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Gaudete Sunday

December 11, 2005

Blessed Gaudete Sunday!

Gaudete means “Rejoice!”, and when the Mass was still done in Latin, it was the first word, the word that set the theme, of the entire celebration for this Sunday of Advent. Rejoice! Advent is more than half-over! Rejoice! The Lord is near! That’s why the candle for this week is rose, a color of joy.

Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54 “My soul rejoices in my God”
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
+ John 1:6-8, 19-28

Isaiah puts words in the mouth of the coming Messiah, He who will come to bring glad tidings, to heal hearts and set captives free. This Messiah rejoices heartily in the Lord. So does His mother. In today’s psalm, taken from Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary uses words very similar to Isaiah’s (words she would have heard often as a Jewish girl who heard the Scriptures day in and day out, as per Deuteronomy 6:7). In fact, the word she uses for “rejoice” comes from two root words meaning “much” and “to jump for joy!”. I guess she and St. John the Baptist, who had just leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, had the same idea :). Our reading from Thessalonians calls us to joy as well, although the word used there is for a calmer, more peaceful sort of joy.

So what is this joy about? Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will rejoice because of salvation and justice. Mary rejoices in her savior, in the One who had paid the price to free us from sin–and to free her in a singular way by protecting her even from the stain of Original Sin. Supernatural joy is about salvation. It’s about being freed to live up to our potential for Heaven, for unimaginable love. It’s about being saved from ourselves.

The only real disaster in life is sin, and that’s completely in our power, a matter of our free choice. The only person who can hurt me in a way that eternally matters, the only person who can send me to hell, is me. I need to be saved from myself!
The only good we have that is excellent and imperishable is our soul, and the good which God gives to the soul. But by nothing except our own will can the soul or its good suffer injury. No one can be spiritually injured except by himself. So long as one possesses one’s soul in patience, no one can take any part of that good away from us. -Archbishop Ullathorne, The Little Book Of Humility & Patience

This means that joy, that salvation, is about holiness (which, despite popular misconceptions, is not about being gloomy). And the fact that we are commanded to rejoice (in I Thessalonians 5:16, as well as in Philippians 4:4) tells us that joy must be something we can choose. It must be more than a passing emotion which will come and go despite our best intentions. The Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home, says that joy is “pleasure or delight in the will [which is our ability to choose things] resulting from the possession of some known good…joy always springs from love [choosing the best good of another]…The will’s act of loving causes joy either because the loved object is present or because the goodness of the loved thing exists and continues in it”. The text illustrates that last confusing part by saying that a loving father finds joy in his childrens’ presence (“the loved object is present”), but even more joy in the fact that they are happy and healthy (“the goodness [happiness and health] of the loved thing exists and continues in it”). “Loving God also causes this double joy, for charity rejoices over God’s presence in the soul and over His unchangeable, ever-enduring goodness.”

So joy comes back to love, to the God who is love (John 4:8), the God who sent His Son to die for love of us (John 3:16). It comes back to doing what He wants (John 14:15), both because we want to please the One we love and because we know that He only wants what’s best for us. That’s how salvation and justice, seeds of Heaven’s sacred order, take root in our lives. Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection made it possible, but we have to choose the joy of loving Him, to choose to apply His salvation and justice in our daily lives. Joy, like love, comes at a price. It was for the sake of the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Paul rejoices in his sufferings (Colossians 1:24). Joy is not so fragile that it’s destroyed by difficulty, pain or sorrow. It clings to God, to its ultimate good, and rejoices in the fact that God is using even difficulties to save us from ourselves.

May we choose joy, no matter what our circumstances, confident that God is using those circumstances for our eternal joy.

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