You may have noticed a little different color scheme today! Yes, the Church celebrates the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. Thus the color of the vestments is rose–the color of hope. Traditionally in the liturgy, today is also the one day that flowers are allowed and the organ is played. This comes from the entrance antiphon for the Mass:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
This comes from the original latin: “Gaudete in Domino semper Dominus prope est.”Rejoice in the Lord always, the Lord is near. The word Guadete is an imperative plural–a command. Rejoice! This comes from Saint Paul’s letter to the Phillipians: Here is a man writing from prison telling the Church at Philipi to rejoice. Why should they, and should we, rejoice? He answers very simply: “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5).
The first two readings today call us to live the joy of expecting the Lord. The Gospel exhorts us to conversion.
The first reading of Isaiah tells us of the closeness of the Lord: “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice”
In the Responsorial “Psalm” we chant the words of the Blessed Mother as she visits Saint Elizabeth. Her saviour is within her womb, and she is rejoicing because our saviour is truly very close at hand. She is a teacher to us of the deep joy that our Lord brings!
In the second reading we hear this again: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:16-17). Pray always–another secret to joy.
Is this joy something that comes to us wrapped in a shiny box, with expensive contents inside? Is this joy season tickets to our favorite sport or the long desired car, house, or vacation? Is it the satisfaction of our desires for pleasure? Saint Thomas Aquinas once said that “No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”
The more we give ourselves to our Lord, the more we fight lukewarm attitudes about living the Faith and our relationship with Christ, the more joy you and I will have. The more we allow Him to draw close to us in the sacraments, and the more we spend in prayer, penance, and giving ourselves in works of mercy towards others, the more joy we will have. That is the great paradox of the life of faith.
The Lord is very truly close to us. He is close to us by remaining with us in the Eucharist. How do we treat Him? Do we look to this great gift as an onerous burden every Sunday? Do we really make coming to Mass something to be anticipated with great joy? Our Lord gives Himself to us entirely and do we respond in kind, or do we try to cut corners? The more generously we give ourselves to Him, and through Him, to others, the more joy we will have. Next weekend we will have the opportunity to attend the holy sacrifice of the Mass twice: once for the fourth Sunday of Advent on either Saturday evening or Sunday morning and then for Christmas: either Sunday evening or Monday morning.
What a great grace to be able to be so close to our Lord. Truly, the Lord is near!
“Those who selfishly welcome God’s gifts fail to find true joy; but the hearts of those who make God’s gifts an opportunity to love him with sincere gratitude and to communicate his love to others, are truly filled with joy” (Benedict XVI, Dec 16, 2012).
In the Gospel we encounter the great figure of Saint John the Baptist. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, Saint John calls us to a conversion of heart. His life is patterned on the prophet Elijah, and thus he is acting in the spirit of Elijah, as the Angel told his father Zechariah: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk 1:17). Let us allow this man to convict our hearts of the areas in our lives that we are keeping away from the Lord. Take advantage of the sacrament of confession. What a joy it is for me as a priest to experience this sense that so many are coming to the sacrament during Advent!
As Christmas approaches, let us not get caught up in the superficial commercialism and materialism that is proposed to us. If we wish to experience the joy of the coming of the Lord, we must prepare a way in our hearts. We must turn away from sin and turn toward prayer and works of mercy. How many are so stressed during this time! Why is that? It is a call to you and to me to really take a step back: remove whatever is between us and the Lord and then in experiencing that deep joy and peace to bring that to the world around us. Remain close to the Blessed Mother and she will always bring us to her son.