Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ~ Philippians 4:4
I think the month of May was given to us by God for celebrations. Star Wars fans begin the month wishing well to one another, saying “May the fourth be with you.” Mexicans celebrate a victory in their struggle for independence a day later on Cinco de Mayo. A few weeks later we celebrate Mother’s Day. Finally, on the month’s last Monday we memorialize all those who have died defending the United States of America. That is just the societal celebrations, we haven’t mentioned high school and college graduations and proms or those who receive the Sacraments of Initiation. It goes without saying there are many reasons to celebrate this month.
As the weather gets warmer, these events and occasions give us reason to gather with family and friends to share in some silliness like Star Wars day, give thanks to our mothers for blessing us with the gift of life, celebrate the accomplishments of loved ones and honor those who have protected a nation’s independence and freedom. There are abundant blessings for us in celebrations, if you don’t believe me God says so himself, in the book of Leviticus.
I don’t know about you but in my bible, the pages of Leviticus are not very worn. A compendium of old Jewish laws is not my first choice of literature for recreational reading. But it is where you’ll find a divine decree declaring the need for celebration. Too good to be true, right? It isn’t. God says to the Israelite's, “you shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants, it shall be a jubilee for you when each of you shall return to his property and each of you return to his family (Lev 25:10 NRSV).” Jesus says to us in his Good Shepherd discourse that He came to us so that we might have life abundantly (cf John 10:10). God knows there is a need for us to rest from work and enjoy life, after all, we are created in both His image and His likeness (cf Gen 1:26-27), so we are to live and enjoy life, not merely exist.
The Catholic Church has maintained the importance of celebrating as a family of faith since the pontificate of Boniface VIII established the Christian Jubilee
church-wide in 1300. Today, it has become the common practice that an ordinary Jubilee year is celebrated every quarter-century, our next regularly scheduled Catholic gala will be in 2025. However, there are occasions when the Pope has decided to throw a special party celebrating an aspect of God’s love. This occurred most recently when our current Pontiff, Francis, declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that lasted from December 8, 2015, until November 20, 2016. He recognized that we needed to celebrate in a special way God’s mercy, saying “at times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives
(Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus
).” It was an occasion of grace and reconciliation for many.
As both the Jewish law and Christian custom allude to the act of celebrating with one another can transform our spirituality. While we don’t need a Papal Bull to attend a college graduation ceremony or Memorial Day party, we do often receive or extend an invitation for family and friends to join us. In some small way that invites mirrors the words of Christ, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest
(Matt 11:28).” Our earthly celebrations are an opportunity to stop working, cast aside the struggles (even if for just an afternoon or weekend), and taste the joy of heaven.
Hallow these opportunities for great joy. Party with a purpose. Intentionally enjoy these moments for they are part of the abundant life we have been promised by Jesus. Your spiritual life will bear fruit, families will grow closer to one another, friendships will be strengthened and God’s kingdom will be made manifest on earth.
May, we celebrate.