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Gaudete! Rejoice because the Lord is near!
By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 12th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
'I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth.' (St. Josemaria Escriva)CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – In just a matter of days we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. The Church as mother and teacher called us on the third Sunday of Advent to pause from our Advent preparation. She proclaimed in the the call in the liturgy, using the imperative case - “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 repetition as the second reading underscores the theme of the celebration, 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 lesson the Spirit speaks through the Prophet Zephaniah describing a God who rejoices: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart…. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals. (Zeph. 3) Then in our epistle, the Apostle Paul writing to the Philippians, using the command form in Greek, calls us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all.” He gives us the reason for our joy reminding the early Christians and all who stand with them in that communion of the Church, “The Lord is near.” (Phil. 4)
Our Gospel presented the words of John the Baptizer. He proclaims, and demonstrates, a way of life which should characterize those who live as though they know that the Lord is near: “The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He calls for a total re- formation of our lives. The point is an important one. Because the Lord is near we must live differently. This lifestyle will help to ensure that this joy becomes more than a passing emotion. In response to the crowds who asked whether he is the Messiah he proclaimed “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)
Sometimes we have an image of John the Baptizer as an austere ascetic. We can forget the joy that is associated with his life and vocation. Remember when Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth - she carrying the Incarnate Word and Elizabeth carrying John? The Gospel account records that : “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.
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 and just kept living in joy. 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)
John the Baptizer 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. He was the “best man” at the wedding. 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.
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 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.
John stands as a sign for us today on Gaudete Sunday. He points out for each one of us the path to lasting joy; a lifestyle of self emptying called humility. “He must increase and I must decrease”. This lifestyle of love of God - before love of self - leads to continual conversion and transformation for those who respond to grace. On this Sunday we find the essence of the Advent season presented in every aspect of our worship. We are invited 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 takes away our joy. Only by being freed from it can we truly be happy.
God desires our genuine happiness. He invites us to choose Him and find the way to live in joy. 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 in the Catholic Church. 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, living life His way, is what will really make us happy. Yet we 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.
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” of our heart, making it ready for his birth. Let us choose to embrace by grace the way of humility and find the happiness of heaven - beginning right here on earth. St. Josemaria Escriva rightly proclaimed: “I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth.” (The Forge, 1005) Amen!
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