December 9, 2011

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 “rejoice.” Rejoicing is not indicated because Advent, and its emphasis 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.

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 the people were finally allowed to leave Babylon and return to their homeland, they understandably were overjoyed.

However, they found a sterile and parched land awaiting them. Life was brutally hard. Had God tricked them? Did God provide for their release from Babylon only to subject them to further trials at home? They even wondered if God really exists.

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

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 Christianity. This reading is typical for this period.

Longing for the Second Coming among the early Christians is not hard to explain. They had to endure a lot of hardships, even persecution. 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. 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, whose own identity puzzled his contemporaries. Some of the people even assumed that John was the Messiah. If not the Messiah, others wondered if he was Elijah or another prophet who had returned to Earth.

In response to these questions, John was very firm. 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 said that he was not worthy even to untie the straps of his sandals.


In calling us to rejoice on this Gaudete weekend, 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!

When the Lord’s Kingdom comes, death and evil will end. Still, we must turn to God. We must admit God into our hearts. This means that we must reject our own sin.

Many influences will divert our will from rejecting sin. The effort will require time, discipline and focus. We must be faithful, as Paul counseled the Thessalonian Christians, but we will not be patient in vain.

Always the good teacher, the Church, through the last reading from John’s Gospel, instructs us to look for Jesus, as Jesus actually is, and not to create our own false version of the Messiah.

Jesus was obedient to God. Our lives and hearts must reflect Jesus. This is the purpose—and the reward—of Advent. †

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