Gaudete Sunday: Third Sunday of Advent

Rejoice! On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Universal Church takes time to rejoice. And we have plenty of reason to rejoice- “the Lord is near.”

In twelve days, we will celebrate Our Savior’s first coming at Christmas, and so during this Advent season of preparation, penance, and anticipation/expectation, we take time to rejoice.

At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there are many visible signs that point to our rejoicing: the presence of the Eucharist, the burning rose-colored candle on the advent wreath, the flowers in the sanctuary, and the priest wearing the rose color vestments.

The readings for this Mass set the tone for rejoicing. In the second reading St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “rejoice always,” and we ourselves must take the Apostle’s exhortation to heart.
For Christians, the Lord is the source of our joy, and we must remain close to Him in our prayers. Follow what the Apostle says, “pray without ceasing.”

It is in prayer, that we stay in loving dialogue with our God, and through prayer we come to know His supreme will for us. And this is where our joy and ultimate happiness lies: in doing the will of God. Whenever we do the Lord’s will; while at the same time refraining from doing whatever is evil, this is how we attain holiness and true happiness.

True and everlasting joy escapes us when we fail to do the will of God, especially when we commit sin, and so it is for our own supernatural and spiritual good that we avoid sin and strive to do God’s will in our lives. And we can only know God’s will through our prayer and having a close friendship with Him.

As the prophet Isaiah said: “in my God is the joy of my soul.” And for each one of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, God is the only joy of our souls. In staying close to God – joy is ours – a joy in its true sense, a joy deep within our souls, and we will give witness to this joy to others who will be affected by it.

Our Lord is calling us to rejoice, and so as stated in the entrance antiphon for Holy Mass, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice! The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5).

In His name,
Father Edwin Perez

Advent Hope

One day, while filing away papers, the secretary of President John F. Kennedy found this note, written in the president’s own hand. It read: “I know there is a God—and I see a storm coming. If He has a place for me, I believe that I am ready.” Our Lord’s warning this weekend to be ready, and President Kennedy’s readiness to serve, invite me to ask: “How ready am I to put myself at God’s service for whatever God may ask me to do?”

Today begins Advent: a new season and a new Liturgical Year. It is a short season, often cut off from a full four weeks by the secular calendar. It is as if there’s such a thing as “Lent Lite,” since it asks us to do penance and fast in preparation for the great Feast of Christ- mas.
Of course, one nod to the world around us and the media that frame it, and you would believe that this is the season for shopping, decorating, and even baking. None of those is bad in itself. But if any of it robs us of some quiet time for reflection and prayer, then we have wasted Advent time.

In fact, this First Sunday of the season traditionally pulls us away from thoughts about the annual celebration of Christ’s first coming to make us reflect on His second one. That is very much an unknown entity, even though it is inevitable.

The whole point of Advent is not to exclude our pre-Christmas fun, but to remind us of life’s serious side. It’s time to get ready for the next life as President Kennedy believed himself to be.

Nor does Advent ask us to pretend that Christ has not already come to us. It is rather telling us that Christ wants to come closer to us. One day in the unknown future, framed in the Book of Revelation as one of fire raging and trum- pets blaring, Jesus will come back as He promised He would, to judge us all and decide our eternal fate.

In the meantime, we are asked to remember the fact of His wanting to come closer to us. In fact, we should desire to be one of His points of entry into the world, always being attentive to what’s coming, rather than just to opt for a set- tled and comfortable life. This means that we actually facilitate the coming of God’s world into our own that began some 2,000 years ago with Christ. Now each of us has a part to play. In other words, each of us must so live that it doesn’t matter when the end comes because our whole life is a preparation for it.

In this context, it is remarkable what insight comes to us by way of that twenty-something Little Flower who is Saint Therese of Lisieux. Once she wrote this: “Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors.”

God love you and give you His Advent peace!

Reading I: Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7
The prophet quotes a psalmist who cries out like a despairing man, and implores God’s intervention. He admits that God has abandoned the sinner to his guilt.

Reading II: I Corinthians 1: 3-9
Paul declares himself to be an authentic apostle by virtue of his calling. Using his regular salutation signifies God’s goodness and His many gifts. He thanks God especially for His gifts to the Corinthian community.

The Gospel: Mark 13: 33-37
“Not knowing the day nor the hour” is Mark’s reason for exhorting vigilance. Jesus expands His meaning to go past the pending destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to include all Jews and Jewish Christians.

Reflections

Experience amends a well-known proverb so that
honesty is not always the best policy, especially in our interpersonal relationships. I doubt there is a husband alive who
doesn’t know the right answer to his wife’s query: “Do these
jeans make me look fat?” Complete honesty in this example
would net a host of negative responses, perhaps including a
lost supper that evening.

Similarly, every wife knows what not to do on a typical Sunday afternoon in the Fall when it comes to suggesting to her husband that he help her rake the leaves when the hometown football team is playing televised football. She might not like his verbal response. And so it goes.

On the other hand, we dare not deny the necessity of honesty in any spiritual self appraisal we may undertake, much less one guided by a trusted spiritual advisor.

We come face to face this second Sunday of Advent 2019 with the man of the season: John the Baptist.

Honesty personified is he. Complete with his unusual wardrobe, fortified by his strange diet, yet striking the pose of a prophet. He has a disdain for the religious leaders of his people. In a scene ripe for cinema, he confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees, who have come to throw down the gauntlet. St. John takes the initiative. He stops the
line, stares right at the intruders, and calls them a “brood of vipers.”
Right then and there, we could say that John is never getting a dinner invitation from any Pharisee or Sadducee. John couldn’t care less. He knows they are phonies with no real interest in repentance because they believe themselves to be the truly righteous ones. John even denies their pedigree as “children of Abraham.” He knows his honest appraisal of the two groups could be the first step toward their true reform. He wants them prepared to meet the Messiah who is already in their midst and soon to appear.

As we prepare each Advent to celebrate the anniversary of our Savior’s birth among us, twinning His divinity with our humanity, we need to prepare ourselves spiritually. That starts with repentance for all those
deviant decisions we have made in the last year that amount to acts of self-worship. Another word for them is sin. No one is going to call us a “brood of vipers,” except perhaps the voice of conscience.
That’s a good thing, if we will allow ourselves to hear it above the cacophony of the American “preChristmas Christmas” of these early December days. Imagine your soul as a stable that needs cleaning. We are about to make way for the little King coming to us there. Peruse the calendar of saints and you’ll discover how nearly all of them spent their lives “cleaning up” for their ultimate home with Him.

Of course I must admit that sometimes our preparation for change is misunderstood. A fellow priest told me this one. “Ever since my brother was very young, our Mother tried to get him to clean his room or at least make his bed—usually to no avail. When he was preparing to leave home to attend college, he knew his pending departure was upsetting her, so he took the time to tidy the bed before he left. To his surprise Mom became even more emotional. “Look,” she wailed tearfully, “he’s just like a stranger already!”

Celebrating the Entire Christmas Season

On Monday night and Tuesday we will begin the joyful celebration of Christmas. And we should remember that Christmas Day is only the beginning, not the end of the Christmas season.

The Church celebrates the Christmas season from Christmas Eve until the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated this year on Sunday, January 13. And in between these glorious days, there are a number of sacred times that bring out the full splendor and joy of this time. Complementing Christmas Day as high points of the season are three other great occasions: the Solemnities of Epiphany and Mary, the Mother of God and the Feast of the Holy Family. Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas and recalls the veneration of Jesus and the Holy Family by the Magi, a first promise of the gathering of all peoples to Jesus. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God fitting begins the new year with the guidance of Mary, who is Jesus’ mother and our mother. And the Feast of the Holy Family occurs on the first Sunday after Christmas, both to honor the first family of the new age of grace and to consecrate every family so that our homes and towns become new Bethlehems and new Nazaraths, welcoming Jesus to this world.

In the four days right after Christmas are also the feasts of: St. John the Apostle the youngest apostle; St. Stephen the first Christian martyr; the Holy Innocents, the first children to be consecrated to Christ through their deaths in Bethlehem; and St. Thomas a Becket who courageously defended the freedom of the Church in the twelfth century. It is ironic that three of these four days involve people who were killed for Christ and His Church. But their inclusion in this time reflects the fact that Christian joy and hope does not lead to mere contentment, but rather leads us, for the sake of the Gospel, to oppose the false joys and cynicism of world. Following these days are the memorials of St. Pope Sylvester I (December 31) and Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (January 2) who in the fourth century strongly defended the central truth that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. On January 3, the Church then venerates the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the name given by the angel. We then celebrate the memorials of two early American saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and John Neumann (January 4 and 5) and the great early Dominican leader St. Raymond of Penafort (January 7.)

All of these glorious days help us conclude and begin each year with a sense of joyful and courageous renewal as we welcome Jesus into our lives and bring His love to the world.

Christian Joy

This Sunday, the third Sunday of the Advent season, is called Gaudete Sunday. Likewise, the fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday. Both “gaudete” and “laetare” are Latin terms for rejoicing, with the former emphasizing more rejoicing at attaining a glorious goal and the latter more emphasizing joy at overcoming some struggle or suffering. In both cases, the Church is calling for people to live in Christian joy, as opposed to indifference or the false happiness of the world. This calling is rooted in the Bible, which refers to joy and rejoicing 500 times. For example Mary’s famous canticle begins “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior”; and St. Paul tells the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice.” See Luke 1:46-47; Phil. 4:4.

This Christian joy is not mere earthly contentment or pleasure. Rather, as C.S. Lewis points out in his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy, true Christian joy involves a sense of the divine in our lives, whether directly or (as he first experienced joy) indirectly through seeing this glory reflected in such things as nature, good culture, and especially in other people. Or, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, joy comes from the overflowing of Christian love. See Summa Theologica II-II question 28, article 1. And, as both of them point out, this Christian joy is not at all inconsistent with sorrow. For, if we love someone else, and above all else love God, we will have a joy in our heart, but also a willingness to feel sorrow at sin and whatever causes the beloved to suffer or be less honored. See Summa II-II question 28 article 2. As C.S. Lewis describes, this joyful sense of divine glory on earth leads us to long for this union completely and forever, a longing no earthly power can give.

And so Christian joy does not leave us merely comfortable or content on earth as popular culture would try to do. True joy instead leads us to the challenge of a life Christ, who is Emmanuel, God with us. The choice of joy is thus a demanding choice. It requires us to open our lives to God, to turn from ease and comfort and pursue the longing that He alone can fulfill. It can be tempting to seek instead the cheap imitations of easy pleasure or worldly contentment, to take refuge in one’s own little shelter of skepticism and self-security. But these refuges cannot bring peace, fulfill our truest desires, or last forever. Only the adventure of joy, the adventure that goes from the prophets to the manger to the cross, only that adventure leads to never-ending glory.

CHRISTMAS AND GOD’S SURPRISE

We are so used to the Christmas accounts in the Bible, and portrayed in numerous other ways, that it is easy to forget how astonishing that first Christmas was and is to this day. One can only imagine what it was like when, on that first Christmas Day, humble shepherds went forth into the small town of Bethlehem (which probably had about 500 to 1000 people) and proclaimed the glorious message that the long-awaited Messiah had been born to them, in the most unexpected way, in a stable nearby to a young unknown couple supported by a carpenter’s salary. They would not have been surprised that God sent angels to announce this wondrous news; but the idea that angels gave this message, not to the prestigious classes, but to shepherds would have seemed almost beyond belief.

At about the same time, in Jerusalem, magi from the East arrived and told those who were rich and powerful that the long-awaited king had been born in their land. The people would not be surprised to have a message conveyed by the rulers and scholars. But these magi were foreigners and outside of the covenant; these were not the people who, according to popular opinion, should have received the commission to teach the citizens of Jerusalem; it should have been the other way around.

In Jerusalem, the reaction was largely either of hostility to a rival power, as with Herod, or apparent indifference, as with the scholars. One can imagine that in Bethlehem, some people were skeptical about the messages of the shepherds. But other villagers would have rejoiced at the wondrous occasion. Upon reflection, they may also have been repentant, knowing that their town had initially brushed aside the Messiah. And at least some people reached out to assist the new family, and thus (whether they knew it or not) were advancing the salvation of humanity.
Christ comes to us now, as He came to Bethlehem 2000 years ago. And we must choose whether we will recognize Him and celebrate His presence in ways the world does not understand, in the faith-filled home, at honorable and dedicated labor, in the quiet of reflection, in the poor and abandoned, under the appearance of bread and wine.

If we so welcome Christ, as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi and the more holy citizens of Bethlehem did long ago, then we will make of our homes and communities new Bethlehems, places where the love of God dwells on earth.

GAUDETE SUNDAY

This weekend we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday,” taken from the Latin word “gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” with the implication of the attainment of something long awaited. During Lent, we celebrate Laetare Sunday, which is also named after a Latin word for “rejoice,” with the implication of having overcome a time of struggle or suffering. These two Sundays especially call us to true Christian joy in the midst of preparation, for Christmas now and for Easter during Lent. Christian joy is not mere human happiness, much less pleasure. The theologian Fr. Henri Nouwen described joy as “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing –sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Or, as St.Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Joy is the overflowing of love.” Of course, this love has God as its final source and end, whether people on earth know it or not. Thus, as C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy, true joy comes from contact with the divine, which awakens in our hearts a desire for the greater realms.

One may ask why we would need the reminder and encouragement to experience real joy, for surely that is what everyone wants anyway. However, the world frequently ignores or even suppresses the call to real joy in favor of lesser forms of happiness (or even apparent happiness) that are not really satisfying, but are much easier to have and control than real joy. By contrast, the joy that comes from heaven brings forth an unwillingness to be content with merely earthly things, in favor of the mysteries and holy realms that are beyond our understanding and beyond our control. It inspires the willingness to makes the sacrifices and engage in the struggles that real love involves, participating in Christ’s love for During the Advent season, Guadete Sunday calls us to thank God for the good things of this earth, but also to look beyond them to a realm of which they are only a first sign. As Christmas approaches, we seek the joy that only love can give; we renew again our knowledge of the love of God that is the source of all human love; and we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation when this divine love took human form.

PREPARING FOR THE MESSIAH

During the Advent season, the Church calls for us to reflect on how the faithful Jews of old longed for the coming of the Messiah, and how we celebrate His presence on earth and wait for Him to return in final glory.  To benefit from this theme, it is helpful to reflect upon what we mean when we call Jesus the Messiah.  The title Messiah comes from the Hebrew word for “anointed one,” as the title Christ comes from the Greek word with the same meaning.  In ancient Israel, priests, kings and (at least sometimes) prophets were anointed to indicate divine guidance and power in their calling.  The ancient Jews awaited a final Anointed One who would fulfill all three roles.  He would bring the glory of God back to the Temple and then to all the world, as Ezekiel promised.  He would restore the kingdom of God earth and unite all nations in that glorious realm, as for example, Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and the Psalms described.  And He would proclaim the fullness of the truth, a truth that would, as Jeremiah and Joel promised, allow all people, from least to greatest, to know the Lord and live in the Holy Spirit.

To prepare for the birthday of the Messiah, and to make all of our lives a welcoming of Jesus Christ, it is helpful to be sure that we know Him in these three roles, as priest, king and prophet.  Thus, for example, we receive Christ as the great high priest, who leads us in prayer and forgives our sins, when we set aside time each day in prayer, consecrate Sunday as a day of the Lord, and return to God regularly with repentance of sins, as the sacrament of Reconciliation emphasizes.  We recognize Christ as our King,

who gives us the confidence to resist temptations and bear witness to our faith, when we are attentive to the liturgy and focus on the saints, better people in our lives, and faithful presentations of goodness and truth, rather than letting popular culture gain control over our lives.  And we receive Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophesy when we set aside the time to know Him better in study and reflection on the eternal truths, with the use of solid books, catechetical programs, online presentations and other resources now available.  Then, having received the glory of the Messiah into our lives, we become more able to bring that glory to others, as next week’s article will describe.

ADVENT AND PREPARATION

advent candlesThere is an old story from a monastery in the Middle Ages.  The cook for the monastery was a monk who faithfully lived out his vocation of prayer, charity and humble service.  One day, when he was cooking dinner for the monks and guests, some visitors asked him, “If you knew that you had only 30 more minutes on earth, what would you do?”  He replied calmly, “I would continue to cook dinner.  That is what Jesus wants me to do right now, and when I meet Him I want to be doing as He wishes.”

Advent, the liturgical season before Christmas, is a special time for asking how we are preparing now to receive Jesus, as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the magi did in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  The term advent comes from the Latin phrase ad venire, which means “to come toward.”  We should realize that Jesus is always coming toward us, in the Eucharist, in our neighbor, in our prayer, and as our lives progress; and we should focus on how we are prepared to receive Him.  The ideal is to be as calm as that monk was, ready to meet Jesus at any time.

When there are joys, such as the Christmas luncheon and religious education pageant this Sunday, we give God thanks for these first promises of the greater kingdom.  When there are struggles, we strive to recognize that Jesus Christ struggles with us.   It is also important to ask what aspects of our lives we would not want to present to Jesus and to repent of them, especially taking advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation.  Advent is also a time to renew our prayer lives, to make sure that we are setting aside time each day for conversation with the Almighty God and with the angels and saints whose company we wish to join.  We should also advance in our understanding of the faith both for our own spiritual lives and to be able to give the world the reasons for our hope.  See 1 Peter 3:15.

And, at home, in neighborhoods, at work, in all ways, we ask how we would act if we physically saw Jesus there with us.  If we make definite resolutions to sense Jesus with us on our earthly journey, to repent of sins, to advance in prayer and to make our faith more present to the world, we will more and more fulfill the words of St. John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

THE MAGI AND THE GATHERING OF NATION

This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany, the gathering of the magi in Bethlehem to honor the newborn Jesus as the king of the Jews and Savior of the nations.  While the Gospels do not name them, Christian tradition says that their names were Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior.  As magi “from the East,” they would have been religious figures, with scholarly and likely political authority, probably from Persia, eastern Syria, Arabia, or some combination thereof. They were not members of the Chosen People.  And it appears that they had only a vague knowledge of Judaism, for they had to ask where the Messiah would be born.  At that time, in the Roman and Persian Empires, there was an increasing belief that the Jews had a special revelation and that a glorious ruler would arise from their midst.  For example, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote in the first century A.D. that in the prior era, “people were generally persuaded in the faith of the ancient prophesies that the East was to prevail, and that from Judea was to come the Master and the Ruler of the world.”  Another Roman historian Suetonius confirmed that, “it was an old and constant belief throughout the East that, by indubitably certain prophesies, the Jews were to attain the highest powers.”

And so God revealed to these magi that, when they saw a new light in the heavens, this great and saving king was about to be born.  Some propose that this light was a long-tailed comet, as Chinese records indicate was in the sky in 5 B.C.  Others propose that it was a supernatural light, perhaps only seen by the magi.  In any case, the magi trusted God and set out on their glorious pilgrimage, which probably lasted between 3 and 12 months, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh, the latter being used for anointing people, especially at burials.  Among other things, the gold was for the universal King, the incense for the great high priest, and the myrrh for Jesus as our sacrificial victim.  With these gifts, the magi launched the fulfillment of the prophecies that kings of distant lands would come to the new Israel, bringing in the wealth of the nations.  See Ps. 47:10, 72:10, Is. 49:7, 60:3-11.  And they were the first promise of the gathering of all nations, first in the Church Jesus established on earth, and finally in the glorious, heavenly Jerusalem at the end of time.  See Acts 2:1-12; Rev. 22:24-26.