Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Third Sunday in Advent, Year B
December 14, 2014
Is 61:1-2.10-11, Lk 1:46-50.53-54, 1 Thess 5:16-24, Jn 1:6-8.19-28
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
Rejoicing at the Lord’s Approach and Arrival
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” These familiar words from the refrain of the most famous Advent Hymn of all frame our prayer today. We call the Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday from St. Paul’s words to the Philippians which are the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass: Gaudete semper in Domino. Iterum dico: Gaudete! ““Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). Because the Lord is near, because the Lord is coming, because the Lord never ceases to come, we are called to rejoice always. The priest wears rose vestments and we light a rose rather than a purple candle on the Advent wreath to symbolize this joy, from an ancient medieval color scheme. And all of the readings of the Mass have us ponder the type of joy we’re supposed to have at the advent of the Lord in history, mystery and majesty, so that when Christmas comes, we may be ready not just to sing but to share our Christian “joy to the world.”
In the first reading, Isaiah exclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” God has spoiled us with himself, enveloping us in his salvation and justice and adorning us with things far greater than diamonds. In the Blessed Virgin Mary’s famous Magnificat, which the liturgy has us sing as a canticle in place of the Psalm today, our spiritual mother sings of the joy that comes from this enveloping that happens also on the inside: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant, … [he] has done great things for me, … he has mercy on those who fear him in every generation, he has filled the hungry with good things, … he has come to the help of his servant, … for he has remembered his promise of mercy.” In the second reading, St. Paul describes that our reaction to these blessings of the Lord should be to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in all circumstances give thanks.” Pope Francis this morning in his Angelus meditation said that if we lived as St. Paul describes, as we see in Isaiah and Mary, we would all be “missionaries of joy.” Finally in the Gospel we see what John the Baptist was doing to prepare people through a baptism of repentance to rejoice when at last the Lamb of God would come to take away our sins. John announced, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Eventually what that “one among you” finally revealed himself and himself began to baptize, John’s disciples went to him and said, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” John answered and said, “You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete.” Preparing for our joy to be brought to completion at the coming of Jesus the Bridegroom is the purpose of Advent and in a particular way the goal of Gaudete Sunday.
Encountering the Joyful Jesus
Two weeks ago we began the first Year for Consecrated Life in the history of the Church and as I described, every ecclesiastical holy year is meant to influence everything we do over the course of the observance. As we on this Gaudete Sunday look at the theme of Christian joy, we can learn quite a bit from the those in consecrated life. Pope Francis asked two weeks ago in a letter to the consecrated men and women of the world: “What in particular do I expect from this Year of grace for consecrated life? That the old saying will always be true: ‘Where there are consecrated persons, there is joy.’ We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfillment.” Pope Francis said in that Nov. 29 letter that this Year for Consecrated Life is not just supposed to be for contemplative monks and cloistered nuns, for religious brothers and sisters for members of secular institutes or societies of apostolic life, for consecrated virgins, hermits, consecrated widows and widowers and other newer expressions of consecration that the Holy Spirit has inspired. Rather, the Holy Father called on all the faithful, “to live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace” because, he emphasized, it “concerns not only consecrated persons, but the entire Church.” Ultimately, by our following the example of consecrated persons, Pope Francis wants to be able to say, “Where there are Christians there is joy.”
Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been trying to help the whole Church to rejoice in the gift of our faith and share it with others. He wrote last November a beautiful apostolic exhortation entitled “The Joy of the Gospel,” which began with three powerful sentences: “The joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis penned, “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.”
Joy is born, he said, from the encounter with Jesus. There are many people who “bump into” Jesus but who don’t really encounter him because, to some degree, they’re afraid of what he might ask. Rather than fill them with life, they fear that he might take their life away. Pope Francis is telling us not to be afraid to encounter Jesus. One way that is key for his to encounter Jesus is in prayer and in a special way in Eucharistic adoration. Today is the first anniversary of Fr. Larry Villone’s mission last year to help us launch perpetual adoration, so that we might have encounter Jesus in his real presence as Jesus wishes to give us his joy and make our joy complete (Jn 15:11). If there’s anyone here who has not yet signed up to spend an hour encountering Jesus each week, I strongly urge you on behalf of God to come to do so, because Christian joy only comes from encounter and if you’re not encountering Jesus in adoration, you’re going to be nowhere near as joyful as Jesus wants to make you.
The second thing Pope Francis says is that Jesus offers us salvation, he wants to set us free from sin, sorrow, emptiness and loneliness, but that we have to accept that offer. Accepting that offer means coming to encounter Jesus in his mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. That’s where God’s greatest joy, as Pope Francis calls it, is poured into our hearts. God’s greatest joy is forgiving. Heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than 99 who never needed to repent, Jesus tells us, and God wants to share that joy with us, but we need to respond to that invitation. If you haven’t yet made a good confession this Advent, or especially if you’ve been away from that sacrament for months or years, please come to give God and all the saints joy and have their joy be poured into your cleansed soul.
The third thing of which Pope Francis reminds us is that with Christ joy is constantly born anew. It’s something ever fresh. It’s never stale, or old, or “yesterday,” because the encounter with Jesus is always meant to be in the present. We’re never called to live off of past encounters but meet him today so that he can share with us the joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis wrote in his exhortation last year that salvation history is “one great stream of joy” and he wants us to enter into that life-giving water. Christian joy, he said, “drinks of [Jesus’] brimming heart.” But he noted that not all Catholics have this joy. Some Christians’ lives, he said, “seem like Lent without Easter,” and they conduct themselves “like someone who has just come from a funeral.” A Christian who encounters Jesus meets him who has risen from the dead, who is very much alive, who is tremendously vivacious, whose joy overflows. A Christian who really encounters Jesus will be someone who lives joyfully.
Yesterday, when I was in St. Louis preaching a day of recollection to the consecrated men and women of the Archdiocese, I focused on how Pope Francis is calling consecrated persons in particular to “wake up the world” with joy: their joy flowing from their encounter with the Lord Jesus in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Reconciliation, in charity, is supposed to be contagious and help us all to rejoice. I had a chance to examine with them a beautiful letter from Blessed Paul VI written in 1975 entitled Gaudete in Domino, “Rejoice in the Lord,” taken from the same phrase of St. Paul from which Gaudete Sunday gets its name. I think it’s the most beautiful thing ever written in the Church about joy and now, two months after Paul VI’s beatification, I’d like to share some of his thoughts so that all of us can grow in our understanding of Jesus’ joy that he wants to share with us.
The Fundamental and Simple Reasons for Joy
Blessed Paul VI asked, “Is it not normal that joy should dwell in us, when our hearts contemplate or rediscover, in faith, the fundamental and simple reasons for joy?” And what are those fundamental and simple reasons? Paul VI gives them: “God has so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; through His Spirit, God’s presence does not cease to enfold us with His tenderness and to fill us with His life; and we are journeying towards the blessed transfiguration of our life in the path of the resurrection of Jesus. Yes, it would be very strange if this Good News, which evokes the alleluia of the Church, did not give us the look of those who are saved. The joy of being Christian, of being united with the Church, of being ‘in Christ,’ and in the state of grace with God, is truly able to fill the human heart.”
But in order to appreciate those spiritual joys, we must first be able to appreciating the natural joys that God gives us. “There is a need for a patient effort to teach people, or teach them once more, how to savor in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path,” Paul VI wrote: “The elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy and satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice. The Christian will be able to purify, complete and sublimate these joys; he will not be able to disdain them. Christian joy presupposes a person capable of natural joy. These natural joys were often used by Christ as a starting point when He proclaimed the kingdom of God.”
But for us to appreciate spiritual joys, we also must be able to grasp how joyous Jesus was. Pope Francis said in a homily last December that while we are accustomed to think of Jesus preaching, healing, walking through the streets speaking to people, or even being raised upon the Cross, “we are not accustomed to think of Jesus smiling, or joyful.” But, he added, “Jesus was full of joy.” Many times we picture Jesus as he was depicted in the 1977 Franco Zeffirelli film Jesus of Nazareth in which Robert Powell portrayed Jesus in a way in which Jesus seldom smiled, in which he was so “meek” that he had no personality whatsoever. Powell’s depiction contrasts totally, for example, with the superlative rendition given by Bruce Marchiano in the Visual Bible Series’ 1993 movie Matthew, in which Marchiano’s Jesus was so totally vivacious that it was easy to see why grown men would be drawn to leave everything immediately and follow him, in which it would make sense for him to say that he came so that “we may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). You can watch the whole film for free, by the way, on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fc8qOXeTsUQ), something I would urge everyone to do because it may totally change your image of Jesus and how we’re supposed to follow him down the path of joy.
Blessed Paul VI was someone who pondered Jesus’ joy quite a bit and shared with us his insights in Gaudete in Domino. In Jesus’ humanity, he wrote, Jesus “experienced our joys. He has manifestly known, appreciated, and celebrated a whole range of human joys, those simple daily joys within the reach of everyone. … He admires the birds of heaven, the lilies of the field. He immediately grasps God’s attitude towards creation at the dawn of history. He willingly extols the joy of the sower and the harvester, the joy of the man who finds a hidden treasure, the joy of the shepherd who recovers his sheep or of the woman who finds her lost coin, the joy of those invited to the feast, the joy of a marriage celebration, the joy of the father who embraces his son returning from a prodigal life, and the joy of the woman who has just brought her child into the world. For Jesus, these joys are real because for Him they are the signs of the spiritual joys of the kingdom of God: the joy of people who enter this kingdom return there or work there, the joy of the Father who welcomes them. And for His part Jesus Himself manifests His satisfaction and His tenderness when He meets children wishing to approach Him, a rich young man who is faithful and wants to do more, friends who open their home to Him, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. His happiness is above all to see the Word accepted, the possessed delivered, a sinful woman or a publican like Zacchaeus converted, a widow taking from her poverty and giving. He even exults with joy when He states that the little ones have the revelation of the kingdom that remains hidden from the wise and clever. Yes, because Christ was ‘a man like us in all things but sin,’ He accepted and experienced affective and spiritual joys, as a gift of God. And He did not rest until ‘to the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation…and to those in sorrow, joy.’”
But Blessed Paul VI doesn’t stop there. He adds, “It is necessary here below to understand properly the secret of the unfathomable joy which dwells in Jesus and which is special to Him. It is especially the Gospel of Saint John that lifts the veil, by giving us the intimate words of the Son of God made man. If Jesus radiates such peace, such assurance, such happiness, such availability, it is by reason of the inexpressible love by which He knows that He is loved by His Father. When He is baptized on the banks of the Jordan, this love, which is present from the first moment of His Incarnation, is manifested: “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you.” This certitude is inseparable from the consciousness of Jesus. It is a presence that never leaves Him all alone. It is an intimate knowledge which fills Him. … In return, the Son gives the Father immeasurable love: ‘I love the Father…. I am doing exactly what the Father told me.’ He always does what is pleasing to His Father: it is His food and drink. His availability goes even to the gift of His human life. … For Jesus it is not a question of a passing awareness. It is the reverberation in His human consciousness of the love that He has always known as God in the bosom of the Father: the Father is seen here as the one, who gives Himself to the Son, without reserve and without ceasing, in a burst of joyful generosity, and the Son is seen as He who gives Himself in the same way to the Father, in a burst of joyful gratitude, in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ joy came from his abiding in the love of the Father and Jesus wants to communicate to us that joy by helping us to know and experience that love. “This joy of living in God’s love begins here below. It is the joy of the kingdom of God!”
A Demanding Joy
At the same time, however, Blessed Paul VI makes plain that this joy is not some spiritual cotton candy. This Christ-like joy, he said, “is granted on a steep road that requires a total confidence in the Father and in the Son, and a preference given to the kingdom. The message of Jesus promises above all joy [but it is a] demanding joy; Does it not begin with the beatitudes?” People today think joy comes from being rich but Jesus says it comes from spiritual poverty; the world says it comes from comedians, but Jesus says it comes through mourning; the world says it comes from being popular and admired, but Jesus says real joy comes from being persecuted, reviled and hated on his account. That’s the path for us to “rejoice and be glad,” for our reward in heaven will be great. Christian joy is a demanding joy. We see this in Jesus’ own joy. “In a mysterious way,” Blessed Paul VI writes, “Christ Himself accepts death at the hands of the wicked and death on the cross, in order to eradicate from man’s heart the sins of self-sufficiency and to manifest to the Father a complete filial obedience. But the Father has not allowed death to keep Him in its power. The resurrection of Jesus is the seal placed by the Father on the value of His Son’s sacrifice: it is the proof of the Father’s fidelity, according to the desire expressed by Jesus before He enters into His passion: “Father…glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.” Henceforth, Jesus is living forever in the glory of the Father, and this is why the disciples were confirmed in an ineradicable joy when they saw the Lord on Easter evening.”
And so Paul VI draws a conclusion: “The joy of the kingdom brought to realization can only spring from the simultaneous celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord. This is the paradox of the Christian condition which sheds particular light on that of the human condition: neither trials nor sufferings have been eliminated from this world, but they take on a new meaning in the certainty of sharing in the redemption wrought by the Lord and of sharing in His glory. This is why the Christian, though subject to the difficulties of human life, is not reduced to groping for the way; nor does he see in death the end of his hopes. As in fact the prophet foretold: ‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase.’ The Easter Exultet sings of a mystery accomplished beyond the hopes of the prophets: in the joyful announcement of the resurrection, even man’s suffering finds itself transformed, while the fullness of joy springs from the victory of the Crucified, from His pierced heart and His glorified body. This victory enlightens the darker souls. … Here below this joy will always include to a certain extent the painful trial of a woman in labor and a certain apparent abandonment, like that of the orphan: tears and lamentation, while the world parades its gloating satisfaction. But the disciples’ sadness, which is according to God and not according to the world, will be promptly changed into a spiritual joy that no one will be able to take away from them.”
Not Squandering our Joy
When we have true Christian joy, no one can take it away from us. But we can squander it. Blessed Paul VI takes up two ways that we do that are important for us to ponder.
He says the first way is through seeking to find our joy in material things. “Technological society,” he noted, “has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual. Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage.”
CS Lewis once wrote in Surprised by Joy, “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted [joy] would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then, joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”
We can’t find joy through things. We can’t find joy through winning the lottery. We can’t find joy by spending the rest of our life in “artificial paradises” like Disney World. All of those pleasures have expiration dates whereas joy endures. This is a very important lesson for us to note as we prepare for Christmas because many of us spend so much time shopping for Christmas presents for those we love, but in doing so at most we’re giving them something that will please them for a time, but never help those we love become happy. Eventually the new sneakers, or bicycle, or x-box, gadgets or clothes will no longer captivate and they’ll just be on to the new thing, constantly searching in them for joy but never finding anything more than pleasure. Out of love for those we care about, we need to rethink how we approach Christmas so that we might lead them to joy. How would we do that? Perhaps we might give them a book that would engage them to grow deeper in the faith. Perhaps we might take them on a pilgrimage to a beautiful shrine or sanctuary or a mission trip. Perhaps we might give them some old fashioned T-I-M-E, so that they might be able to catch from us a little of the contagious joy that is supposed to mark us as Christians. But rather than feeding our materialistically addicted senses and appetites, we might help stoke their hunger for the things that are conducive to joy.
The second way we squander or prevent joy, Blessed Paul VI, said is through secularism, through living as if God didn’t exist, through abiding in spiritual worldliness rather than with God. When this happens to man, he says, “the meaning of life escapes him, … he is no longer sure of himself or of his transcendent calling and destiny. He has desacralized the universe and now he is desacralizing humanity; he has at times cut the vital link that joined him to God.” We strip God from our worldview, we eliminate him from our daily life, we eliminate him from our understanding of what it means to be human, and when this happens we lose the essential foundation for true and lasting joy. This is why it’s so serious when aggressive secularists in government, the courts, schools and culture try to pretend as if God doesn’t exist and to get everyone to pretend with them. In doing so, we lose the consciousness of God and his love that is essential for our experiencing joy. We also to a large degree lose the capacity for normal human joys. Instead, we substitute pleasures, but these pleasures can’t sustain. Eventually we want bigger and bigger thrills to keep us entertained and the little things of life no longer cut it for us. This is one of the biggest plagues of our age and leads to a deep restlessness.
That’s why Advent and the Year for Consecrated Life are both so important. In Advent, we contemplate deeply the meaning of Jesus’ incarnation. We prepare for Emmanuel, God-with-us, God who comes to bring us joy. Consecrated men and women are signs that God is real, that he is present among us, that he is the most real thing of all, capable of drawing people to give up families of their own, lucrative careers, and even their own autonomy in order to give themselves wholly and entirely to God and his kingdom. The consecrated are able to show us the path to true love, true wealth and true freedom through their making their own Jesus’ chastity, poverty and obedience for and in the Kingdom. And when they do, they are filled with joy, because no one can out give God. All of us during this Year for Consecrated Life, follow the example of those in consecrated life, ought to ponder the meaning of our baptismal consecration, of our own belonging to God, so that we may be in the midst of the world be like them signs that God exists, that he continues to save and forgive, that he continues to love, that he continues to walk beside us and lead us to our heavenly home. Wherever there are Christians, there’s supposed to be joy, because into every circumstance Christians are supposed to bring Jesus Christ, the Source of all joy.
The Joy of the Eucharist
The greatest means of all to be filled with joy here on earth is the encounter we have with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. We call what we’re doing the “celebration” of the Mass because it’s supposed to be a truly joy-filled feast. It’s here that God comes to speak with us. It’s here that God comes to be with us. It’s here that God comes to hear our prayers. It’s here that God comes to feed us and sanctify us from the inside out. We pray at every Mass, “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb,” because we are the most blessed people on the planet, receiving today the greatest gifts we could ever get. When St. Josemaria Escriva used to distribute Holy Communion he always did so with a profound smile on his face. Once he was asked about it and he said that he couldn’t help but smile from the depth of his being because in giving out Holy Communion, he knew he was giving Happiness Incarnate to people. In Holy Communion, we are receiving Joy-in-the-Flesh, the one who came so that his joy might be in us and our joy may be brought to perfection. Today as we prepare to receive within us the same Jesus whom Mary carried within her womb for nine months, we ought to make our own her words, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior,” for he is about to fill the spiritually hungry with the greatest thing of all! We ought to repeat with Isaiah, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul,” for he is about to do far more than clothe us with the “robe of salvation,” and bedeck us like a bride with jewels, but instead he is about to clothe us in himself and give himself to us as the most precious pearl of all. God’s desire to enter into a Holy Communion with us is the most profound reason of all to act on St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading, to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in all circumstances give thanks!” We are about to receive the “joy to the world” within! “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee” today, O people of St. Bernadettes!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 IS 61:1-2A, 10-11
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
Responsorial Psalm LK 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
R/ My soul rejoices in my God.
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
R/ My soul rejoices in my God.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
R/ My soul rejoices in my God.
Reading 2 1 THES 5:16-24
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.
Alleluia IS 61:1 (CITED IN LK 4:18)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 1:6-8, 19-28
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.