Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Gaudete Sunday is upon us! We have come into the third week of Advent, and today the Scriptures we read and the prayers given to us in the liturgy invite us to rejoice (hence the Latin name for this Sunday, “Gaudete” which means “Rejoice!”). Rejoice, because the Lord’s arrival is coming very soon; rejoice because the gift of salvation is very near. We are given the verbal cue through Scripture and prayer, and the visual cue in the use of the rose-colored vestment. The more penitential purple is put away for the moment so that we can remember that this preparatory season also calls us to a life of joy in the Lord.
The prophet Isaiah beautifully conveys the hope of Israel in the first reading at Mass this weekend, using images of restoration, health, and joy. These realties are to be signs of the coming Messiah. But they also point to something that ought to take place inside each of us, not only in the externals of the world in which we live. The coming of Jesus into our world and into our lives ought to be a moment for our spiritual eyes to be opened, for our spiritual ears to hear again, for our spiritual stagnation and paralysis to transform into freedom. Jesus comes to set us free from sin and death, to ransom us who are captives and to restore us to life.
St. James, in the second reading, calls us to patience in the midst of our joy. In the context of the Advent season, this patience reminds us of the great event for which we wait, namely, the Nativity of our Lord in Bethlehem. With two weeks until Christmas, we must be patient, though our excitement for this great celebration is building day by day. And so it is that St. James encourages us to be patient, just as the people of Israel were patient, as the prophets who knew that the Messiah would come had to be patient. Patience, that wonderful and challenging virtue, is best lived with joy, for we are called to patiently wait, for a great gift is on the way to God’s people.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples of John the Baptist to testify to what they see. His list – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, etc. – is a very clear reference to prophecies spoken by Isaiah and the other prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. When you see these things, they said, know that the Lord has come. Imagine then, the joy those disciples would have felt, and the joy John the Baptist would have experienced, knowing that the prophecies had been fulfilled! The one whose coming was foretold has indeed come! Rejoice!
While this particular Sunday stands out on the liturgical calendar (it is one of two days in the entire year when a rose vestment is worn, and the entire liturgical focus is to cultivate a joyful spirit), it is worth noting the many other excellent reasons we have for rejoicing, both in the Advent season, and throughout the year. If this Sunday reminds us in Scripture and prayer of the things God is doing to bring us to salvation, we can remember that throughout the Bible we will find testimony of God’s desire to be close to His people, reminders that we are so loved by God, and that even when we feel most distant, our Lord will always work to bring us to restoration. In the sacramental life of the Church, we are given access and insight into the ways in which God desires to restore us. When we are feeling far from God and at odds with ourselves, the sacrament of reconciliation brings us back to that place of light and peace. When we are starving for knowledge and the sense of God’s closeness, the Eucharist received in Holy Communion, or adored in the Tabernacle, allows us to literally know the closeness of that same Jesus whose birth in Bethlehem we await with joy. In the Advent season, we can rejoice, too, in the opportunity to serve those in need, knowing that whatsoever we do for the least of our brethren, we do for Jesus. We have much to rejoice over, indeed! May this Gaudete Sunday inspire that joy, not only for the day, but throughout this holy season and beyond.