The Third Sunday of Advent has been regarded as a day of particular joy. This Sunday is a bit unique among the Sundays of Advent. The priest may wear rose, rather than purple, vestments. We light the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath. The Third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday. “Gaudete” is a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” This word is used for this Sunday because the Introit or Entrance Antiphon at Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent has the following words from the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near” (4: 4-5).
In the Collect (the Opening Prayer) at Mass on Gaudete Sunday, we will pray: “Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving … .” In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah writes that “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom … .” The theme of joy and rejoicing pervades the liturgy on the Third Sunday of Advent.
As we approach Christmas, let us reflect on the meaning of Christian joy. The Apostle Paul, who was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians, was filled with joy even though he knew his death was probably imminent. He shared his joy with the Philippians and invited them to rejoice. Why? Because the Lord is near! That was the secret of his joy in adversity. We see that spirit of joy in many of the martyrs of the Church, even in suffering.
What does this teach us? How can we have that kind of joy, especially when we face difficult situations and suffering in our lives? The kind of joy that Saint Paul and the martyrs experienced is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It comes from the profound realization that the Lord is near, is with us, beside us always. He is with us every moment of every day with His love and His gift of peace. The kind of profound joy that fills our souls with peace does not derive from the satisfaction of our physical or material needs. It comes from our friendship with the Lord Jesus. Then when troubles beset us, we are not disturbed within. When we face adversity, we are strong.
The Son of God who came to earth to save us is the source of our joy. In just two weeks, we will be singing: “Joy to the world. The Lord is come.” It is His coming that gives joy to the soul. On the first Christmas, the angels announced to the shepherds glad tidings of great joy: a Savior has been born, Christ the Lord. That is the cause of our joy. We can rejoice not only because He came into the world as our Savior, but also because He is with us every moment of every day.
Even in a world in which we still experience evil and suffering, injustice and death, realities that seem to contradict the Good News of Christmas, we live in hope because of the birth of our Savior, because He has come to redeem the world. It is that hope that fills us with joy.
Joy also comes from leading a morally good life. When we practice charity, when we help someone in need, when we are generous to others, we experience joy in our hearts. We experience more joy in giving than in receiving. There is no greater joy than that experienced when we love. The joy that comes from loving God and our neighbor is a joy that we cannot get from this world and its pleasures. It is quite a paradox, but it is true to say that joy comes from carrying the cross, from giving of ourselves and sacrificing for the good of others.
Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. When we live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit, we experience inner joy. When we are close to the Lord in prayer and receive the sacraments, we experience true joy. We receive a foretaste of the joy of heaven.
We see authentic Christian joy in the lives of the saints of the Church. One of the most joyful people I ever met was Mother Teresa and she lived radical poverty! How can one be so materially poor and still be full of joy? Or think of the joyful troubadour of the Lord, Saint Francis of Assisi and his poverty! How is it that nowadays when Christmas is celebrated with so much materialism and commercialism, with material excess, so many experience “the holiday blues?” There is a lesson here: we need to get back to the true meaning of Christmas. This begins with a genuine observance of Advent: a time of prayer, a time of repentance (especially through the sacrament of Penance), and a time of charity (helping the needy in our midst). When we do, we are more joyful. Christmas then becomes more meaningful and not a superficial experience.
In these last two weeks of Advent, I invite you to enter more deeply into the true spirit of this holy season. Here are some concrete ideas. Go to confession if you have not already. Stop into a Catholic church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Attend a weekday Mass in these last days before Christmas. Pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Meditate on the daily Scripture readings. Buy a gift for someone who is poor or make a donation to a favorite charity. Joy is a fruit of prayer, a fruit of charitable actions, and a fruit of God’s forgiveness of our sins.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, it may be very difficult to experience the joy of Christmas. Yet, nothing is impossible with God. Persevere in hope, Saint Paul says. Even if you are in the midst of some very difficult trial, the Lord is with you, at your side. He loves you. Your friendship with Him can sustain you and give you also a taste of the joy of His kingdom. And know that the Church and your bishop prays for you.
Gaudete! Rejoice! Why? Because the Lord is near. God is not some unknown Being remote from us. He is close to us, so close that He became an infant and was born in a manger. Let us rejoice in these days as we look forward to Christmas, the feast of our salvation! Jesus comes to offer everyone the joy and peace that alone fills the yearning of the human soul.
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