Gaudete Sunday

“Rejoice the Lord is near!”  The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday; the word “gaudete” is a Latin word that means: “rejoice.”  Advent is a season in which we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ; it is a time to examine our hearts and rid them of all that is not pleasing to Our Lord.  Today marks the halfway point of Advent, which means that our celebration of our Savior’s birth is quickly drawing near.  The Church briefly changes our focus and sets this Sunday aside as a time for rejoicing in anticipation of the full joy that will surround Christmas.

One of symbols that the Church uses to reflect this change in focus is the color rose.  The color of the vestment that the priest wears for all of the other Sundays of Advent is purple.  Purple is a subdued color; it reminds us that Advent is a penitential season: a season in which we are called to turn away from our sins and repent.  This Sunday the vestment is lighter: it is rose.  That lighter color is meant to represent the lighter character of Gaudete Sunday.  It is not the joyful white color which will be worn at the Masses of Christmas, yet it is lighter than the purple that is worn throughout the rest of Advent.

It might seem strange to have a day of rejoicing in the midst of a season in which we are to focus on preparing our hearts by ridding them of sin.  The truth of the matter is that we cannot have real joy unless we cast sin out of our hearts.  God and sin cannot abide together.  Jesus said it like this: we cannot serve two masters: either we will love the one and hate the other or hate the one and serve the other.  The more our hearts are sinful and attached to this passing world the less room there is in our hearts for God.

God’s plan for us is to be happy; He created us to be happy.  God wants to bestow upon us every good thing: Saint Paul says that He bestows upon us every spiritual blessing in the heavens: only we have to have hearts that are open to receive His gifts, which means that we have to have hearts that are free from sin.  Only when we eradicate sin from our hearts are we able to find the way to happiness in this world and perfect happiness in the next.  The happiness that God offers to us is not the temporary, superficial happiness that this world offers, but the true happiness that comes from really knowing and truly loving Him.

God wants us to be joyful.  Saint Paul urges us to rejoice in the Lord always.  To those unfamiliar with the Catholic Church, joy is not the first thing that comes to their minds when the Church is mentioned.  Many in the secular world view the Catholic Faith as nothing more than a complicated set of outdated rules which restrict freedom.  Our Church’s primary focus is not on enforcing rules; Jesus Christ established the Church so that it could help point out the way for us.  The purpose of the Church is to help us to draw ever closer to the Lord.  The point of our Catholic Faith is not rules or morality; the purpose of the Church is to help us encounter Jesus Christ in authentic, personal way.  The problem is that we cannot have that intimate and personal encounter with God if we are steeped in sin.  God and sin cannot dwell together in our hearts.  We have to choose.  The commandment that Jesus gives to us is to put God first in our hearts: to love Him above all things.  We fall into sin whenever we put something or someone above God.  Morality helps us to live the way that God created us to live: in true love.  The rules helps us to order our lives properly.  Morality is not the goal it is only a part of our journey towards God.  We don’t just rid our hearts of sin: we rid our hearts of sin in order to make room in our hearts for God.

When we let go of sin, it is not that we are then left empty.  Jesus Christ came to earth in order that we might have life and have it in abundance.  Our God wants to share His divine life with us, but He will not force us to live in relationship with Him.  He invites us: we have to accept the invitation.  Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, we have open the door and let Him in.  He wants to reign in our hearts, but He will not conquer them with an army: we have to surrender to Him.  God wants to fill our hearts but we have to accept His gift.

The Church acts in much the same way that Saint John the Baptist did: the Church points us to Christ.  The Church announces Our Savior and like Saint John the Church calls us to repentance so that we can put our hearts in order and make room for the King of kings.  The Church points out the way and also assists us in our journey through the Sacraments.  Let us make good use of the remaining time of this holy season of Advent that we might prepare our hearts to experience the true and lasting joy that comes from encountering Christ.  Let us rejoice this day for Our Lord is near.