Always is always. This is not a one-off recommendation given in a moment of spiritual fervour. Far from it. Rejoice in the Lord, rejoice always. There is therefore no time when we should not rejoice. But why?
St John the Baptist, who, in today’s Gospel has the humility to step aside and acknowledge he is not the Messiah, helps us understand. At the end of ch. 3 of St John’s Gospel, the Baptist tells us: A man cannot receive anything, unless it be given him from heaven. You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (Jn 3:27-30).
What a precious teaching we are given here. The deepest motivation for joy is that the Lord, the Bridegroom, is present. The Lord Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, the One who has come to betrothe the Church to Himself and to shed His blood for her, He is here now, and He will never leave us. If joy is the fruit of love, as St Thomas teaches us, then the greater our love for Our Lord, the more we will rejoice with the certitude of faith that He is here.
St Paul, in his second epistle to the Corinthians, writes: Great is my confidence for you: great is my glorying for you. I am filled with comfort: I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation (2 Co 7:4). And in the preceding chapter, we have that sublime passage in which the contrasts of worldly judgment and spiritual reality are portrayed by the same apostle: In all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God: by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left: by honour and dishonour: by evil report and good report: as deceivers and yet true: as unknown and yet known: as dying and behold we live: as chastised and not killed: as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: as needy, yet enriching many: as having nothing and possessing all things. (2 Co 6:4-10).
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. In the eyes of the world, the disciples of Christ are a sad lot, going around with lowered heads, not enjoying what the world has to offer. We are ridiculed for following a crucified Lord. Some of us are mocked for cleaving to the traditions of the Church. As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Perhaps the best expression of the paradox of Christian joy in suffering is given to us by St Benedict in the fourth degree of humility. He tells us that the monk, “meeting in this obedience with difficulties and contradictions and even injustice, he should with a silent mind hold fast to patience, and enduring neither tire nor run away, for the Scripture saith: He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved. And again: Let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord. And showing how the true disciple ought to endure all things, however contrary, for the Lord, it saith in the person of sufferers: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Then, confident in their hope of the divine reward, they go on with joy to declare: But in all these things we overcome, through him that hath loved us.
St Peter, for his part, tells us in his first epistle: If you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that, when His glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy (1Pe 4:13). Joy therefore reaches its climax precisely at the moment when we are given to bear witness to Christ by suffering for him. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.
In all these things, we overcome. Yes, the future is always bright for a true Christian. For our beloved is with us now, and He is coming in glory very soon. And we know that those who suffer for and with Him will rejoice forever.
I will see you again, and your joy no one will take from you.