At Mass today the priest prefaced his homily with some remarks about the terrible shooting of 20 kindergarten children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. He related a story from Rudy Giuliani during his tenure as mayor of New York City.
A few weeks before the terrible World Trade Center tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the Mayor attended the wake of a young firefighter who had died of a heart attack during a fire. At the wake he discovered that the firefighter's mother had recently lost both her father and her husband. At the same time her daughter was scheduled to be married in a few weeks. Friends and relatives were urging that the wedding be postponed in light of all this suffering.
The mother, however, insisted that it go on. She explained that life brings tragedy and joy to us all, and that she would handle the tragedy but that it would not prevent her from celebrating the joy and beauty of her daughter's wedding. The wedding went on a few weeks after 911 and the Mayor took time out from his awful duties to escort the bride down the aisle.
In his spirit I will go ahead and post this little reflection on Gaudete Sunday.
In earlier times the third Sunday in Advent was known as "Gaudete Sunday" because the entrance prayer or "Introit" began with the Latin words, "gaudete in domino semper." Translated the phrase means "rejoice in the Lord always." Today, as it has always done, the Church injects an element of joy into the penitential season of Advent. In many churches the priest will put aside the purple vestments which signify sorrow and penance, and put on rose colored vestments, a symbol of joy. The Church is asking us to look ahead to the glory of the coming of the Savior on Christmas.
In this liturgical year the first reading for each of the Sundays in Advent is taken from a different Hebrew prophet. Two weeks ago it was Isaiah and last week it was the somewhat lesser known Baruch. Today, the reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. It is common for us to think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future but usually the Hebrew prophets just talk about their own time, especially its problems. No prophet deals with problems more than Zephaniah but in today’s reading he sings a different song.
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
Despite all their problems, there is reason for this joy. “The Lord is in your midst,” he says. He repeats it again, “The Lord is in your midst.” Zephaniah was speaking to the ancient Hebrews, but his words are also meant for us. If only we could realize that the Lord is in our midst.
In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the last of the Hebrew prophets is trying to convince the people of his time that the Lord is coming into their midst. He says,
I am baptizing you with water,
But one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The crowds ask John what they should do to prepare for his coming. His words could profit all of us this Advent. We could begin by sharing with those who have less than we do, especially in these economic hard times. John’s advice for preparation is not radical or impossible. He does not recommend that we give up everything; just that we share.
Consider the two groups who approach John in today’s reading. Tax collectors and soldiers, better to say policemen, were two of the most hated groups in Israel. Both were regarded as agents of the hated Roman conquerors. The tax collectors were notorious for gouging the people, and the police were noted for bullying and extortion. John doesn’t say that their occupations are sinful or ignoble. He doesn’t tell them to give up their careers. He only tells them to act with honesty and justice.
This last year has been an especially bad one for the rich and famous in our society. How could so many politicians, entertainers, athletes, and other celebrities who had worked so hard to get to the top of their respective professions mess up so miserably? Could it be that the success they sought was not that fulfilling? Could it be that the possessions they acquired did not make them really happy or joyful? Maybe they just thought that their success was due to their efforts alone, and that they failed to see the God in their midst.
We shouldn’t gloat when we hear their stories. Just because we fly under the media radar doesn’t mean that we can’t be self-satisfied. Most of us have homes that would be palaces to most of the world’s people. We have cars for each member of our family, not to mention TVs, cell phones, and computers. Still, it never seems to be enough.
Here we are only two weeks before Christmas. What are we looking for this season? What do we want for ourselves and our loved ones this Christmas? Why are we going out to the malls and the shopping centers? Aren't we all trying to find happiness? Aren't we all trying to cast away fear and darkness and bring some joy and light into our lives? Look at the way we light up our houses, look at the music we hear coming over the radio.
I've just read an article by a man who is a well known lecturer, TV personality, and author. He has a beautiful wife and son and is extremely successful. Yet he wrote, "I am almost 60. Time flies and it scares me. I don't want to die. I like being in good health. I don't want to be sick and have wires and tubes and scalpels in me. I like having enough money. I don't want to be old and poor. I sat in my car...shivering in fear. And then it struck me. I spend too darned much of my life in fear. I always have. You can't imagine how much of my life I have thrown away by being a slave to fear."
In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians he echoes the words of the prophet Zephaniah and urges his friends to “rejoice in the Lord always.” We should realize that “the Lord is near,” and that fear and anxiety are not the answer.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
Make your requests known to God.
No one is saying that we should give up our jobs and our homes but if we can only recognize that all we have comes form the Lord,
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
Will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Reading 1. Zephaniah 3: 14-18a
Reading II. Philippians 4: 4-7
Gospel. Luke 3:10-18 (one mightier than I).