“Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!” The Lord commands us not only to rejoice sometimes, but to rejoice always (Phil 4:4). This does not mean we rejoice over all things, but that we rejoice in the Lord under all circumstances. Because the Lord is our Joy and the circumstances are not, we can rejoice in the midst of “the distress of many trials” Asking for the gift of rejoicing in the Lord always, let’s celebrate this Eucharist!
A few years ago The Reader’s Digest reported the story of an attractive and successful business woman who noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair one morning. As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor. Her worst fears were confirmed. The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery. When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like that of a mummy. She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping. When the bandages were removed after a week she was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a facial paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor. Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had to make a choice whether to laugh or to cry. She decided to laugh. Although the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis, the decision to laugh in the face of adversity allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy, giving encouragement to those with similar paralysis. Her decision and choice took her from being in an unhappy world to a new world – a world of smiles, love and warmth. With the lighting of the third rose candle of the Advent Wreath among the purple candles and the priest’s wearing the rose vestments, we are reminded that we are called to live with joy in our world of sorrows and pain.
Today’s readings invite us to rejoice at the rebirth of Jesus in our lives as we are preparing for our annual Christmas celebration. Today is called Gaudete Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon: “Gaudete in domino semper,” i.e., “Rejoice in the Lord always.” So we light the rose candle, and the priest may wear rose vestments, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus as our savior.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah encourages Jerusalem and Israel to shout out for the joy of expecting its deliverance from the Lord. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Is 12:6), the prophet gives the same instruction, “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” St. Paul echoes this message of joy in the second reading, a letter written from imprisonment: He is in jail but encourages everyone to be happy! “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice…” The Lord is near! The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In the Gospeltoday, John the Baptist explains the secret of Christian joy as our wholehearted commitment to God’s way by the doing of His will.
At some point of our life we all have asked the question: What should we do? That was what many people asked John the Baptist who was preparing them to receive the Messiah. His answer was: Whatever be your profession, do your duties as it should be done, and do not indulge in selfishness and injustice, as many people do. The coming of the Messiah demands an interior conversion. The preaching of John contains three basic messages: 1) conversion is necessary for all people; 2) conversion is possible for all people – including tax-collectors and soldiers whom society despises; 3) practice justice and live a life for God and others. This is not possible by our own strength. But if you are willing to listen and open up, the Holy Spirit will help you. When you do that, the Holy Spirit will come and take control of your life and will help you find lasting joy.
The question people ask John is about action: What should we do? John’s answer is very concrete and action-oriented. May that be our sincere question today: what should I do?
We need to remember that we are, like John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunners: Parents, teachers and public servants are also Christ’s precursors, carrying out the mission of bringing to Christ those entrusted to their care. Parents are expected to instill in their children a true Christian spirit and an appreciation for Christian values by their own lives and behavior. Teachers, too, have to play the role of John the Baptist. A Christian teacher must be always aware of being Christian in the presence of students, whatever the subject being taught, so that his or her Christian personality may leave a lasting impression on his or her students. All public servants are to remember that they are God’s instruments and that they are to lead the people they serve to the feet of Jesus, so that they may know Him personally as Savior, Lord and Brother. A nurse is not to hold back compassion from those deemed “not worthy.” A teacher is to teach with enthusiasm and love. A salesperson is not to present the product as more valuable than it is, nor to overcharge people for products or services. Leaders are not to hold themselves above others. Anyone who has more of anything than he or she needs should share it.
What should we do in preparation for Christmas? This is the same question the Jews asked John. His answer, to them and to us, is the same: “Repent and reformyour lives,” and prayerfully wait for the Messiah. Our Blessed Mother, in her many apparitions, urgently calls us to more fervent prayer. Let us remember that the Mass is the most powerful of prayers. We must be a Eucharistic people, living and experiencing the presence of Jesus in our hearts. Let us remember that conversion is through Jesus, whom we encounter in the Sacraments. Regular monthly Confession makes us strong and enables us to receive more grace in the Eucharist. Let us read the Bible and pray the Rosary daily. We might also fast once a week all year round, rather than just in Advent and Lent; after all, we sin all year round! Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to turn off TV programs that show explicit sexual behavior, violence and the use of foul language. Let us spend some time every week in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us forgive those who offend us and pray for them. Finally, let us share our love with others as selfless and humble service. “Do small things but with great love” (St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Mother Teresa”).