December 12, 2008

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 of the Entrance Antiphon.

In Latin, “gaudete” means “to rejoice.” Rejoicing is not indicated because Advent—and its focus on prayer, penance and preparation—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, which symbolize the dark violet of Advent already being lightened by the forthcoming light of the Lord’s arrival in our souls.

The third part of Isaiah furnishes the first reading.

When this passage was written, God’s people were weary and, frankly, quite frustrated.

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

However, they returned to find a sterile and parched land. Life was brutally hard. Want was everywhere. The people wondered if God had tricked them. Did God provide for their release from Babylon only to subject them to further trials at home? They even began to doubt the existence of God.

Typically for Third Isaiah, this reading glows with optimism. Whatever may be the reality of the moment, a wondrous future awaits those who are loyal to God. The faithful always have cause to rejoice.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians provides the second reading.

Belief in this Second Coming, and impatience to see it occur, were widespread in the first generations of Christianity. This reading clearly anticipates the Second Coming of Christ.

Longing for the Second Coming among the early Christians is not hard to explain. They had much to endure, especially the threat of persecution. Additionally, the culture all around the Christians was hostile. Temptations to renounce the Gospel abounded.

Paul reassured the Christians of Thessalonica, telling them to be true to the Gospel and that God, and God’s goodness, will one day prevail.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading.

The reading is a story about John the Baptist. John’s own identity puzzled his contemporaries. Some even assumed that John was the Messiah. If not the Messiah, others wondered if he was Elijah or another prophet.

Replying to these questions, John was very firm. Another would follow him. John’s calling was to prepare the way for this future representative of God. This representative eventually to come will be wonderful, he told them, and John is not worthy even to untie the straps of his sandals.


The Church calls us to rejoice, presuming that we have spent the weeks of Advent pondering within ourselves the meaning of salvation for us personally and individually. It presumes that we have sought God and truth in our prayer and penance. It presumes our sincerity.

It also presumes that, in this process of prayer and thought, we have increased our faith in Jesus. When the Lord’s kingdom comes, how wonderful it will be!

“Gaudete!” Rejoice!

When the Lord’s kingdom comes, death and evil indeed will end. However, overcoming wickedness and despair is not accomplished instantly. It requires time. But, in the end, the Lord will prevail. We must be faithful, as Paul counseled the Thessalonian Christians, but we will not be patient in vain.

Always the good teacher, always interested in guiding us to reality and nothing else, the Church, through the last reading, instructs us to look for Jesus, as Jesus actually is, and not to create our own version of the Messiah.

Jesus reflects God’s love. We must reflect Jesus. We must overcome selfishness and sin. This is the purpose of Advent.†

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