Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Gaudete Sunday, named for the first Latin word of the introit (or entrance antiphon) for today’s Mass is a day for rejoicing. We are reminded of the words of St. Paul who told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, for the Lord is near (Phil. 4). Though the darkest day of the year is approaching, the Church reminds us that the light of the world, Jesus Christ, is coming. Thus, even in darkness, there is cause for rejoicing! Today we join with the Church throughout the world as we rejoice at the nearness of our savior.
The Gospel this Sunday gives us the appearance of John the Baptist on the scene. It is good for us to contextualize John. For centuries, the Israelites had experience of prophetic ministry. In, it seems, every generation, God sent a prophet to speak His word to Israel. All the prophets point to a future Messiah, one who would definitively save Israel from sin and death, from all their enemies, and who would bring about a reign of peace, who would gather all peoples together, and who would restore humanity’s relationship with God. The prophets also call Israel back to the right way, call for conversion and repentance, and perform various signs to indicate their status as God’s appointed messengers. Thus, the people who heard John the Baptist were able to immediately recognize in him a man who stood in the prophetic line. There was, however, something unique about John. His way of living was extreme – he lived in the desert, was clothed in camel hair garments, at locusts – and his message stood out. Unlike previous prophets, John did not call for a renewal of the covenants, nor did he prophecy an immediate military strategy. Rather, he called for repentance, for the time of the Messiah was at hand. While very clearly in line with the prophets before him, John stood out so much that many wondered if he might be the Messiah. When questioned, John is very clear about his identity. He is not the Christ, but rather is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” His baptism is a sign, a call to conversion, a way of preparing for the coming Messiah, but it is not in itself sufficient. John proclaims this baptism of repentance so that those who hear him, those who receive his baptism, will change their lives. This change of life will in turn lead to hearts prepared to receive the Messiah at His coming. The presence of John the Baptist stands out in the history of Israel’s prophets. None before him had proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Christ.
On December 13, the Church usually celebrates the feast of St. Lucy. She was one of the early martyrs, raised in Sicily and from a young age, dedicated to the Lord. The legend of her life holds that she had been promised in marriage to a man, but she desired to consecrate her entire life to Jesus. Angry at her refusal, her suitor betrayed her Christian faith to the Roman governor who sent guards to arrest her, but they were unable to move her, even with a team of oxen! They heaped wood around her, but could not burn her, and finally she was killed with swords. Facing execution, Lucy warned the governor that he would be punished for his actions, and in retaliation, he had her eyes gouged out. But when her body was prepared for burial, her eyes were found to be perfectly, miraculously restored. The name Lucy means “light” and the light of her faith in Jesus shone at every moment. She is known today as a patron of the blind and of maladies of the eye.
In this third week of Advent, these two saints, St. John the Baptist and St. Lucy, provide us with an outstanding meditation. Lucy desired to give everything to Jesus. John the Baptist lived to point others to the coming Messiah. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance, that people might turn away from the blinding power of sin so they would recognize the Christ at His coming. Lucy let the light of her faith shine even in the face of persecution and violence and so made it possible for generations of Christians after her to see the path forward in the Christian life. We light the third candle of the Advent wreath this week. The light is increasing, and though the days are dark, we know that light is coming into the world. We have cause for rejoicing, for the Lord is very near to us. What sin remains in our lives that prevents us from seeing clearly? What sin has thrown itself into our path so that the way of the Lord is still not made straight for us? This week, we are invited to open our eyes, to see the Lord clearly. This week, as we rejoice at the coming of the Lord, let us continue to make straight the path of the Lord so that we can welcome Him when He comes. Jesus is the light of the world, and He is on His way. St. John the Baptist pointed to the light. St. Lucy reflected the light. In our dark days, we are being invited once again to receive the light of Christ, to welcome the light, to reflect the light, to bring others to the light, and with this light, receive the Messiah when He comes.