3rd Sunday of Advent 2011

Today marks the halfway point through Advent. The theme of today’s Mass is summed up in the traditional title given to the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which means: “Rejoice!” “Rejoice” was the first word of the antiphon sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. The liturgical color of the day is rose: today the rose colored Advent candle is lit, today is one of two days of the year on which the priest may wear rose color vestments. The Church, through the prayers and readings of today’s Mass, encourages us to rejoice: the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord quickly draws near.

The Antiphon of today’s Mass tells us to “rejoice in the Lord.” We, Christians, have a very specific reason for rejoicing: we are to rejoice in the Lord. Saint Paul, in the second reading today, tells us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. He goes on to say that this is God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we rejoice in Him. God created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him: not the kind of passing happiness that comes from the things of this world, but real, lasting, true happiness; that is what God created us for.

If that is why God made us, why do we have so many worries, fears, disappointments, and anxieties? The answer is simple: because of sin. Suffering and death were not a part of God’s plan from the beginning. Suffering and death entered the world as a result of sin. The purpose of our existence hasn’t changed (the purpose of our existence is still to know and love God; we are still destined to be happy with Him forever), but ever since the first sin suffering and death have been an inescapable part of human existence on this earth.

Even in our fallen human nature, we are still called to rejoice always. The only way that we can always find cause for rejoicing in this fallen world is by keeping our eyes fixed on God and all that He has done for us. Everything that we have that is good, comes to us from the hand of the Lord. Our life, our faith, our next breath, all of the material and spiritual goods that we have been blessed with are gifts from God and they tell us of His love for us. God has given us so many good things; there are many reasons to rejoice, if we only have eyes that are open to see.

As a result of all of the good things that God has given to us, we owe God a debt of praise. The new words that we say at the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer clearly tell us of that debt. The new translation of the response to “Let us give thanks to the Lord” is “It is right and just.” The priest then goes on to say “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere” to give God thanks. Because of all that God has given to us and done for us it is right, it is a matter of justice, we have a duty to give Him thanks. How offended can we get sometimes when someone does not show gratitude for the little things that we have done for them. How do we feel when a gift that we give to another is not appreciated? God has given us everything and He has given it to us freely: out of pure love. He was not compelled to create us; He did not have to send His Son to die for us; Our Lord did shed His Precious Blood for us against His will. God created us out of love; He sent His Son to die because He loves us and desires to pour out His mercy upon us. Jesus Christ poured out every last drop of His Precious Blood willingly. He freely laid down His life so that we might share in eternal, divine life.

How could we fail to thank God? How could we be so ungrateful as to not have heats filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done? When Saint Paul tells us to rejoice always, he says that even though he knew what it was like to go through difficulties in this world. In Second Corinthians Saint Paul says that he forty lashes on five different occasions because he preached the Gospel; he was beaten with a rod on three different occasions; he was shipwrecked three times; he was frequently in danger, and often had to endure hardship that we cannot even imagine in this day in this country. Saint Paul was put in chains for his faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately was beheaded. This same Saint, who knew well what it means to suffer, was able to say “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How could he say that when he suffered so much? Because Saint Paul knew that the sufferings in this life are as nothing compared to the glory that awaits those who love and serve the Lord. Saint Paul knew that as long as he was faithful to the Lord, there wasn’t anything in this world that could separate him from the love of Christ: and that was cause for rejoicing. Saint Paul asks: What can separate us from the love of Christ, anguish or distress, or persecution or famine or peril or the sword? None of those things could take away the joy that Saint Paul had, because none of those things could separate him from the Lord Whom he loved.

If God is in the center of our hearts, we have nothing to fear. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. Let us use this remaining part of Advent to prepare our hearts and focus on Christ. Let us bring our cares and concerns to Him and entrust them to Him; then let us give Him thanks for all the many things that He has done for us, and with hearts full of gratitude let us rejoice in the Lord always and give Him thanks.