Today is gaudete Sunday... Any idea why we call it that?? Well – pick up your missalette and turn to page 40. Let’s read the entrance antiphon together. Rejoice! In latin, it is Gaudete… this right here is how this Sunday got its name. Also, you’ll notice three of the four readings Tell us to REJOICE! Pay particular attention to the psalm and the second reading. In case you don't recognize it, the psalm is Mary's prayer when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth….it’s call the Magnificat. Powerful stuff. And the letter from Paul gives us some advice which may sound like wishful thinking: Rejoice Always! Is that possible in this life? Let's lift at question up in prayer during today's Mass and see if applies to our own life.
Homily – 3rd Sunday Advent 2014 – It this all there is?
This may sound corny or cliché, but I want you to think back to Christmas as a child. Now immediately, we usually think of the gifts and the lights and Santa and Midnight Mass and all the magic in the air – because that’s what Christmas is ‘supposed’ to be like. But I want you to think just a couple of years AFTER that time. That one Christmas when – after all the gifts were opened – you felt – well – empty. Is that all there is? Is this what all the hype was about?
That year, somebody asked you, “Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?” And you thought – well – “No. I’m not really sure what I wanted, but obviously I didn’t get it, because I just feel like something is missing.” Is that all there is?
For many of us, THAT Christmas was the first time we had the feeling that Life is not all about feeling good and doing whatever we want and getting everything we want. In fact, many of us – I’d even venture to say MOST of us have learned THAT lesson all too well. We’ve learned that this life is one struggle after another. From the first time we skinned our knee by falling off our bike – to the first time we failed a test in school.... Thru the car trouble we had recently...through all of life’s challenges: failed relationships, unfaithful spouses, addictions, wrecks, kids and family members getting sick and dying…. Yeah… we learn THAT lesson over and over. Life is full of pain. And if that’s really all that life is about, we'd always be thinking – is this all there is?
You may think I’m off in the weeds with all this depressing talk on Guadete Sunday when we’re told to REJOICE! Thing is, many of us don’t FEEL like rejoicing. Life has dealt us a bad hand, and there’s just nothing worth getting excited about. All this Christmas talk is just another reason to be depressed, because it only serves to remind us of who is no longer with us – and the things that we DIDN’T get for Christmas. Is this all there is?
But there IS reason to rejoice here. In that second reading, Paul says, “Rejoice Always. In all circumstances give thanks.” Really? Is that even possible?
About 20 years ago, I was given this book – Prison to Praise. 20 years…but its message has stuck with me. The message is the same as Paul’s reading today: 'In all circumstances give thanks.' I remember story after story of how this guy turned his life around completely by learning to thank God – not just for the Blessings – but for the worst things in his life. Did you catch that? He even thanked God for his life of crime that led him to be stuck in prison where he learned about God for the first time. He learned that lesson the hard way, and his life took a 180 degree turn…and then helped many other people experience that same joy by thanking God for EVERYthing. Can you imagine thanking God for your spouse’s addiction to alcohol? Thanking God that your teenager is rebellious and won’t listen? Thanking God that your family member got sick? Thanking God for the cancer?
I remember reading this and thinking “this is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo… Some sort of Pollyanna psychology which just says if you "think" everything is great, then it will be great! “ Honestly, I didn’t like the book the first time I read it.
But the message kept coming back to me. Thank God for EVERYthing. So I tried it – first in small things. God – thank you for putting this slowpoke in front of me to slow me down on the highway. Apparently, you want me to learn patience – or maybe you’re keeping me from hitting a deer up ahead. Thank you for that tough test in school… as painful as it was, I know it is teaching me how to handle tough situations…and to prepare myself better for life’s tests...and maybe teaching me not to waste time.
After maybe a year, I read it again – and this time took the message to heart. I’ll admit, there are things about the book I still didn’t like – but the basic message felt right to me, and the truth of it is being revealed more and more in my own life.
I can thank God that my Mom got sick and was near death, because it shook me from my complacency of thinking she’ll always be around – and now I consciously make time to spend with her because I know time is precious.
See how it works? If you and I can start by thanking God - even for the bad stuff- the Spirit can lead us to recognize the impact… to see the good that God is bringing about through that trial we’re experiencing. Usually, we won't see the good until the trial is just a memory. Looking in hindsight, we see God's hand. Here's the key though...If you and I practice this attitude over and over, it becomes part of who we are. Eventually, we develop enough trust in God that even though we can't FEEL God's hand on our shoulder, we trust that in time he will turn the situation to accomplish His will.
Now – I’m not gonna say life gets any easier! Things still happen which will make us say ‘Why’? It doesn’t make sense, God! How can I thank you for THIS? How do you expect me to rejoice about THIS! Seriously, there are things we will never understand this side of heaven.
But oh to have the faith of the young virgin who found out she was having a baby. Her life was over... She was destined for a life of pain. Yet, in today's psalm, we hear her Magnificat....the ultimate example of how we can respond to every trial: "My spirit rejoices in God, my savior".