Today, Roman Catholics celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday on account of the first line of the Introit for today's Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete
. Taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, this line translates as, "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice." As the figurative middle point of Advent, Gaudete Sunday is meant to be an occasion for rejoicing. As on Laetare Sunday, which similarly constitutes the middle point of Lent, the somber violet vestments prescribed for the liturgical season are exchanged today for more festive rose-colored vestments (or at least they should be; I suspect that many parishes fail to do so). The basic message of the celebration is very simple: we've passed the halfway mark of a penitential season, so let us rejoice as the Lord's coming draws nearer.
Again I say, rejoice.
Though these words are proclaimed every year, they are not always easy words to respond to. The invitation to rejoice can ring hollow when we consider the suffering that surrounds us - some of it quite visible, as we see in the aftermath of natural disasters and in the carnage of war, and some of it largely hidden, silently borne by individuals whose private traumas are unknown to most or all of those around them. Today, many will certainly wonder how it is possible to rejoice so soon after the tragic deaths on Friday morning of twenty-eight people, including twenty small children, in Newtown, Connecticut. When we consider all of this, how can we seriously accept the invitation to "rejoice in the Lord always"?
To understand how
we can still rejoice in trying times, I believe we must ask why
we rejoice at all. For an answer, let us take another look at the words of St. Paul which form part of today's liturgy. After he offers the invitation to rejoice always, Paul provides a very simple reason for this rejoicing: "The Lord is near."
The Lord is near.
He is near to us, even when he seems remote, for he chose to become one of us. We rejoice on Gaudete Sunday for the very same reason that we rejoice on Christmas: we rejoice in the great gift of the Incarnation. We rejoice because the God we worship chose to become a human being, embracing all of the joy and the pain that are part of the human condition. We rejoice because Jesus Christ suffers with us - and we rejoice because he suffered for
us, dying for our sake so that we might enjoy the gift of eternal life.
We rejoice today in the coming of the Savior, because we know that the way to the manger in Bethlehem also leads to the cross on Calvary, and that the way to the cross also leads to the joy of the resurrection. There can be no greater cause for rejoicing than the knowledge that God is with us, not only in times of joy, but also in times of pain, and indeed in every moment of our lives, even when we are scarcely aware of His presence.
Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice.