Fr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
December 12, 1999
Is 61:1-2,10-11; Lk 1:46-42; 1Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
Many of us have spent years on this one question. Most of us have tried to help countless others find an answer for it as well. In the life of any believer, it is one of the seminal interrogatives of the mystery of human life: What is God’s will for me? Why has God made me? Why does he love me so much that he sent his only Son to save me? What is his plan for me? Like Samuel upon the advice of the sagacious Eli, we have said to the Lord innumerable times, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?,” seeking greater and greater specification to this one question — what is God’s will for me?
Today, St. Paul answers that question clearly and succinctly. We can easily imagine him whispering it into our ears like a secret. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, he declares, and gives us his three-fold message: (1) Rejoice always; (2) never cease praying; and (3) render constant thanks. These three imperatives sum up the vocation of the disciple. No matter what our state of life, no matter what daily tasks we might be responsible for each day, God’s will for us can be summarized in these three commands, to rejoice, pray and give thanks always. We can use the context of this Advent to see how each of us is doing in following God’s will in these three related areas.
Rejoice always. This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday precisely because of this expression in St. Paul’s epistles, gaudete. St. Paul uses this verb 22 times in his letters and he tells us, as he told the Thessalonians, Philippians, Romans, Galatians, Corinthians and Colossians to rejoice always, gaudete semper: Rejoice in hope (Rom 12:12), rejoice in suffering (1 Cor 12:26), rejoice in obedience (Rom 16:9), rejoice in the truth (1 Cor 13:6), rejoice over repentance (2 Cor 7:9), rejoice when weak (2 Cor 13:9), rejoice that Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18), rejoice to be poured out as a libation (Phil 2:17), and finally rejoice that the Lord is near (Phil 4:4) The Apostle puts no restriction on this rejoicing. We are to rejoice always, in good times and in bad. Why? Because Christ the Lord has come among us to save us. He is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. As Mary said to Elizabeth during the first Advent, which we hear in today’s responsory, our spirit rejoices in God our savior — for he has looked on us in our lowliness and done great things for us. God’s will for us is that we be forever joyful on account on God’s marvelous love and deeds for us. This joy is one of the most clarion examples of the presence of God. Such joy is contagious. And nothing, nothing, should be able to take it away. Yet such joy is much rarer around this seminary, let’s be honest, than it ought to be. We all know that there are men who act all day long like they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all know that this seminary is not at a lack for gloomy seminarians who live everyday like Good Friday, minus the Good. We all know, too, that too often we as well let certain things in our life — jealousy, disappointment, a wounded ego, sin, our inability to forgive ourselves and so many other things — rob us of our joy and we export that corrosive mood to others. To all of us, Paul tells us that God’s will for us is to rejoice always, starting right now, and never stopping. This is God’s will for us, and hence he has already given us the graces to accomplish it if we respond to them.
The second element is never cease praying. Prayer is to the supernatural life what breathing is to natural life. While it’s quite obvious we cannot spend the whole day in the chapel, we can truly aspire to have a constant habit of the presence of God, offering everything we do over the course of the day to him. We can try to keep our conversation with God alive over the course of hours, listening to what he is trying to communicate to us through the people we meet and events that occur. And we can certainly aim to persevere in prayer, particularly when it seems that God is not listening. We are all aware of those times when we take our eyes off of the Lord and his will, when we make a conscious choice to stop praying, to cease presenting our difficulties or successes to him, to zero in on ourselves and our problems or desires rather than to see them through our relationship with him. Paul is calling us to convert from this way of living to one in which we try to walk with the Lord and talk with the Lord all day long. This is God’s will for us, and hence he has already given us the graces to accomplish it if we respond to them.
Render constant thanks. This third element in the vocational triple-crown unites the previous two. We proclaim at the beginning of the Eucharistic preface in every Mass that it is right and good always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise through Jesus Christ our Lord. The various prefaces over the course of the year put into words the countless reasons we have to thank God: for life, for grace, for his love, for sending us such a great Redeemer, for the example of the Blessed Mother and all the saints, for all his gifts to us, including our very desire to thank him. Our life should be one great act of thanksgiving to God, a constant, joyful prayer of praise. Everything is a gift — our vocations, our families, our friends, our Crosses — and such a realization ought to fill the disciple with the desire to make one constant act of thanks to God. We know personally, however, how often we complain about and even curse the crosses, difficulties, and disappointments that God sends us. We are called to see that they are really caresses from God to free us from disordered love of ourselves so that we might love truly and benefit fully from all the gifts he has given us and continues to give us. It is God’s will for us to realize just how much he has given us and to render constant thanks. Hence he has already given us the graces to accomplish it if we respond to them.
To rejoice always, never cease to pray, and constantly give thanks. Deep down inside, we all clearly aspire to such a life, which is a wholly and truly Christian life. But such a life is only possible if we first convert from our sins and believe wholeheartedly in the Great News we so modestly describe as Good. This is the reason why the Church always starts out Advent with St. John the Baptist, so that we might be converted again, turning from every obstacle that keeps us from God and letting him fill us with that Spirit who makes burst within us the perfectly joyful, grateful, and prayerful exclamation: Abba! This Daddy of Peace, as St. Paul mentions at the end of the second reading, wants to make us perfect in holiness. He wants to preserve us whole and entire, spirit, soul and body, irreproachable, joyful, prayer and thankful at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed he who calls us is trustworthy — therefore he will do it. This is the Gospel of the Lord!