasses all understanding”, that St. Paul has promised us. Peace that can never be taken away, no matter how crazy the day, because we know that God has given us the greatest joy—His Son.
Can you list 3 things off the top of your head you’re thankful for right now?