Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Third Sunday of Advent

Joy and Peace

he Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to John, to ask him:  Who art thou?  And he confessed, and did not deny:  and he confessed:  I am not the Christ.  And they asked him:  What then?  Art thou Elias?  And he said:  I am not.  Art thou the Prophet?  And he answered:  No.  They said therefore unto hm:  Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us?  What sayest thou of thyself?  He said:  I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias.  And they that were sent, were of the Pharisees.  and they asked him, and said to him:  Why then baptizest thou, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the Prophet?  John answered them, saying:  I baptize with water; but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not; he it is, who shall come after me, who is preferred before me; the latch of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.  These things were done in Bethania beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing (Jn. 1:19-28).

The first word of the Mass of Gaudete Sunday, read in every Catholic church this morning, sounds the keynote of our faith.  It is the Latin word, gaudete, which being translated, means rejoice.

     It is a striking paradox that the religion of the cross is at one and the same time the religion of joy.  The  solution of this paradox lies essentially in the fact that Christianity is a religion of love, and in this world love and sorrow are linked by a mysterious partnership.  Christianity is no worshiper of pain, nor is asceticism an offering to a pain-loving God as if life and health were not God's good gifts.  Much rather is Christianity a form of love, and love, being the root of joy, it follows that the practice of the Christian religion gives joy not in spite of its cross but rather as its natural consequence.  For we are taught from earliest childhood as an elementary truth that man is on this earth for the one end of perfecting himself in the love of God.  We know likewise that only through labor, pain, and sacrifice is love perfected.  Pope Leo XIII, of happy memory, makes clear this point when he states that "Christianity has no mission to eliminate labor, pain and suffering from this world, but only to transmute them."

     In his encyclical letter on the "Rosary and the Social Question,"  this great Pope and leader of Christendom speaks of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as a means of correcting the false impressions of the world, namely, that suffering is repugnant and whatever is painful or harmful must be escaped.  He goes on to state that "a great number of men are thus robbed of that peace and freedom of mind which remains the reward of those who do what is right undismayed by the perils of troubles that may be encountered in so doing.  Rather do worldlings dream of a chimeric civilization in which all that is pleasant shall be supplied. For by this passionate and unbridled desire of living a life of pleasure the minds of men are weakened, and if they do not entirely succumb, they become demoralized and miserably cower and sink under the hardships of the battle of life."
     With this fundamental truth, namely, that all joy is purchased at the price of sorrow and the crown of heaven won by the warriors who carry a cross, does Holy Mother the Church impress us this Gaudete Sunday.  The penitential colors of Advent today give way to the rose-colored vestments of joy. For "joyfulness is the life of man and a never failing treasure of holiness," says Holy writ.  The solemn notes of preparation give way to the jubilant sound of organ music.  Holy Mother the Church chooses as her liturgical station today the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, where today we hear the only voice of peace and joy in a world that verges upon war.  Here today is heard the echo of Peter 's voice in the person of his successor, who is teaching us the lesson of Gaudete Sunday, namely, that all joy and peace can come only through Christ who first suffered and died before entering into His glory.

     Isaias, the Prophet of the Advent season, reminds us again that the church is the "City of strength."  We, her children, gather in spirit today around the tomb of the humble fisherman in the Vatican Basilica.  Only here in the Church of Christ can we find strength, only here can we find peace and joy in a sickened and depressed world.

     In the Advent Gospel of the Mass we read, "There hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not."  How applicable are these words of St. John the Baptist to the present day!  Christ stands in the midst of this civilization. His Mystical Body is the Church.  His Vicar is Peter's successor, whose voice emanates from the Vatican today as Mass is celebrated over the tomb of Peter.  In the midst of a world that is seeking joy and peace, Christ stands awaiting the visit of nations.  On this day of Advent, God grant that "the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ" may take hold of the earth that "our sorrow may be turned into joy."


     Dear Savior of men, teach me to place all my confidence not in the wisdom of men, but in the foolishness of the cross.  Alas, men promise material joy and they give us but ashes of defeat.  You have promised us a cross, which is but the prelude to the crown.  Teach us, blessed Saviour, that there is peace of soul, joy of spirit, and eternal repose and contentment only in the Christian way of life.  Grant us the grace to follow You on the Via Dolorosa, that it may become the cause of our joy.