“Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Phil 4:4)
St. Paul wrote to the community in the city of Philippi at a time when he was being persecuted and in serious trouble. Yet in spite of this he advised those dear friends of his, in fact he almost commanded them, to “rejoice always.”
But can anyone give such a command?
Look at the world around us. Sometimes it’s hard to find reasons for feeling good about life, never mind joyful!
With all the worries we have, the social injustice and strained relationships among nations, it’s already hard work to avoid becoming overwhelmed and discouraged, and turning in on ourselves.
And yet, Paul’s invitation is there for us, too:
“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
What was his secret?
Chiara Lubich wrote: “There is a reason why, despite all our difficulties, we should always be joyful. The reason is that Christian life lived out brings us to this. Through Christian life, Jesus is alive in us and when we are with him we cannot fail to be joyful. He is the source of true joy because he gives meaning to our life and guides us with his light. He frees us from fear, whether we are concerned about the past or something yet to come. He gives us the strength to overcome all the difficulties, temptations and trials that we might encounter.”1
Christian joy is not simple optimism, nor is it the security given by material wellbeing. It isn’t the cheeriness of those who are young and healthy. Instead it is the fruit of a personal meeting with God in the depths of our hearts.
“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Paul went on to say that this joy enables us to welcome others in a kindly way and be ready to use our time for others (Phil 4:5). Moreover, on another occasion, Paul referred explicitly to Jesus’ saying; “There is more joy in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).
Being in Jesus’ company gives us an inner peace that has a “disarming power” and can often have a positive impact on the people around us.
Not long ago, despite the dangers and challenges of the war, a large group of Syrian young people met together to share their experiences of living the Gospel and to experience the joy of mutual love. They returned home determined to witness that it is possible to live as one family.
We received this feedback from one of the people that participated:
“We heard so many stories about profound suffering and pain, but also about great hope and heroic faith in God’s love. Some people have lost everything. Others watched their loved ones die.
“Now these young people are determined to help make a new start. They have organized fundraising events, involving thousands of people. They are at work to rebuild a school and a garden at the center of a small village where construction remained unfinished due to the war. They have helped many refugee families.
“The words of Chiara Lubich come to mind, ‘Christian joy is like a ray of sunlight shining through a tear, a rose flowering from blood-stained soil. It is the essence of love distilled from suffering. That is why it has the apostolic power of a glimpse of paradise.’2
“In these Syrian brothers and sisters of ours, we recognize the fortitude of the first Christians through the way they bear witness — during this terrible war — to their trust and hope in God who is love. Their example helps their friends to have the same trust and hope. Thank you, Syrian friends, for this lesson in Christianity put into practice!”