On this Gaudete Sunday let us embrace by grace the way of humility and thereby find the happiness of heaven - beginning here on earth. St. Josemaria Escriva, a Saint of our own time who teaches us that the universal call to holiness embraces every vocation and state in life, once wrote, "I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth." (The Forge, 1005)
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - I am not feeling all that happy these days. My family has been living through a traumatic time involving a family member. It has affected me deeply. The pain, hurt, fear, worry..and that awful killer on the loose in our modern mania, stress, are distracting me from the source of True Joy, Jesus! It is in times like this that I especially thank God for the great gift of the liturgical year. Our mother the Church invites us to enter into the deepest mysteries of the faith by living them liturgically. The Feasts we celebrate and the preparation for them are an invitation to participate,even now, in the life to come. So it is with "Gaudete" Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing.
Christian joy is not rooted in the circumstances and struggles of our daily lives. Often, they are the bad fruit of the disorder and brokenness caused by sin. Christian Joy finds its root in the relationship we now have in and through Jesus Christ, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. We rejoice on this Guadete Sunday, because the Lord is always near. One of the Psalms we regularly chant in the Liturgy of the Hours reminds us of the truth, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed. Many are the troubles of the just, but the LORD delivers from them all." (Psalm 34:19,20)
In a matter of days we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. The Church as mother and teacher calls us on the third Sunday of Advent to pause from our Advent preparation. She summons us in the liturgy by using the imperative case to - "Rejoice!" In Latin,"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." In English,"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God" (Phil. 4: 4 - 6)
The Introit (or entry) of the Liturgy on the Third Sunday of Advent is taken from this letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. Its speaks of JOY. Bishops, priests and deacons have, up to this point, worn purple vestments symbolizing the penitential nature of our Advent preparation. On this Sunday they are replaced with vestments of a rose color, a symbol of joy. The General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM) 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."
In our Old Testament reading the Prophet Isaiah proclaims that at the coming of the Lord " the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee." (Isaiah 35). As Christians we know that the Lord has Come, in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed trinity. The Word has become flesh and He has dwelt among us (John 1). Life is forever changed and the world is being recreated in Him. In just a few short days we will celebrate His Nativity. However, on this day we pause to remember that He has Come, he is Coming and he will Come Again. This is where we find our Joy. We who live our lives now in His Body, the Church, are the new Zion, freed from our bondage and called to dance!
Our Gospel passage (Matthew 11:2-11) from the Liturgy points again to our Advent teacher, John the Baptizer. Jesus sends the disciples to prison to visit John and tell him that thepromise of Isaiah has been fulfilled, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." He knows the joy that message will bring to John. John, the Forerunner, lived an Advent way of life which proclaimed to all that the Lord is near.
In His preaching and his life witness he called for a total re-formation. The point is an important one. We are called to reform our lives. Because the Lord is near we must live differently. This lifestyle change should characterize Christians. It is why, before they were called Christians, they were referred to as "the Way" (See, e.g., Acts 22:4). By living our lives "in the Lord" we can find the Joy proclaimed on this Gaudete Sunday. Last week we heard the Gospel account when John told the crowds, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Luke 3) We have received that Baptism, and with it all the grace we need to respond to the invitation.
John's humility is the road on which we are invited to walk. He became a man of Joy because he was a man of humility! He understood the great truth presented to all of us in our Liturgy today. It wasn't all about him! It isn't all about us! John emptied himself - of himself - and thereby became one who could reveal Jesus to others. His humility opened a space within him for true joy, the kind which comes from the real presence of the Lord. So it can be for each one of us. Living in the first home of the whole human race, his mother's womb, this last Prophet of the Old Testament and First Prophet of the New responded to the arrival of Jesus with a dance and just kept living in joy. The Gospel account records the visit of Mary to Elizabeth:
"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) Joy fills Elizabeth, inspires Mary to sing a canticle of praise and causes the child John to dance in the womb. Joy is a Person named Jesus.
In the fourth Gospel, the theologian John records the Baptizer explaining 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) As we walk through the remaining days of Advent, 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 deep joy because she became the habitation of happiness, the first living tabernacle. She overflows with Jesus and imparts joy to us all. We call her, among her many other wonderful titles, the "cause of our Joy". That is because she bore the One who is its source, Jesus Christ.
We can find this kind of joy, this genuine happiness, beginning today, no matter what our circumstances. The Apostle Paul lived an arduous life of discipleship. He suffered physically, relationally and spiritually. Yet, he too was a man of this kind of joy. He told the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. " (Phil. 4:4-6)
On this Gaudete Sunday let us embrace by grace the way of humility and find the happiness of heaven - beginning right here on earth. St. Josemaria Escriva, a Saint of our own time who teaches us that the universal call to holiness embraces every vocation and state in life, once wrote, "I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth." (The Forge, 1005) On this Gaudete Sunday let us learn the way of lasting Joy.
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