Third Sunday of Advent
The Virgin Martyr St Lucy whose feast is celebrated on this day is, I’m sure, more than happy to make way for this Sunday which is dear to us all and is known as Gaudete Sunday, the “Sunday of Joy” as we look forward with great expectation to Christmas. But no doubt, St Lucy will be more than happy to teach us a little something about this wonderful thing called joy, and which she had in abundance. How do we know Lucy had joy? We know it from one very simple fact: she remained immoveable through the Holy Spirit in her love for God, and this is the very source of joy.
History tells us that her persecutor, enraged by her wanting to remain a virgin, arranged to have her taken to a place where she would lose her virginity. But the sensual and senseless tyrant – by the way those two adjectives often go together – did not count with one very important fact: when Lucy said she had been betrothed to Christ, she meant it. And Christ was not about to see His bride violated. So what happened? The Holy Spirit made her immoveable, like a pillar. Try as they may, the strongest of men and even several yoke of oxen could not move her. She remained firm and could not be taken away, no violence whatsoever could be done to her virginity.
Lucy was immersed in the joy of God. She knew and she experienced that there is really nothing to compare with the grandeur of God. She knew that no human experience and no human love and no human ambition could fill her like God did. She allowed God to fill her to the brim, to take possession of her, body and soul, and God defended her honour.
In the very depths of that virginal soul reigned imperturbable joy, an ocean of delight in the Holy Spirit, in the very midst of the torments she would be made to bear, and which ultimately led to her death.
So what then is this joy that can reign even in the midst of suffering and persecution? St Paul tells us that joy is the second fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is what comes to one who is loved by God and loves God and loves, in God and for God, all other creatures. It is a gift of God to those who hold nothing dearer than Christ. It can coexist with physical and even emotional pain, because it has its seat in the higher part of the soul. And this is what distinguishes it from worldly mirth, the happiness that people can experience because they have their heart’s content in terms of earthly satisfactions.
Joy gives pleasure, but a pleasure not of the senses, but of the inner heart, that sanctuary where we are alone with God. Real joy is chased away by indulgence in sensual pleasures. That is why the saints, like St Lucy, had joy in their purity. It is also why there is so much sadness in a world that has made of sensual pleasure a god. Indulgence in the senses lowers human beings to the level of the beasts and beasts have no joy.
Joy is found ultimately in the total gift of self. That is why those who give their lives to God should be among those who have the greatest joy. Such is the paradox of the Gospel which is lived to the full in the religious life: take things to yourself in an egotistic fashion, and you make yourself miserable. Give up all things for God and you find joy.
This week, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, the Church celebrates what are called Ember Days. These are days of prayer and fasting in preparation for Christmas. The Church sets the tone for us and instructs us on how to prepare for Christmas. Christmas starts on 25 December. Until then, we are in Advent, a time dedicated to more prayer and penance.
In today’s oration, we have a touching plea to God, asking Him to bend His ear, to accommodate it, that is to say, to adapt it to our prayer. Indeed, what distance there is between God’s loftiness and our lowliness! By asking Him to mercifully bend His ear to our prayers, we are asking Him also to inspire us with prayers that are pleasing to Him. This He does by enlightening the darkness of our minds with the brightness of His visit. As the great feast looms mighty before us then, let us make every effort to prepare ourselves, to make ready the sanctuary of our soul, to prepare also our bodies by keeping away from the merry-making until we have welcomed the Infant Saviour on Christmas night. First the fast, and then the feast.
Finally, let us ask Our Blessed Lady to teach us how to prepare for the coming of the Saviour as she did, with love and growing anticipation. May she obtain light for our minds and joy for our hearts, that all darkness and fear may remain on the peripheries and not trouble the depths of our soul. With St Lucy, let us remain firm as a pillar, anchored to the joy of God.