Paul on Paul – 12th December 2021

Tempus adest gratiæ Hoc quod optabamus, Carmina lætitiæ Devote reddamus.

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
Philippians 4:4-7

I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.


Appropriate Background Music for this Sunday’s reflection

The 3rd Sunday on Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday – Joyful or Rejoicing Sunday – but we looked at that last year.

Instead of just telling us to ‘Rejoice’ and be happy, this Sunday’s 2nd Reading forces us to consider how we can rejoice. Paul, writing, most likely, from his prison cell, a miserable and awful place, tells others to be happy.

But to implore happiness is one thing, but how does one achieve that? “…If there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer…” is Paul’s suggestion. So accept what we have, and if there is whatever we need, we know that we can ask God for it.

There – that was easy. But, of course, we know that that is not true. We know that God does not always deliver what we ask. we don’t get every promotion we pray for; the relationship we long for; and not every illness we pray to be cured is. So how can this be a recipe for Christian happiness?

Because, I would suggest, that is only half of the story. We are not just to pray for it, but to use “…prayer of thanksgiving…”, not, necessarily a prayer of petition (or request). But then, what does St. Paul say we should expect when we pray to God? That our prayers will all be instantly answered? No – not at all. He says that “…that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts.”

It’s not a denial or a guarantee of abandonment. It is instead a promise of contentment – that when we seek something from God, God’s consideration for us is not merely our short-term ask, but our long-term betterment. Just as we have all experienced the sadness and disappointment of a prayer not answered, we have all experienced the joy of the dodged bullet – that thing we thought we wanted, but turned out would have ruined us.

Because true Joy, Christian Joy, is not merely ‘happiness’. It is not the promotion, or the short-term gain – but it is the long-term benefit and, ultimately, eternal happiness in Heaven. And God – who loves us with the love of a Parent – acts as a parent, sometimes denying what we want (to our own sadness) in favour of what we need.

So when we pray to God, we will not always get the happiness of what we ask for, but He will, in His love “…guard your hearts and your thoughts…”, so that we may experience true, pure, Christian Joy.

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