3rd Sunday of Advent
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel/St. Thomas Aquinas
Dec. 15 & 16, 2018
A Word of Thanks
I’m delighted to return to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to celebrate Mass with you. As you may recall, I had intended to come earlier in the year but my new and temporary responsibilities in West Virginia caused a change in plans. And it’s actually nicer to be with you so close to Christmas. It gives me a chance to wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas and an opportunity to thank you for your faith and perseverance in a time of crisis. And with you I want to thank Msgr. Bob Hartnett for his wise and loving leadership!
I also want to say a word of thanks for your support of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School. Thank you for all the ways you support the school – volunteer efforts, financial generosity, your prayers – and most of all for entrusting your sons and daughters to this school which does a wonderful job in forming them in the faith and in preparing them to be leaders in both church and society.
I’m very happy to join you this morning for Holy Mass and to thank you for your ongoing support of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. The past years have not been an easy time for your parish with the closure of the school and the departure of your pastor – and, of course, the Church itself is undergoing a time of profound crisis. Thank you for your faith and perseverance as well as for your prayers. With you, I also want to thank Deacon Tim Maloney for his leadership of St. Thomas!
Christmas, as we all know, is around the corner. Ready or not, the day of the Lord’s birth will soon be here. Christmas celebrations are going on all around us, retailers are hoping that they will sell more than last year, while, of course, on-line shopping continues to expand. The rest of us try not to spend too much or rack our brains in search of appropriate gifts within our budgets. Many of us have made travel plans for the Christmas holidays and look forward to being with family and friends, while others enjoy putting up Christmas decorations, baking cookies, and, of course, reassembling the family crèche.
Yet, not everyone is giddy with joy during the Christmas season. As we know, some people are sad at this time of year. All the hoopla over Christmas just seems to put their problems into sharper focus, and that includes the abuse crisis that beset the Church anew during 2018. Others, who are totally wrapped up in their work, find Christmas a distraction and observe the holidays only if it’s good for business. Not a lot of joy in that.
Gaudete – Rejoice Always!
Right in the midst of this scene, the Church gives us Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice” in Latin and, as you readily see, it echoes what St. Paul proclaims in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I shall say it rejoice!”
Whether you are having a good time, a bad time, or an ordinary time in these ten or so remaining days before Christmas, Gaudete Sunday comes right on schedule, maybe just in the nick of time. It is a vital reminder of the real reason to be happy at this time of year whether we enjoy the season or are frazzled by it, or whether we find ourselves alone, sick, or in some great need… or whether, like Ebenezer Scrooge, we just don’t like Christmas.
For, amid all the bustle, Gaudete Sunday tells us why and how to rejoice at Christmas. In doing so, the Church doesn’t roll out Santa Claus, it doesn’t tout expensive gifts, and it doesn’t enlist the help of glamorous celebrities to get the message across. It does, however, have its own “reality show” – set in the desert. And who’s out there are working folks, soldiers, and the ever-unpopular tax collectors. The man they came to see is dressed in camel’s hair and for supper, eats grasshoppers and wild honey – none other than John the Baptist! These people went out to the desert because they were searching for something, something they could not find in their ordinary daily life or in their dreams of success. They were looking for true peace. They were searching for redemption. In fact, their hearts were full of expectation that this austere desert prophet just might be the Messiah or at least show them the Messiah, who would give them joy and peace.
So with hearts full of hope, they asked John the Baptist, “What are we to do?” What are we to do to welcome the Savior into our midst? In response, John told them to live differently: to give to those in need; to do their daily work with integrity; to be just toward others and content with what they had. “Well, Archbishop,” you might be saying, “that doesn’t sound like the prescription for ‘a jolly holly Christmas’, does it?” “Well, not so fast,” I might say in reply.
“One Who Has Hope Lives Differently”
Let’s take just a minute to recall what Pope Benedict said about hope. He said, “One who has hope lives differently.” In other words, if we really believe and trust that God has gone out of his way to create us in his image and likeness and to send his Son to redeem us – if we really believe and trust that we will fully share God’s life and love after death – then we will live differently; we’ll gladly embrace the moral demands of the Gospel.
Now, the moral demands of the Gospel are not simply “orders from on high”. Still less are they rules, invented by the Church, designed to blow the whistle on our pleasure! No, the moral demands of the Gospel amount to love… loving above all the God who loved us first and then loving our neighbor as ourselves in strength of God’s love for us… and doing all of the above in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Self-centered and destructive behaviors prepare us for isolation. Authentic love, by contrast, gets us ready for absolute love. People who put their hope in the absolute love revealed by Jesus live differently.
And, by the way, living differently brings us joy. A heart open to God and to neighbor is a happy heart. People who go out of their way to love God and others start sharing in the joy that lies at the very heart of the God who is love… the love, the goodness, and joy for which we were created. And people who are convinced of the truth of God’s love can put their limitations, problems and even life’s tragedies, in perspective. They are enabled to “…dismiss all anxiety from [their] minds” and trustingly bring their needs and the needs of others to the Lord of life and love.
So there you have it: the Church’s prescription for Christmas joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I shall say it, ‘rejoice’”! May the remaining days of Advent and the dawning of Christmas bring you and your loved ones a joy that no one can take away!