3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete
Each year at the approach of Christmas, Holy Mother Church relays to us St Paul’s formal command to rejoice, to rejoice always. There are times, and there are years, when we can be tempted to wonder whether or not this is some kind of bad joke. With so many things to be worried and sad and even in despair about, is it still appropriate to tell us to rejoice?
It is self-evident that if the command were based on our personal success or world peace or Church prosperity, then yes it would be a joke. But that is precisely the point. The Apostle gives us the fundamental reason for which we not only can, but must rejoice. The Lord is near. He is about to come in our midst, and when He comes, He will restore all things. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the source and the cause of our joy.
Knowledge of this truth requires on our part that we adopt certain attitudes, which the apostle then goes on to enumerate under two major headings. The first is: Do not worry; the second, pray. And he concludes by assuring us that if we do those things, the peace of God will reign in our minds and hearts.
St James too gives a similar teaching in his epistle, when he reminds the early Christians: Is any of you sad? Let him pray. (James 5:13). It can only be an effect of the frailty of our nature and original sin, sustained by diabolical temptation, that when we are sad, we often do things that will only increase our sadness, such as have recourse to alcohol or drugs or overeating or YouTube binging. If only we remembered those words: Is any of you sad? Let him pray. If only we remembered St Paul’s assurance that the Lord is near. He is very near indeed, He is about to come. Tomorrow, and maybe even tonight, He will be here to sound out our innermost depths, and nothing will be hidden from Him.
Pray, and do not worry. If we do so, we will have that joy that we are commanded to seek at all times. We will be equipped to face the growing sadness of the world, to confront it with the joy that comes from God eternal and that He has brought to the earth in the person of His own Son. “The God of peace,” writes St Bernard, “pacifies all things, and to gaze on this stillness is to find repose” (Saint Bernard, Commentary on the Song of Songs, 23, 16).
What brings us sadness and disturbance is to look at the world and at ourselves. To look at God is to bring peace and tranquillity, followed in short order by overflowing joy that no one can take that peace from us. In fact, we are the only ones really who can take peace from ourselves, and we do so when we seek our satisfaction in any creature but God.
This is no doubt why, when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St Juan Diego, she stressed this point, which we can consider to be a commentary on today’s epistle:
“Listen and keep in your heart, my littlest son : There is nothing for you to fear, let nothing afflict you. Let not your face or your heart be worried. Do not fear this sickness or any other illness. Let nothing worry or afflict you. Am I not here, I who am your mother? Are you not in my shadow, under my protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in my crossed arms? Is there anything else you need? Don’t let anything afflict you or perturb you”.
Indeed, when a mother walks her young child through a busy street or a rugged mountain track, does she not hold tight to the child’s hand? Would she let it go? For nothing in the world! And so it is with Our Lady. How could she let go of our hand if we reach out to her? And she is waiting for us to do just that. So let’s not be like the recalcitrant child who seeks to break away from its mother. No, let us walk with confidence, knowing that if She holds us tight, nothing really bad can befall us. And then we will come to experience that peace of which St Paul speaks, and which surpasses the senses and all that we can understand. We might not be able to explain it to others, no, not even to ourselves, but we will revel in it like the babe that revels in its mother’s arms, confident that nothing bad can happen there.
In this way, our preparation for Christmas will be an authentic one, one that will remove us from the empty mirth of worldly celebrations and transfer us into the kingdom of God which is within us. And then too we can begin to taste the joy of that presence and start to realise what St Elizabeth of the Trinity meant in those words of her famous prayer:
Give peace to my soul; make it Thy Heaven, Thy cherished dwelling, Thy home of rest. May I never leave Thee there alone, but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring and wholly surrendered to Thy creative action.