Incessant Joy, Thanks and Prayer, 3rd Sunday of Advent (B), December 15, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
December 15, 2002
Is 61:1-2,10-11; Lk 1:46-42; 1Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

1) 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, as we remember during this time of Advent, he sent his only Son from heaven to be born in a stable to save me? What is God’s plan for me? Like Samuel upon the advice of the sagacious Eli, we have said to the Lord countless times, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” seeking greater and greater specification to this one question — what is God’s will for me?

2) Today, St. Paul answers that question clearly and succinctly. We can easily imagine his 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: (a) Rejoice always; (b) never cease praying; and (c) render constant thanks. These three imperatives sum up the vocation of the disciple. No matter what our state of life — priest, lay people, religious 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. This Advent we’re called to focus ever more on how we’re doing in each of these three areas, because each shows how faithful a disciple we are, how faithful we are to the will of God and to our vocation.

3) Rejoice always. This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday precisely because of this expression in St. Paul’s epistles, gaudete. That’s why we light the Rose Candle on the Advent Wreath and why I’m vested in Rose today. St. Paul uses this verb — rejoice — 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. How is this possible? Why are we called to do this? The answer to both questions is Christ. We’re called to do this because Christ has come to save us, loves us, and will give us everything we need to overcome sin and live with him in this world and in the next. Christ as well gives us His Spirit so that we might indeed thank God always. Christ is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, and this is the source of our joy. 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. It’s been called by the saints the infallible sign of the presence of God. Yet such joy is much rarer among Catholics, especially here at Espirito Santo, than it should be. Some people seem to act all day long like they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Some act even on Sunday as if it’s Monday and time to get back to work. Even after the Eucharist, some people look like they’re about to go out for the procession of Cristo Morto on Good Friday. A Christian who is not joyful is an oxymoron. If we’re not joyful, we make the good news a lie. If we were really happy, deeply joyful, the world would invade our churches. This is not some outgoing, giggly, unrealistic mania, but a deep overflowing sense of God’s love and joy within. This joy comes first from the conviction that God loves us. Second, from the fact that God dwells in us through the gift of sanctifying grace, received in the Sacraments, through the Eucharist, through confession. This Thursday is the opportunity to go to confession. The third step is a trust and hope in God’s divine providence. Nothing, neither death nor life nor anything else can separate us from the love of God. And the fourth source of real joy is prayer, which we’ll talk about later. What can rob us of our joy? First is self-pity, starting to feel bad about ourselves, seeing everything as half-full glasses, rather than as blessings from God. The second is worry. Jesus tells us not to worry. The world doesn’t really hang on our shoulders. He’s counted all our strands of hair. Pope John XXIII, who had responsibility for the whole Church, used to go in to visit the Lord in his private chapel each night and give the problems back to the Lord, saying, “It’s your Church, Lord, I’m going to bed!” The third theft of joy happens when we place our happiness in something other than God, on acclaim, advancement, promotion, recognition, fame, prestige, power, money, anything. We in these cases are building our lives on sand. If we don’t get that, we lose our joy, whereas if we build our lives on God, we’ll maintain our joy. Fourth and lastly, we lose our joy by complaining. Some of us would have complained about the menu at the Last Supper. Complaining robs us of our joy.

4) The second element of our vocation is to 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 Church, 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.

5) The third element is to 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.

6) 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. We all aspire to joy, to prayer, to gratitude. This Advent is the time to allow the Lord in, so that we might live such a life. This type of life is only possible if we 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 — as we do in today’s Gospel — 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! Father! 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 truly is the Gospel, the Good News, of the Lord! Let us rejoice and give Him glory!