God Rejoices Over You

3rd Sunday of Advent (C)

The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, after the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass: “Gaudete in Domino semper… Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.” This verse is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which is also the second reading for this Sunday.

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Rejoice!

3rd Sunday of Advent (A)

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John the Baptist is kind of odd. In last week’s readings he was described as wearing clothing made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey in the desert. It conjures up wild-man images. In the Eastern Churches he has some of the strangest iconography. He is often portrayed with wings like an angel, and holding his own severed head.
The wings indicate his role as a messenger of God. The word angel literally means “messenger” and John shares in the angelic mission of being heralds of God’s Word. His severed head testifies to the death he was willing to endure for Christ.
John is the last and greatest of the prophets. In fact, Jesus says in this Sunday’s gospel that “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11). High praise indeed from the Son of God!
What makes John so great? John is great for the same reason that Mary, and all of the other saints are great. He recognizes in Christ the supreme good, and he points others toward that good. Just as Mary told the waiters at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5), John is humble enough to say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Both saints are great because they recognize that they are not the greatest. Both saints are great because they recognize the greatness of Christ. 
John sees in Christ the highest good, the fulfillment of all God’s promises. This is why Jesus sends the disciples back to John to tell him that the blind have regained their sight, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Each of these things is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah as being signs that the time of salvation is at hand. John knows the scriptures. He knows what these signs mean. The one he has been waiting for is here.
That’s why this Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, is called Gaudete Sunday. The name comes from the entrance antiphon for the Mass, which in Latin begins Gaudete in Domino semper or “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious over anything; but in all manner of prayer, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:4-5). We mark this day by wearing rose colored vestments in the liturgy and lighting a pink candle in our Advent wreath. It is a lessening of the penitential nature of the season, as we anticipate with excitement the approach of our Lord at Christmas.
There is a natural excitement we all feel when something good that we have been preparing for is about to happen. Students get excited the week before graduation. Engaged couples get excited the day before their wedding. We’ve been looking forward to these things with anticipation, and now they are so close we can almost taste them. Farmers feel this way as they watch their crops grow and can see that it is almost time for the harvest. St. James writes about this in the second reading. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8). 
John felt that same excitement at the coming of Christ. He had been patiently waiting. Christ had already come in the Incarnation, being born to Mary. But now He was beginning to go out and proclaim the Kingdom. This is what John had been waiting for. This is why, as great as he is, he is happy to get out of the way once Jesus arrives on the scene. Because something greater than he had come.
In order to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, we should follow John’s example. We need to wait patiently for the Lord. I don’t just mean at Christmas when we celebrate the feast of His Nativity. And I don’t just mean His second coming at the end of time. I mean His coming here and now into our hearts. He comes to us in our baptism. He comes to us when we receive the Eucharist. He comes to us in all the sacraments, and whenever we read the scriptures or spend time in prayer. But it takes time for Christ’s work to come to fruition in our lives. While we wait, we must be patient. (And be patient with others as James advises in our second reading (Jas 5:9)).
We must also follow John’s example and get out of the way. By that I mean we have a tendency to get in our own way when it comes to our spiritual lives. We may want to grow closer to Christ. We may want to grow in holiness. But we have other competing wants and desires. We have things that we cling to that separate us from Christ.  We want Christ, but we want these other things, too. We get in our own way. John teaches us that to allow Christ to reign in our hearts we need to suppress our own ego, our own selfish tendencies, and allow Him to increase in us. The saints in heaven have done this perfectly. This is why Jesus says “the least in the kingdom of heaven” is greater even than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11). 
We rejoice today for many reasons. We rejoice because Advent is drawing to an end and the joy of Christmas is within sight. We rejoice at the coming of Christ in history. But most of all, we rejoice because Christ still comes to us today, here and now, in our hearts. The one John the Baptist so eagerly awaited, and so excitedly pointed toward, is here. He has come. You and I need wait no longer to open our hearts to Christ and accept His gift of salvation. And so we rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!
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One Mightier than I

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
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“One mightier than I is coming,” St. John the Baptist tells us in our gospel reading for this Sunday.  “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals” (Lk 3:16).

The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, named for the first word from the entrance antiphon for the Mass: “Gaudete in Domino semper; Rejoice in the Lord always!”  This is taken from the second reading, Philippians 4:4-7, where St. Paul goes on to say, “The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all,” and speaks of the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”  Peace and freedom from anxiety sound like cause for rejoicing.  But what has this to do with St. John telling of someone mightier than himself?

It can be a little off-putting when we encounter someone better than we are.  We are taught to excel.  We want to be the best person on the team.  We like to think of ourselves as the nicest friend in our group.  We want to be the favorite son or daughter.  So when we meet someone who is smarter, more athletic, kinder or more favored than we are, it bothers us.  We find ourselves deposed from our thrones, knocked down a rung or two on our ladders.

I remember in elementary school taking pride in being the smartest in my class. I was a big fish in a small pond.  In middle and high school the pond got bigger.  There were lots of other smart kids, many smarter than I was.  In college that pond became an ocean.  Every day I would meet someone with more knowledge than I had on any given subject.  It was a humbling experience.

Not only did I meet people with more knowledge than myself, I met people with more wisdom.  They saw things more clearly than I did, and had a better understanding of how the world works.  Even more importantly, I met — and continue to meet — people who are holier than I am.  Being around holy people can make you profoundly uncomfortable.  Your own faults stand out in sharp relief.  It is no wonder that the saints were often persecuted, even by their fellow Christians.

Though it may at first be unsettling to encounter someone smarter, faster, stronger, wiser, or holier than we are, it can turn into a liberating experience.  If it were not for those greater than ourselves, from whom would we learn?  Who would inspire us?  Who could teach us to better ourselves?  Who could show us how to become something greater than we thought ourselves capable?  This is the role that the saints play for us in our faith.  They show us what the heights of holiness can look like, and demonstrate the path to get there.  Above all else, they point the way to Christ.

For John, recognizing someone greater than he is a cause for rejoicing.  This is because John understands clearly his place in the world, which is the key to true wisdom.  By this time in his career he had gained a large number of followers and a reputation as a great prophet and a holy man.  He even caught the attention and admiration of King Herod.  Many believed John to be the Messiah foretold in the scriptures.  But John knew he was not.  That honor belongs to the one John would later point to and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:28).

I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “There is only one God and the position is filled, so stop applying.”  That’s a humorous rendering of the old maxim, there is one God and He is not me.  This may seem obvious, but how many live today as if they are their own god?  We admire the “self made man.”  There is a running theme in our culture of forging your own destiny and living by your own rules.  When it comes to morality, we reserve the right to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.  But there is a danger in being too autonomous.  None of us live in a world of our own making.  None of us is self-created.  As much as we may pretend otherwise, none of us sits as judge over creation.  Living as if we are our own god is living out of step with reality.  That is the opposite of wisdom.

One cannot be truly free if one is trapped in a fantasy.  To see the world clearly and understand one’s place in it is a liberating experience.  The imprisoned man cannot escape his cell if he doesn’t realize he is imprisoned.  The fallen cannot be saved if he doesn’t realize he needs a savior.  And this is John’s cause for rejoicing.  He knows the sinfulness of the world, but he also knows that the Savior of the World is about to step onto the scene.  “One mightier than I is coming,” he says.  And He is near.

This past week we celebrated two very important Marian feast days, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.  More so than any other saint, Mary consistently points the way to her Son.  A wise man once said that Mary shines brightly like the moon — not with her own light, but by reflecting the light of the Son.  Mary’s role in our lives is expressed profoundly and simply in her words spoken at the wedding feast at Cana.  Pointing to her Son, she says, “Do whatever He tells you to do” (Jn 2:5).  This is Mary’s constant message to us.

John the Baptist is great like Mary is great.  He is great in his humility, in his willingness to decrease, so that Christ may increase (Jn 3:30).  Like Mary, he points the way to Jesus, the “one mightier than I.”  He points to Jesus and tells us, You did not create yourself.  He made you.  You cannot judge yourself.  Only He can judge you.  You cannot save yourself.  Only He can save you.  Repent — and rejoice!

Rejoice.  The Lord is near.  Just as He was born in a humble manger at Bethlehem, He desires to be born into the humble heart still today.  Mary points the way to Him.  John shows us the path.  Welcome Christ into your life, and welcome in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.  Rejoice.  The Lord is near!

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Gospel For Today: 3rd Sunday of Advent

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B) – GUADETE SUNDAY


Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Guadete or “Rejoice” Sunday, from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon from today’s Mass.  Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.  Dominus enim prope est.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5).  Today, the penitential purple is lightened to rose in our liturgical vestments as we rejoice at the imminent coming of our Lord at Christmas.  Our first reading says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord” (Is 61:10).  Our psalm response is, “My soul rejoices in my God” (Is 61:10b).  In our second reading, St. Paul tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16).  

In the midst of all this joy, it might seem a bit odd to us that our gospel reading focuses on John the Baptist, the desert hermit who ate insects and told people to repent. We don’t typically think of him as a joyful fellow.  Yet John the Baptist is the patron saint of spiritual joy.  After all, when the pregnant Mary came before her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant at that time with John, he leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:44).  The gospels tell us John rejoices at the bridegroom’s voice (Jn 3:29-30).  John has a thing or two to teach us about joy, if we would listen.
John’s joy is rooted in humility.  Let us not forget that John, by this time, had developed quite a following.  This is why in the gospel today, the priests and Levites are sent to ask John about his identity. They want to know just who this man is and what he is up to.  They are a little afraid of his influence. The gospels even tell us that there is none born of women who are greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28). Have no doubt about it, John is a great man.  But when the priests ask him who he is, John does not point to his greatness – or to anything else about him.  He tells them plainly, “I am not the Christ.”  This seems like an obvious enough statement, but it is significant.  It is important to know who we are, and who we are not.
I suspect that there is no one reading this who would claim to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  But even though we don’t claim it in words, we proclaim it in our actions whenever we fail to rely on God.  When we refuse to repent of our sins, when we deny the need for God’s forgiveness, we say by our actions that we can save ourselves.  We are claiming to be our own Christ.  When we think we know better than God, or the Church He founded and continues to guide, we act as our own God.  When we put ourselves, not God, first in our lives, we act as if we were the highest good.  We act as if we are the Christ.
The truth is that we cannot save ourselves. If we try, we will fail.  We need God’s love and mercy.  We are good, but we are not the greatest good.  To recognize reality and our place in it we need to be humble like John the Baptist and admit, “I am not the Christ.”
John was humble.  That is why he was happy.  True humility does not involve berating yourself.  We tend to think of pride as saying, “Look how great I am,” and humility, it’s opposite, as saying, “Look how horrible I am.”  But both are wrong.  Either way you are looking at yourself.  Looking always at yourself, even if it is to look down on yourself, is a form of pride.  True humility does not look inward, but outward.  John never said, “Look at me,” either to say how great he was, or how poor he was.  Instead, he said, “Look at Him!”    John said, “I must decrease so that He might increase” (Jn 3:30).  In this way he is like the Virgin Mary, who never points to herself, but always to her Son.  
Recognizing that there is a God and we are not Him relieves us of a heavy burden.  We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we might try.  When we finally admit that we are not our own personal Christ, we can start to look outside ourselves for the real Christ.  We start to look for something greater than ourselves.  John recognized Jesus as one infinitely greater than he.  He found the incarnate God, born among us to bring us light, love and salvation.  There is cause for rejoicing here, for those humble enough to receive Him.
Rejoice in the Lord always!  Again, I say, rejoice!  Indeed, the Lord is near!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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Gospel For Today – 3rd Sunday of Advent

REMINDER – No Mass on campus over the winter break.  Our next Mass on campus will be Jan. 12.

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (A) – GAUDETE SUNDAY


Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday (“Gaudete” is the Latin word meaning “rejoice”). The name comes from the Entrance antiphon for today’s Mass.  Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum díco, gaudéte. Dóminus enim prope est.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”  Because of the joyful character of today’s Mass in the midst of this penitential season, the liturgical color is lightened from violet to rose.



So today, when homilists across the globe will be preaching about joy, I thought I’d take a somewhat different tack and talk about evil.  Yes, yes, I know.  Halloween is over, and with it scary movie season.  It’s nearly Christmas; we are supposed to be talking about hope and joy, happiness and good cheer.  No one wants to hear about evil.  ‘Tis the season, after all!  

But in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot wrong with the world.  And no, I’m not just talking about the harm we cause one another (though there is certainly plenty of that to go around).  I’m talking about the bad things that happen to people who really don’t deserve it.  People get sick.  People become disabled, or are born that way.  Some lack the ability to walk, or the ability to see, or the ability to hear, through no fault of their own.  People have their homes destroyed in natural disasters.  People lose loved ones to all manner of unavoidable tragedy.  And people often feel these losses most acutely during the holiday season.

These things are evil.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m certainly not saying that people who suffer from maladies, or who are born with disabilities, are evil; nor am I saying they suffer because of some evil they have done.  What I am saying is that the existence of these maladies is itself an evil.  It’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls a physical evil (310).  

Unlike a moral evil, no one is culpable for physical evils in this world.  They are part of the reality we experience after the Fall; part of this creation God has made which itself is journeying toward perfection.  Inasmuch as creation is not perfect yet, that is a physical evil.  We may not be used to thinking of natural occurrences as “evil” because we typically reserve that word to something that involves a moral judgment.  But we do recognize the existence of physical evil in our everyday speech.  When someone is blind we say it is because there is “something wrong” with his eyes.  When someone cannot hear there is “something wrong” with her ears.  We recognize that something is not as it should be.  Evil is, after all, simply the absence of a good that should be there.

“But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it?  …with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely created a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward its ultimate perfection.  In God’s plan this process of becoming involves… the existence of the more perfect alongside the existence of the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature.  With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection” (CCC 310).


Creation is journeying toward perfection.  This means it is not there yet, and so suffering still exists.  But the prophet Isaiah gives us a foreshadowing today of what to expect in the perfect world to come.  “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35:1-6a).  In the new creation we find healing, not sickness; we find wholeness, not brokenness; we find sight, not blindness; no one will be dumb or mute, we will all sing in the choir of saints and angels.  

John the Baptist knew that these were signs of the Kingdom of God.  This is why, in today’s gospel (Mt 11:2-11), when he asks if Jesus is the one who is to come, Jesus replies by citing the healing miracles He has performed.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”  Jesus healed these people not only because He loved them individually (which of course He did); He was signalling a universal healing.  Christ’s ministry was not just to a few wounded and broken people in Palestine; it is a universal ministry for all places and all times.  His ministry is nothing less than to bring creation to perfection.  This is the good news.  We, too, can be citizens of God’s Kingdom, this perfect creation with no ills or calamities, no famine, no war, no poverty or homelessness.  Think about all the sources of suffering in your life or in the lives of loved ones.  No cancer.  No heart disease.  No diabetes.  No fire or flood.  No frightened hearts.

John the Baptist is the one sent to prepare the way before Christ.  And what is that way?  What must we do to become citizens of this new perfect creation?  John tells us to do one thing, over and over again.  “Repent!”  This is where that other kind of evil comes into the story, the evil we are all too familiar with – moral evil.  

“Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love.  They can therefore go astray.  Indeed, they have sinned.  Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world” (CCC 311).

Just as physical evil is the absence of a good that ought to exist (an eye that cannot see, legs that cannot stand, a tongue without a voice, etc), so is moral evil the absence of a good.  Only with moral evil, that absence is caused by our own choosing.  And for those evils we commit, we are culpable.  We are accountable when there is hatred instead of love; when there is greed instead of charity; when there is anger in place of forgiveness.  When we commit moral evil, when we sin, we make ourselves less than we were created to be.  We wound ourselves.  We cannot take those wounds with us into paradise, where there is no brokenness.  

Jesus healed the physical evils of the lame and the blind.  So, too, He stands ready to heal the more harmful moral evils of our own sins.  But just as moral evil is caused by our own choice, the healing must begin with our own choice. We need to choose to turn away from our sins.  This is what it means to repent.  We need to leave those evils behind us and ask humbly for His forgiveness.  If we empty our heart of sin, Christ will fill it with joy.  To quote our first pope, “There is cause for rejoicing here” (1 Pt 1:6).  To quote our current pope, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium 1).

Prepare your heart to welcome Jesus this Advent.  Prepare yourself to be a citizen of that perfect world to come.  Then you can sing with the saints, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near!  Gaudete!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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