December 14, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Gaudete Sunday reminds us Advent is a season of joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).

Advent has an element of penitence to it in that it is a time for watchful waiting and preparation for the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), we are reminded that we are called to “rejoice heartily in the Lord,” and to proclaim his greatness by our actions as well as our words.

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word for “rejoice.” In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul admonishes us to “rejoice always” (Phil 4:4) and to “pray without ceasing.” If we take St. Paul seriously, we’ll recognize that these two instructions have a lot in common—and that both are more easily said than done.

Life is hard, filled with sorrow and bitter disappointments. We know this especially during this time of hurt and scandal in the Church we love. How can we realistically maintain an attitude of constant rejoicing? Similarly, how can we “pray without ceasing” when our busy lives require so much of our time, effort and attention? Even cloistered monks and nuns find it challenging to pray always.

Joy is a basic element in Christianity, Pope Francis reminds us in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” By its very nature, Christianity is and ought to be Gospel, good news. And, the Holy Father says, “the world is mistaken about the Gospel and Christ; people leave the Church in the name of the joy which [they say] Christianity with all its countless demands and prohibitions deprive men!”

Like his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis reminds us forcefully that our primary responsibility is to proclaim the Gospel, the good news that brings us joy, not to scold people for their sins and human weaknesses.

The season of Advent is a powerful reminder that the reign of God, which is present now but still incomplete, is a reign of joy, a time of mercy and forgiveness, an experience of true peace and harmony among all members of God’s family.

When the Lord comes again in the fullness of time, ancient hatreds will be forgotten. Cruelty and the exploitation of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers will be totally eliminated. Every tear will be wiped away. No more bitterness or fear. No more hunger or homelessness. No more sickness or death. No more emotional wounds or scandals.

Unfortunately, cynicism is deeply embedded in our culture and in our own attitudes about life. Our expectations are no longer great. We tend to settle for the least common denominator. Advent stirs us to break out of apathy—to be converted, change our thinking and become people of hope and joy. The Lord is coming! We should rejoice and be glad.

During this time of year, we Christians look not only to the past and what has been but also to what is coming. We are joyful people because we know that the Lord is near at hand. We give thanks to God the Father for sending us his only begotten Son. And we implore the Holy Spirit to help us be ready for the Lord’s coming again—this Christmas time and at the end of the world.

“The world is not a futile commotion of drudgery and pain,” Pope Benedict says. And in words that are now frequently repeated by Pope Francis, the retired pope goes on to say, “for all the world’s distress is supported in the arms of merciful love; it is caught up and surpassed by the forgiving and saving graciousness of our God.”

Mercy, forgiveness and the resulting experience of joy are what Christianity is all about. We celebrate our salvation in Christ, not our enslavement by sin, and so we rejoice! “The person who celebrates Advent in this spirit will legitimately be able to speak of the joyous, blessed and grace-filled season of Christmas,” Pope Benedict says. “He will know that there is much more truth to these words than is believable or imaginable to those people for whom Christmas is just a time for picturesque sentimentality or merely a sort of simplified carnival.”

Are we celebrating Advent in this spirit? Or have we allowed the many distractions of this secular holiday season to turn our attention away from the Lord who alone brings lasting joy?

Let’s celebrate this Gaudete Sunday, and the rest of this Advent season, with renewed joy and hope. Let’s set aside whatever “drudgery and pain” we experience on a daily basis, and look to the Lord’s coming again with a genuine sense of rejoicing. †

Local site Links: