December 15, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates “Gaudete Sunday,” the name coming from the opening word in Latin of the entrance antiphon for the Mass for the day. In Latin, “gaudete” is a command to “rejoice.” Rejoicing is not indicated because Advent, and its stress on prayer and penance, is half completed, but rather because Christmas is nearer.

Another reason for rejoicing is that, hopefully, we all feel closer to God as a result of observing Advent with prayer, reflection and penance. If we have used Advent as intended by the Church, we are nearer to a fuller communion with the Lord, the light of the world.

Priests may wear rose-colored vestments on this weekend, symbolizing the dark violet of Advent already being lightened by the forthcoming light of the Lord’s arrival in our souls and into the world.

The third part of Isaiah furnishes the first reading. When this passage was written, God’s people were weary and frustrated.

They, or their forebears, had undergone the humiliation, uncertainty and misery of exile in Babylon. When finally allowed to leave Babylon and return to their homeland, they were understandably overjoyed.

Upon their arrival, though, they found a sterile and parched land awaited them. Life was brutally hard. Had God tricked them, providing for their release from Babylon only to subject them to further, worse trials at home? Did God even exist?

Typically for this section of Isaiah, this reading glows with optimism. Whatever may be the reality of the moment, for those loyal to God, a wondrous future awaits.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading. Belief in the Lord’s second coming and impatience to see it occur were widespread in the first generations of the Christian faithful. This reading catches well this mood.

Longing for the second coming among the early Christians is not hard to explain. They had much to endure. Actual, severe persecution had developed. The culture all around the Christians was hostile. Temptations to renounce the Gospel abounded.

Paul reassured the Christians of Thessalonica, urging them to be true to the Gospel. God and his goodness will one day prevail.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. The reading is a story about St. John the Baptist, whose own identity puzzled his contemporaries. Some assumed that John was the Messiah. Others wondered if he was Elijah or another prophet who had returned to Earth.

John was firm in replying to these questions. Another would follow him, he insisted. John was to prepare the way for this future representative of God, who would be wonderful for all humanity. John is not worthy even to untie the straps of his sandals.

Reflection

In calling us to rejoice on Gaudete Sunday, the Church either presumes that we have spent the weeks of Advent pondering within ourselves the meaning of salvation for us personally and individually, or it urges us to use the remaining time in this season to seek God with all our hearts.

Excitedly, the liturgy proclaims that when the Lord’s kingdom comes, how wonderful it will be! “Gaudete!” Rejoice!

Why? When the Lord’s kingdom comes, death and evil indeed will end. We nonetheless must voluntarily turn to God, admitting him into our hearts. We must wholeheartedly reject our own sin.

Many influences will weaken our determination to reject sin. To seek holiness requires resolve, conviction, discipline and focus. Paul was correct in telling the Thessalonian Christians to be strong in faith, saying that they will not be patient in vain.

Always the good teacher, the Church, through this reading from John’s Gospel, instructs us to look for Jesus as Jesus actually is, never creating our own false versions of the Messiah.

Jesus was obedient to God. Our lives and hearts must reflect Jesus in every respect. Understanding all this is the purpose of Advent. †

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