The letter announcing the Year of Consecrated Life is entitled Rejoice and begins with the exhortation Be glad, rejoice, radiate joy. It contains many calls and challenges to religious to radiate the joyfulness which can only come from God, and a life lived deeply in him. Go to any vows ceremony and you will see and feel this joy - in abundance; both the uncontained joy of the one making vows and the deep happiness of the community receiving the newly professed into their midst.
Interestingly, in our vows ceremony, it is the one receiving the vows who announces she does so with joy and with gratitude. No such words are assigned to the one making vows - maybe because her delight is so evident, it cannot be contained or expressed in words, however lyrical they may be. Who needs words when there are sparkling eyes and beaming smiles which say it all?
Eighteen years ago today, overflowing with pure, God-given joy and gratitude, I made my first vows as an RSCJ. And then, the day after - my first full day as a vowed religious - was Gaudete Sunday and it was as if every word of the Mass readings sang within me. With Isaiah I too could proclaim I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God...
Eighteen years on, no longer in my early thirties, I know my joy has matured and quietened down, as have I. The effervescent delight and passion have been replaced by a deep contentment: the God who gave joy to my youth (a quote used during the homily of my vows ceremony) now gladdens my middle age in a quieter, subtler yet deeper way. And this, of course, is what we are really being called to radiate: not the joy of a moment or a day, but the joy of ordinary lived reality; a joy which infuses every day, and somehow underlies even the darkest, hardest times, bringing hope and reminding us of God's promise.
This morning, as I sat down to pray, I greeted God with a small chuckle: Eighteen years, eh? My follow-up line hung unspoken, though, because as I was about to add who'd have thought it? God's firm assurance was already there - I'd have thought it. And, in case I needed further assurance, I found it later in a line from today's second reading: God has called you and he will not fail you (I Thess 5:24). Fundamentally, it is God who keeps faith with us, and gives us the grace of perseverance and closer union in our discipleship.
And therein lies the source of my joy: God's unswerving, compassionate, loving fidelity and presence, which somehow makes up for all that is lacking in me. A gentle, faithful presence which acts as a leaven in the midst of times of stress and difficulty, and somehow sees me through to the next day; a constancy which reminds me who I'm living for and why it's worth it. God has called me and kept faith with me, and will never revoke his promise. And that certainty alone is more than enough to gladden my heart and calls for celebration...!