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Rejoicing

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2014/12/19 at 12:00 AM

You will note that, instead of the penitential violet that I’ve been wearing for the past two weeks of Advent, today I am wearing rose. As well, the single rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath is lit.

This is because today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means: “rejoice,” and the color rose symbolizes our rejoicing! In the midst of this season of penance and expectation, today Holy Mother Church calls us to rejoice on this day – for Jesus is near!

Today we use the color rose as a sign of our hope in Christ and the deep and abiding joy that we should have in Him and in His power to save us from our sins.

Throughout the course of Advent, the readings and prayers of Mass help us prepare for our Lord’s coming – both as man in the Incarnation and His second coming, when He will come in glory with all the angels and saints to bring salvation to those who love Him.

Thus, in all of the readings we hear at Mass during Advent there is an undertone of hope. We see this especially today in the first reading from Isaiah in which we are told that our Lord will come with vindication in order to save us.

Isaiah tells us that even nature itself will anticipate the time of the Lord’s coming as the desert and parched land exult, and the steppe rejoices and blooms with abundant flowers.

But more importantly, Isaiah speaks of the miracles that will accompany the coming of the Messiah, namely that “the eyes of the blind [will] be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, [and] the tongue of the mute sing.”

And in our Gospel we hear Jesus refer to this prophesy to confirm that He is indeed this long- awaited Messiah as He sends the message to St. John the Baptist: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

Just as Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of Isaiah by His virginal birth and the miracles He worked, it is our firm and confident hope that our Lord will fulfill His promise of salvation when He comes again at the end of time, and that hope leads us to rejoice today.

But the hope we bear today as we await our Lord’s coming is not something that just springs up on its own because we’ve heard these readings.

The mere knowledge of the Savior’s existence and His imminent coming does not engender hope in the hearts of most of us. We must prepare our hard hearts to hope in God by using the spades of fasting, penance, and sacrifice to dig out the stones of sin and indifference.

Truly, how many of us who profess belief in Jesus and in His power to save us remain unmoved in faith or hope by this holy season of Advent or the beauty of Christmas?

Sadly, there are plenty of Christians today who plunge head long into the soul-numbing materialism of this season with very little thought for this season’s true meaning.

Rather than honoring Advent as a season of penance, fasting, and prayer, so many of us treat it as an early celebration of Christmas, feasting and celebrating, and concerning ourselves more with preparing our homes for Christmas rather than preparing our souls for Christ.

This focus on materialism deadens our love for God and makes us indifferent to Him. When we place our hopes on the things of this world or the gifts under our Christmas tree, we quickly begin to believe that we no longer need God. That’s our human nature.

While today and the major feast days of this season are days of feasting and celebration, we must strive nonetheless to maintain some sense of penance and fasting in Advent, some sense of simplicity, because penance and fasting help to engender within our souls the hope that is proper to this season.

Hope, like all virtues, is delicate and fragile as it begins to take root in our souls. Like a
gentle flame that is easily extinguished, hope must be protected from the winds of pessimism,
doubt, and materialism that can lead us to place our trust in something other than God.

In order to stand fast against those things that can extinguish our hope in God, we must
strengthen the virtue of hope within us through the practices of prayer, fasting, and penance.

Whereas prayer helps us to know and love God, fasting and penance help us to find joy inHim. By stripping away other joys in which we might be tempted to take more delight than we do in God, penance and fasting helps us to focus on God as our supreme joy!

Thus, fasting and penance give rise to hope; they prepare our hearts to hope in the Lord.  This is precisely why I asked you to do a little fasting this Advent, especially during the first 9 days of this month as we were praying our novena in preparation for the consecration of our parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary!

While fasting and penance strengthen our prayers and make them even more acceptable to God, fasting and penance also focus our attention more squarely upon Him! And in focusing on our Lord all the more intently, we come to love and desire Him all the more!

It’s also for this reason that we are counseled by St. James to be patient until the coming of the Lord. Waiting patiently is it’s own form of penance.

But there’s also a certain joy we experience when anticipating the arrival of a loved one. We naturally get excited at the thought of a loved one’s coming, especially if we haven’t seen him for a long time or if he’s coming from a long way away.

Thus, Advent should produce a certain anticipatory joy within our souls as we await the coming of Jesus! But this can only happen fully if we await our Lord in a spirit of fasting and penance, rather than indulging in the joys of Christmas early!

In a sense during Advent the Catholic soul is called to be like an engaged couple, who courageously practicing the virtue of chastity before their marriage, enjoys the expectation of nuptial bliss that marriage will bring.

It takes restraint and discipline not to indulge in the rights of marriage when one is engaged, but doing so creates its own joy of anticipation, and it increases the joy of the wedding night.

Refraining from the joy until the proper time makes the joy all the more enjoyable when that proper time comes! The same is true for Advent!

While some amount of feasting during Advent is appropriate – such as on a day like today – and because it’s nearly impossible in our cultural milieu to avoid parties altogether this time of the year, it’s important for us to maintain a spirit of fasting and penance during Advent.

So in the 10 days that remain before the great feast of Christmas, let us all make it a point to take on some special form of fasting or to make some extra sacrifices in order to better prepare for our Lord’s coming. Let us strive for a little simplicity in our lives!

Let us strive to forget the things of this world and focus our attention solely on our Lord. The great Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross once wrote: “Forget the creature; remember the Creator. Study the interior life, and enjoy love’s summation.” May we heed his advice as a means of preparing for our Lord’s coming.

Let us trust that by our fasting and penances, our hearts will grow in hope, and our souls will be even more fitting places in which our Lord may dwell.

O Mary, Mother of Holy Hope and Virgin Most Powerful, pray for us!
15 December 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

Link to Homilies:
http://stanncharlotte.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&id=8&Itemid=61

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