As we draw closer to the joyful Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, the Church, as mother and teacher, proclaims "Rejoice"
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - "Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete : modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum." "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God" (Philippians 4: 4 - 6)
The Introit (or entry) of the Liturgy on this Third Sunday of Advent is taken from a letter of St. Paul. It sets the theme of the entire celebration, JOY. Our Purple vestments, symbolizing the penitential nature of our Advent preparation, are replaced in many churches with vestments of what some call rose and others simply call "pink". The General Instructions for the Roman Missal explain the reasons for color of our vestments: "The purpose of a variety of color of the sacred vestments is to give effective expression even outwardly to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and to a sense of Christian life's passage through the course of the liturgical year."
As we draw closer to the joyful Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, the Church, as mother and teacher, proclaims to us all - in the imperative - "Rejoice!"
Our readings proclaim it as well. The Spirit speaks through the Messianic Prophet Isaiah, "I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; (Isaiah 61:10). Our Psalm Refrain is drawn from the Magnificat of Our Lady (the woman whom the tradition calls "Causa nostrae laetitiae" or "cause of our joy"), "My soul rejoices in my God". (Luke 1:47). Our epistle is from a letter of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians, also imperative in its case, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess. 5:16). Finally, our Gospel presents the Baptizer who speaks of his vocation in the words of Isaiah "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,' make straight the way of the Lord,'" (John 1:23).
Sometimes we have an image of John as the austere ascetic, the odd fellow who lives in the desert eating an odd diet thundering to Israel about repentance. We can forget the joy that is associated with his life and vocation. Remember that when Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth - she carrying the Incarnate Word and Elizabeth carrying John - the Gospel tells us what occurred: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior." (Luke 1: 41-47)
Living in the first home of the whole human race, his mothers womb, this last Prophet of the Old Testament and First Prophet of the New responded to the arrival of Jesus with a dance of Joy. St. John the great theologian records in his Gospel where John explains the source of his supernatural joy, "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease." (John 1:29 - 30) John the Baptizer was a man of Joy because he was a man of true humility!
He was a man who understood that it wasn't all about him. He emptied himself and revealed Jesus to others. He was the "best man" at the wedding. His humility opened a space within him for true joy, the kind which comes from the Lord. As we walk through the remaining two weeks of this Advent of preparation, the two biblical persons held before us in our readings at Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours will be John the Baptizer and Mary. Mary's humility brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven. She was a woman of such deep joy because she became the habitation of happiness. She overflows with Him and imparts joy to us all.
John stands as a sign on this Gaudete Sunday. He points out the path to freedom, the way to find lasting joy and happiness through living the lifestyle of self emptying."He must increase and I must decrease". This lifestyle leads to conversion. On this Gaudete Sunday we find the essence of the Advent season. We are to live our lives as joyful penitents ever aware of our utter dependency on God's grace. It is sin which leads us into slavery and thus takes away our joy. Only by being freed from it can we truly be happy.
God desires our human flourishing. He invites us to choose Him. In Jesus Christ he has given us all that we need to overcome the obstacles which impede us. Notice the language with which we discuss eternal life.We speak of receiving the "beatific vision" when we stand in His presence, finally free. The Sermon on the Mount invites us to live our lives differently now by living the "beatitudes". The word "beatitude" actually means happiness! Living in the Lord will make us happy. Yet we too often associate repentance with some kind of wrong- headed self hatred. To the contrary, for those who have been schooled in its lessons, like John the Baptizer, the way of voluntary penitence becomes the path to true joy.
Let me conclude with some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude. As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC 1731 - 1733)
REJOICE! GAUDETE! The Lord is near. Let us prepare a place for Him to be born anew within our hearts, our lives and our homes. Let us hear the invitation of the Baptizer today and take the next two weeks to clean the house, making it ready. Let us choose the way of humility and find the happiness of heaven, even here on earth.
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