Friday, December 9, 2011

2011/12/11 Gaudete / Rejoice! (3rd Sunday Advent B)

  If you ever ask me how I’m doing, you’ll most likely get my standard response – AWESOME!  It’s funny, but many people are surprised by that answer….as if… they don’t really expect to hear anyone admit that they’re actually…happy!

I remember when I started saying 'Awesome'.  Back in High School I worked at a bank, so I saw lots and lots of people every day – and especially on Friday evenings – cars would be lined up constantly all evening.  Now – when you work in a service industry like a bank – you have to be ready to make pleasant conversation with people.  Good afternoon and Thank You were the standard things to say – but inevitably, someone would say ‘How you doing?’.  At that point, my standard response was “not TOO bad”.  As if – I’m really doing bad – barely hanging in there… but not bad enough that I’m ready to die or anything.  As if – I wanted to be slightly positive, but not too positive.  I hadn’t even noticed it until one of the young ladies I worked with asked me why I answer that way… and pointed out that it actually sounded very negative.  I was glad she brought it up!  I didn’t want to be a negative person, so I changed my standard answer to ‘awesome’.

Maybe some of you are like me.  Some of us get the wrong message from the world….that the key to happiness is to be busy – really busy – and to make sure everybody KNOWS how busy we are…and how that’s keeping us from getting enough sleep… and how life sure is tough for us… surely nobody could be as busy and worn-out as I am!  We wear our busyness like a badge – thinking it wins us honor and esteem in the eyes of the world.  In the end, it merely chases them away.

Or maybe it’s not so much being ‘busy’… sometimes it just seems like it’s our JOB as a member of society to point out everything that’s WRONG!  We spend so much time concentrating on what’s not right, that we don’t even notice the GOOD stuff when it happens.

The problem with that is – it’s not the Christian way.  Christians are called to Rejoice – not grumble.  Today’s readings say it at least three times:  “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior”.  “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul”.   And Paul had the strongest  statement in the 2nd reading:  “Rejoice always”.  In other words, no matter what’s going on –rejoice and be thankful.

Shoot – today is called Gaudete Sunday – which means REJOICE!  Here in the midst of our Advent, when the sunlight is fading, the temperatures are dropping, the clouds seems to hang around more often, and the nights last longer – the Church dares to tell us to Rejoice.  Get real, Church!  What’s there to rejoice about?

I mean, Have you watched the new lately!?  DEPRESSING!  : the economy, gas prices, political instability, debt crisis in Europe, unemployment.  On top of that, we all have family issues, marital problems, addictions, and health issues.  Even the Church might give us reasons to be grouchy:  changes in the Mass translation, changes in the music, changes in the mass schedule … we don’t have to look far at all to find SOMETHING to Gripe about.  But if we’re always concentrating on the negative, we fall into a rut of despair and negativity which will not only make us a sour Scrooge – but we end up chasing other people away.  But the Church gives us this day of Gaudete to REMIND us… WE HAVE CAUSE FOR REJOICING!  All is not gloom and doom.  Let me give you a perfect example:

Our parishes have had plenty of reason to NOT rejoice for the past 9 years… but things have changed!  We have a MAJOR blessing in Fr. Eugene… I honestly don’t think there is another priest in our diocese who could be a better match for our parishes – HONESTLY!  Have you RECOGNIZED that?  Pay attention to how he spends his time outside of Mass.  His ministry is his life.  He is a light that has risen in our darkness.  In addition to that - Both of our parish councils have started Welcoming Ministries – where some of our members go out to meet new people in our parish, to make them feel welcome in our community.  Our youth ministry at St. Raphael has some new leaders who have lit a new fire in that group.  Our Adult formation team is about to start some new small group sessions and Bible study.  I could go on and on… Great things ARE happening here… but I’m afraid many people might be like I was at the bank – so accustomed to the negativity – thinking things are all doom and gloom, that we don’t raise our heads to realize just how good we’ve got it.  Like John the Baptist, we should be ‘testifying to the Light’. 

Let me give you an Analogy:  When you’re out in the woods deer hunting…. You walk into the woods in total darkness and sit down to wait for the sunrise.  Your eyes get adjusted to the darkness as you scan around and listen for any movement in the leaves.  The sky starts to brighten very slowly then suddenly  you look around and realize that you CAN see… the colors start to show up… the woods come alive as the birds start to sing.  My point is that until we REALIZE that it is light, in our mind we’re still thinking it is dark.  Same goes for our parish.  Things have been in turmoil for so long, it would be easy to STAY in that frame of mind.  But - It’s time to wake up, open our eyes, and realize that THERE IS CAUSE FOR REJOICING!  The dawn from on high has shown on a people in darkness.

This is important.  For one thing, happy people are healthier people.  Somehow our attitude can impact our physical well-being.  But it also effects the health of our church.  You and I are like billboards – we are advertising Christianity to the rest of the world.  What message are you displaying on your billboard?  Catholic and Bored?  Catholic and Ticked?  Or Catholic and Loving Life?

Things are good and getting better here.  It’s time to invite back to the table of the Lord all of our neighbors and co-workers and family members who have stopped coming.  There’s even an article in this week’s Message about a national campaign inviting fallen away Catholics to come back home.  That’s our job.  We were sent to spread the GOOD news.

Before you go out inviting people though, Imagine how that conversation might go: – say your buddy at work  left the Church and you want to invite him back - so you suggest - Why don’t you come to church with me this Christmas?  What’s his response going to be?  “Wait a second – all I ever hear from you about your church is complaints about how the mass changed and the mass schedule changed and we keep changing Priests, and you don’t like the music….doesn’t sound very appealing to me!  Besides, if going to your church is going to make ME be more like YOU, count me OUT!  I’ve got enough misery in my life without adding more things to complain about.

Each of us – myself included – need to check the message on our billboard.  Hopefully the message we share is the GOOD news… the Gospel. 

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