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Advent is a season of waiting.  We are waiting for the coming of Jesus.  Now, waiting can either irritate us if we allow it, or it can grow us in the virtue of patience and joyful expectation. Today we celebrate Guadete Sunday. “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice.” It is a time in the midst of waiting, in the middle of the four weeks of Advent, to allow ourselves a feeling of Christmas joy. That is why some families even open one gift from under the Christmas tree this Sunday. We who are Christians should be full of joy at all times. And this is one of the messages in Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation that he just released right before the start of Advent. It is called “Evangelii Gaudium,” “The Joy of the Gospel.” The Gospel means “Good News” and so it should fill us with joy. And we see that our new Holy Father radiates this joy. So it is an appropriate title that he uses.

And it is a great message for Advent, most especially as many may find themselves waiting in all sorts of lines: lines at the check-out counter, the grocery store, the bank, or worse of all, traffic. These long moments can really make us impatient if we allow them.

Or we can use these times to do something positive, to speak to those who are waiting in line with us in order to make their wait easier, or to pray for those in the traffic jam who are about to have an anger fit. Both of these are examples of Gospel activities that fill us with joy no matter where we are or what we are doing. Mary is certainly an example of evangelical joy for us. When she shared with her cousin the good news of her pregnancy of the Lord, she said “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Last week many went to all the Marian Masses that we had and followed her in the candle lit procession and sang songs to her and allowed your soul, too, to be filled with her joy, the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord.

Every moment can be lived in God’s joy, no matter how good or bad things are going on around us. Things are not always going to go as we like. We have to be patient in these times because patience is the key virtue in waiting for the return of Jesus to our world, it has to be our state of soul if we are to welcome Him with joy and not anxiety. Now, no man was more prepared for the coming of the Messiah than John the Baptist. And Jesus himself said no other man was greater than John, but even John was still just a man who perhaps dealt with the human condition of impatience. We hear him ask the question to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Now we know John the Baptist is a Saint and gave his life to prepare the way for the Lord, but perhaps John was expecting something else and so questioned in order to try to understand more.

                                     

We humans often grow impatient when others are not doing things the way we think they should do them and we begin to question them. Now, questioning to understand is one thing and is actually good. Questioning because you doubt someone is another thing. For example, look at our new Holy Father. Many are inspired by him. But there are some who are uncomfortable with his style and how he is going about things. Some seem to be even doubting his role as pope and questioning whether he should be leader of the Church. But that’s the history of the Church. A similar thing happened to St. Ignatius of Loyola the founder of the Jesuits which is the religious order the pope belongs to. St. Ignatius was so different that many misunderstood him. He was even incarcerated once by the Inquisition for suspected heresy/for being anti-Catholic; but in reality he was faithful to the Church and the pope even at the time when the pope wasn’t faithful to the Church. He said, “Leaving aside every judgment of our own, we ought to keep our minds inclined to obeying promptly our holy Mother the hierarchical Church”. Both St. Ignatius and our present pope are faithful to the Church even though some misunderstand and judge differently.

We pass judgment so easily these days. It’s our nature to do so.  It really takes great humility and trust in God not to do so.  Even if we don’t agree with certain things, we always must trust in the Lord, especially we who belong to the Church and are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. Often a family who spend so much time with one another and are so familiar with one another begin to get caught up on unimportant things and tear each other down. I can think of the times with my own family going on a road trip: We’d all pile/get into the station wagon and were full of excitement and joy at first. But after a couple hundred miles we were complaining and irritated with one another. And by the time we were close to arriving at our destination, often we were ready to throw one another out the window. How often do we as Christians do something similar? We allow a spirit of cynicism, criticism, and complaining to enter into our hearts, to control our conversations, and not just in what we say about the world but about one another, about our own Church which is our own family! We forget that we need to help each other if we are to arrive with joy at our Heavenly destination.

In the second reading, St. James writes a letter to the Universal Church with a message of patience. Since much time had passed, Christians were losing patience with the belief that Jesus would return and they started falling into complaining about one another, just like me and my brothers and sisters on those long road trips. One of the sure signs that a Christian is losing the spirit of Christ for another spirit is the level of complaining about the Church or the leader of the Church. What kind of spirit do you think that is? Not the Holy Spirit. It is a spirit that wants you to think that you yourself know better. St. James says: Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” You might remember the similar words of our Lord when he said “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” So we must avoid this spirit of complaining and being judgmental which is a type of impatience that really takes all the joy out of life. We must resist all things that steal our joy and keep our goal in mind remembering that we are all in the same boat, or station wagon, if you prefer. We are part of the same Church and we want to encourage one another not discourage one another. Time is too short. Life is too short. Our Lord is returning for us. Let us be patient with one another and help each other be ready when he comes.

I visited Mary McCarthy’s house last Friday to bring her Holy Communion. Her daughter greeted me at the door and welcomed me and told me my timing was providential because Ms. Mary had just received a devastating report from her doctor that her cancer had spread to her lungs. Ms. Mary told me the impact of the report almost caused her to lose all hope. But then she said she did not let that happen because she decided instead to think of all the good things she still has: She still has the power of faith, she still has the capacity to pray and she still believe in miracles. I gave her Christ in the Eucharist and she closed her eyes in profound prayer, thanking the Lord for his great gift. I left, not feeling sorry for her, but really full of the joy of the Lord after witnessing her faith. I thought of the words from the Prophet Nehemiah: “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our world is full of passing joy. Only the Lord can fill us with lasting joy. What a great lesson for all of us this Gaudette Sunday. Many of you are probably going through some tough trials of your own. Things are not always going to go as we like. But every moment can be lived in God’s joy, no matter how good or bad things are going on around us because we are waiting for the one who is the cause of our joy. And so let me encourage you brothers and sisters in the Lord: “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Amen.

 


[1] Homoletic and Pastoral Review Online, Understanding Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ, December 12, 2013

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