Violence and crime always seem to be coming into our living room on TV, but the stories on TV and in the newspaper only overshadow the tragedies that occur year after year, especially at Christmas. What should be the most joy-filled time of year is often the most lonely and despairing for many people. The suicide rate is at its highest at Christmas. For many, this may not be the worst of times, but it is not the best of times either. In our own lives there may be tragedy.
Forget that the first three people who celebrated Christmas did not have it very easy. St. Paul tells us today to rejoice always. But how can I rejoice when I am out of work, losing my house, sick, my marriage is not working out, the kids aren’t doing well in school, there was a death in our family? Or when I see a neighbor, or someone I love, in these situations? So what is there to be joyful about?
Paul’s call might sound a little distant, if not totally empty, to some of us. Paul is not calling us to some Pollyanna approach to life that ignores the hard and unpleasant realities. Just do a brief study of Paul’s life and, compared to him, most of us have it easy. So what made life bearable for him, what kept him going in spite of everything? There is a clue in the second sentence; he says, “Never cease praying.”
Paul was many things: apostle, missionary, preacher. But above all, he was a man of faith, and a man of prayer. He had a union and a communication with God, and when you have that, you have everything.
Faith can move mountains: Mountains of difficulties, troubles, despair. Prayer can work wonders. Without prayer, you cannot know God. You cannot know someone whom you do not talk to.
A master and a novice were sitting beside a river, watching the current. The novice turned to the master and said, “Master, teach me how to pray. I cannot seem to find the prayer within me, and I long to commune with God.” The master took his young friend’s head, and proceeded to hold it under the river water. He held the novice there for many long seconds, until he released the young man’s head, as he came up gasping and sputtering. Then the master said, “When you long to communicate with God with the same desire as that breath of air, then you will be praying. When it becomes second nature.”
One of the greatest obstacles to a union with God is that we are too complicated. We are waiting to get to this particular stage when we are going to pray, waiting until we aren’t so busy, until we are older, wiser. But if you are like that man, whose head was under water, when you come up for air you will pray. If you are looking for God you do not have to look far. Just pray, and He is there!
Paul could tell us to rejoice because he told the Romans, with God on our side, who can be against us? Nothing, therefore, can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried. Or if we are being persecuted, or lacking food or clothing, or being threatened or even attacked. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of He who loves us.
And he goes on, “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, nor any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ, Jesus our Lord.”
With faith like that, Paul could always rejoice. And with faith like that, so will we!