A Sunday For Rejoicing

The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday”, or, phrasing it another way, “a Sunday for Rejoicing”. It is so called because it marks the approaching end of our Advent task of preparing for the celebration of Christmas. Incidentally, I’ve been finding Fr. Steven’s homilies particularly helpful in that very task.

As much as the nearness of Christmas raises the joyful expectation of celebration, the reminder of how little time remains in Advent gives me concern as well. Some years, because of how little I’ve accomplished, and some because even though I’ve made progress, it becomes clear how much further I still have to go.

In one case, I’m reminded of how little time remains before the celebration of the great Mystery of the Incarnation, and I become a bit upset with my spiritual laziness and the fact that I’ve squandered such a great opportunity to gain ground in the spiritual journey. It’s always bitter to reflect on my life and see how little I’ve grown in love of neighbor, of spouse, of children, or of all those to whom God calls me to bear witness.

Also painful to recall are very specific moments of failure – times when I’ve said something judgmental, or something ill-conceived that is misunderstood and causes offense. Most often these are instances that are mine alone, and no one knows what happened in that moment – and no could know what happened in my heart at that moment. These are moments of guilt, or of shame that I share only with Jesus, in the inmost quiet of my own being. Those times I carry to the Confessional, but I don’t say them – I confessed them long ago and what remains of those moments are the lessons I learned.

 In the other case I mentioned above, my joy on Gaudete Sunday is tainted because my Advent work has been fruitful, and I am diligently preparing my heart to receive its own hope born anew, but because I am in tune with just how much more work there is to do, I feel time runs short.

 What is to be done then? I must realize that while I walk this world, my experience of Advent is a constant. While we live, the mysteries we celebrate are practice for eternity and that Christmas here will never be the fullness of the experience I wish it could be. Complete joy in Christ is always coming, but not yet arriving.

 There is always, always, always work to be done. There will be more opportunities for growth and for change — for repentance, for reflection and learning – as long as I draw breath. So, amidst the great spiritual work the Lord has begun in me, he uses moments of celebration to teach something else.

 Christ gives us moments of celebration, or of “Rejoicing” to prepare us for, and to instill in us, a thirst for heavenly celebration, eternal rejoicing. In time, all the cares will be gone, and those moments in which we learn the hard lessons of love will bear fruit in the eyes of all, most blessedly and most longed-for in the eyes of our Father. Such joy takes practice.

 I’ve mentioned several times the work of Advent, and part of that preparatory task is taking on the hard lessons we learn only by failing. I’ll be taking some of the more recent ones with me this Thursday, to our parish penance service. Would you make the important Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation a component of your Christmas preparation too?

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