Filled With Joy

(Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C)

Today's Psalm says: “The Lord has done great things for us. We are filled with joy.” It is interesting how often the theme of joy comes up during Lent. Last Sunday was called “Laetare” which means rejoice. (The same root is contained in the name Leticia, meaning joy.) We thing of Lent as a solemn time with prescribed days of fasting and abstinence, examination of conscience and confession of sin, station of the cross and meditation on the passion. Yet the goal of it all is joy.

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”

Today we see a woman who sought joy so desperately that she was willing to jeopardize her marriage, family, good name and her life. But she did not receive joy, maybe not even pleasure. No doubt the man had told her how pretty she was, that she could count on him, that she meant more to him than life itself. But when trouble came, he disappeared. What the woman dreaded most was now happening. She got caught - and there was no one to defend her. She could not have been more alone - or more bitter.

The irony of this short narrative is that when the worst happened, it initiated a chain of events which would lead to true joy. It would lead to Jesus. When she finally extended her hand to him, she at last found joy. It was not because Jesus gave her a pass. Far from it. His word to her was strict - but tender.*

Joy has two parts. First, abandoning any pretense of being right, but rather accepting mercy in place of misery. Secondly it involves discipline, a resolution to sin no more.

Joy does not mean doing whatever one wants, whenever one feels like it. I know a man who, because of certain circumstances, received an early retirement. He can get up and go to bed when he wants, eat anytime and anything he desires - and he spends most of the day reading or watching television. It seems he would be very happy, but he is not. In fact, to anyone who listens he admits to being deeply miserable. On the other hand I have known people who have very little and must work long hours, yet they have joy. Joy comes when we accept discipline and make God our goal.

The woman in today's Gospel shows that joy is possible, no matter in what circumstance we find ourselves. Peter Kreeft - philosophy professor at Boston College - challenges those who think joy is impossible. This is what he said:

No one who ever said to God, “Thy will be done” and meant it with his heart, ever failed to find joy — not just in heaven, or even down the road in the future in this world, but in this world at that very moment, here and now.

The Gospel does not tell us what happened to the woman, for example, whether her husband took her back. We cannot imagine that everything went smoothly for her. A couple of years ago three of my priest friends had their names in the headlines for things they did twenty years ago. They can never return to priestly ministry. Maybe the woman caught in adultery found herself in a position like theirs. After such notoriety, how can one go home?

Jesus' friends Martha and Mary may have given her temporary shelter. Early Christian tradition indicates that she wound up at the foot of the cross, next to the mother of Jesus. Whatever took place, this woman teaches us something important. No matter the circumstances of your life, no matter how much disappointment and guilt you bear, it is still possible to find joy. Look to Jesus.**

We are only seven days from Holy Week. If you have not seen The Passion of the Christ, see it now. Or if you have seen the movie, go again. It contains a dramatic scene of Jesus and the woman of today’s Gospel. To identify the nameless woman with Mary Magdalene might be incorrect. Still, since Jesus alone stood up for her during her trial, would she not have stood by him during those terrible final hours?

As we enter Holy Week, a good person to walk with is the woman rescued by Jesus. She joined her own pain to the suffering of Jesus. And she, perhaps more than most others, knew the great joy of forgiveness. With her we can pray the beautiful words of today’s Psalm:

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.


*Some preachers will use this Gospel to counsel greater “compassion” toward those involved in sexual sin, especially the sin du jour - homosexual activity. Jesus was hardly soft on adultery - he condemned even the willful fantasies which lead a person in that direction. At the same time, “zero tolerance” was not part of his vocabulary. This so different from our society which permits everything, but forgives nothing.

**Jesus brings joy because he focuses not on condemnation, but always on the person, the salvation of souls. Because of that focus, he took things to different level. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” In an instant, the accusers became the accused. They left one by one, the seniors first, but even the young men, bent on eradicating evil from society, finally let the stones slip from their hands. For more on how Jesus dealt with the real dilemma in today's Gospel, see Misery and Mercy.

A contemporary sequel to the Woman Caught in Adultery: Sin: A Cardinal Deposed

Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):
The Breastplate (2013)
From Misery to Joy (2010)
Neither Do I Condemn You (2007)
Filled With Joy (2004)
Misery and Mercy (2001)

Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:

Revive (2011)
Overcoming the Power of Death (2008)
Joining Body with Soul (2005)
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)

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Pictures from Holy Family Parish Walk to St. James Cathedral (March 13, 2004)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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