Monday, December 19, 2011

Homily 3rd Sun Advent Year B – Rejoice in the Lord Always

rejoice At Mass today, we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known by it’s Latin name Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” which is the first word of our Entrance Antiphon: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! Indeed, the Lord is near.” This is an excellent encouragement we are given as we enter our Mass. In all of our readings today we see woven through them the thread of Joy. I think the key this Sunday is Christian Joy that is ours when Christ is near. Our penances, prayers, and other sacrifices we have made this Advent in order to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord are bearing fruit and our wait is almost over. There is cause for great Joy which is signified by our use of Rose-colored vestments. Our Lord will be born again in our hearts, bursting forth with the light of day.

Unfortunately, Joy can be an elusive virtue because it is often misunderstood. We always tend to either undercut it, by defining it too superficially, or over-emphasize it by making it too proud. In undercutting it, we can think that Joy is simply that feeling we get when things go our way. It is not very deep-seated. In over-emphasizing it we can turn Joy into a haughtiness or giddiness, like the feeling we have when we win or are successful and another person loses or fails. Either way, we tend to base it on our circumstances which are always fleeting and never endure. Or we base it on some future condition, like: “If I could only get a different job, then I’d be happy. If I could only date this or that person, then I’d be happy. If I could only get over this illness, then I’d be happy.” This is easy for us all to get caught up in. But too often, what we find is when we get what we wanted – maybe even all together! – we are still not satisfied. That is because the things or the people that we think will make us happy can never bear the weight of our happiness, the happiness we all seek in every action that we make.

Everything we say or do, from the mundane to the profound, is done to attain happiness. This is good because it is in our nature to do so. But, we must base this happiness on a foundation that will not fade away or let us down. Only Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, can bear the weight of our unquenchable happiness. We have an infinite desire for happiness that is rooted in our soul, and can only be satisfied by he who is all in all, the Alpha and the Omega, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Soon he will come again and true Christian Joy can be ours anew.

Our readings have helped us to learn what true Christian Joy is all about – so that we can avoid undercutting it, over-emphasizing it, or placing it solely on the shoulders of a particular person or thing – so we can approach it the right way and live it out well. In our first reading, Isaiah writes a beautiful poetic description of Joy. First it is characterized by closeness to the Lord. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he says, “he has sent me to bring glad tidings.” This Joy leads him to serve his fellow man, “the poor”, to “heal the broken hearted”, to “proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” We know our Joy is true when it leads us to do those things too. Who in your family, at your school, or at your work could use glad tidings brought to him? Whose day could you make a little easier this Advent? Who do you know that is broken-hearted, that could use a visit, or a phone call, or a letter to assure them that Christ, our Rock, will never leave them? Who do you know that is being held captive and prisoner to addiction or to unhealthy relationships? When the joy we receive from being close to Christ causes us to serve others then true Christian Joy becomes theirs as well.

Also in Isaiah, see how deep-seated his joy is, it is not superficial, it is not easily lost. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” he exclaims, “in my God is the joy of my soul.” His Joy, which is rooted in and springs from his soul, is like that of a bride and groom who are nearly bursting with joy as they prepare for their magnificent wedding: “like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” Just like true Joy leads to service and comes out of service, it also comes out of holy marriages and families. The marriage of a man and a woman should cause deep-seated joy in their children and in their community that mirrors the Joy that wells up in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord in his Marriage to the Church. This joy should be the center of Catholic family life. When it is, it lends a peaceful lightheartedness between children and parents and between neighbors and friends. This Joy is the will of God for all of our families and it is never too late to recommit ourselves too it or to help each other to achieve it.

Our Responsorial Psalm also has a beautiful picture of Joy and it happens to contain one of my favorite passages from Luke: Mary’s Magnificat. “Magnificat, anima mea Dominum,” she exclaims! “My soul ‘magnifies’ or ‘proclaims the greatness’ of the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary proclaims this moving Canticle out of the Joy she has in visiting her cousin Elizabeth who gave homage to our Lord still in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Here too the spirit of the Lord is upon his chosen one. Here too closeness to God leads to service and Joy. God rests in Mary’s very self, under the light of her Immaculate Heart. The overwhelming Joy of this fact moves Mary to make a treacherous journey alone to help Elizabeth who was pregnant in her old age, “for nothing is impossible with God.”

When true Joy seems impossible to find, know that in a heart properly disposed rests the same Lord of our daily Eucharist who rested in the womb of our Blessed Mother. This too should bring us much Joy. In the face of such joy we must do what St. Paul instructed the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” This is precisely what the word “Eucharist” means; it comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” A heart filled with Christian Joy can only give thanks to God. St. Paul was always filled with gratitude to God, even in the midst of intense suffering, because he knew and believed that his Joy was not founded on his circumstances in life, but on the Lord who will not change, who will not waver, who will not flinch in his faithfulness to us. During these times of suffering, Joy remains not in the outward signs of laughter or cheers but in an internal Peace and Consolation that refuses to let suffering have the last say. This is possible for all of us too if we hold onto our faith and not give in to bitterness or cynicism.

“A man named John was sent from God,” our Gospel said, “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” It is Faith in Jesus Christ, the Faith for which John paved the way, that will end in unimaginable Joy. With Faith, Joy is empowered not only to meet our deepest human longings but to satisfy them more than we could have ever imagined. And this Faith is not in a set of principles, not in a list of rules, or a framework of ideas. Our Faith is in a Person, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father… And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14-16).

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