Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Ingredient: Rejoice Always!

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) - Year C

Two weeks ago, I told the teens at the LifeTeen Mass, that the readings from our four Sundays of Advent reveal a kind of recipe for the spiritual life. A recipe that consists of four ingredients:
  • To pray daily
  • to go to Mass weekly
  • to go to confession seasonally
  • and to rejoice always.

Today is what is known as “Gaudete Sunday” in the church.  “Gaudete” means “rejoice!”  It’s called “Gaudete Sunday” because the first words of today’s entrance antiphon (which is something that is chanted at the beginning of Mass in lieu of an entrance hymn) go like this: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.”  Which are the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians which we heard in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” (Phil 4:4)  And in our first reading, the prophet Zephaniah, tells us to “shout for joy,” to “sing joyfully,” and to “be glad and exult with all [our] heart[s].” (Zep 3:14).

So this is the weekend we are reminded to rejoice.  And not only that, but to rejoice always.

Honestly, of all the weekend’s of 2012, this is most likely the last weekend we Americans feel like rejoicing.  Certainly, it’s the last weekend, the citizens of Newtown, CT feel like rejoicing.  And for the sake of the youngest pairs of ears in our congregation today, and out of respect for you as parents to explain yesterday as you see fit, when you see fit; I am going to be purposely vague and deliberately veiled in my comments.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Have no anxiety at all.”  It seems like an absurd suggestion when we see so much evil in the world.  We hear St. Paul say these words, “Rejoice in the Lord always” and perhaps our reaction is to say back to him, “You know what Paul?  You rejoice.  How can you possibly expect us to rejoice today?”

David Didion
Just over a year ago, I was ministering to a young man from our parish and his family.  Some of you know him, his name is David Didion.  David was 27 and dying of cancer.  And he was going to leave this world and leave behind a young wife and two young daughters ages 3 and 1.  David was a faithful Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday.  However, as his illness grew more severe, he was unable to continue coming to Church to receive the Eucharist.  So, one Saturday evening, shortly before he died, David, his family and I gathered together in  his hospital room.  We set up an altar on his food tray at the end of his bed.  And there, in his hospital room, we celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The time came for the readings and I had forgotten to ask someone beforehand to be the lector.  So I asked if anyone would like to read.  As you might imagine, David’s family was hesitant to read the readings.  But not David.  “I’ll read” he exclaimed.  Then he read these words from the prophet Zechariah: “Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you;”  And you know what?  He read them with more enthusiasm and joy than I just did.

And I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? How is he doing this?  How can he have such joy when he is about to face the pain of death and leave his family behind?"

St. Maximilian Kolbe
He was able to rejoice because he knew that Christ was with him.  He knew that rejoicing doesn’t mean being jolly.  Rather, he knew that rejoicing means knowing, for a fact, that even in the face of death and loss and evil, Jesus Christ is with us, always, until the end of time.

This is what all the Saints know.  Over and over again we hear the stories of the Saints, especially the martyrs, who in the face of death and in the midst of Hell on earth, they still rejoice in the Lord.

Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who was a prisoner in Auschwitz.  Who, when he and his fellow prisoners awaited their death in a starvation bunker, spent that time giving thanks to Lord by singing hymns.

St. Paul
This is what St. Paul knew as well.  For he didn’t write this letter to the Philippians from the comfort of his home.  Rather, he wrote it from prison where he awaited death by beheading.
In the face of his own death, St. Paul wrote the words: “Rejoice in the Lord always!  I shall say it again, rejoice!”

St. Paul was able to rejoice before his beheading, St. Maximilian Kolbe was able to sing before his execution, and David Didion was able to proclaim the words “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion; shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” before leaving his family behind, because they, like countless other Saints knew what we often times forget: What the prophet Zephaniah promises us in the first reading today: That “the Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior”

That is what we are getting ready to celebrate this Christmas.  That the Lord, our God is in our midst.  That when He foresaw all that would happen to us, God would not leave us abandoned.  So He sent His Son to be born a helpless babe in a manger.  So that He could become forsaken for us on the Cross.  And in the moments of our lives when we feel like crying out, “God, where exactly are you in all this?  What are you doing?” we would hear his Son say basically the same thing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  So that we would know we are not alone in our suffering, we have Jesus, Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

Thank God we have the Saints.  And thank God we have shining examples like David Didion, who remind us, when we forget, that God is indeed with us, in everything.  And because of this, we too, with them, should rejoice always.

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