Well, we have a problem. In our liturgical calendar, this Sunday is known as “Gaudete Sunday”, which may be very loosely translated as “Rejoicing Sunday.” In my copy of the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, I read that, “On this day the Church urges us to gladness in the middle of this time of expectation and penance.”
Now, those who know me can tell you that I am not prone to spontaneous outbursts of rejoicing and gladness, and achieving rejoicing and gladness on a schedule, even a liturgical one, would take a significant act of the will on my part. And while I do frequently experience expectation, what I most often expect is best not spoken of in the presence of impressionable young children such as we have here among us this morning.
Now, in fairness, I must say that I think that I and those like me—we have earned our gloom. Some among the chronically gloomy would say that they have earned their gloom by making the effort to keep abreast of what’s going on in politics near and far. Some such folks have concluded that the rule of law is in tatters in this country and beyond whatever borders may still be said to remain. They remind us that the veneer of law that covers underlying lawlessness, sooner or later, inevitably fades away. Lawlessness, as both history and headlines teach us—for those who care to learn—they teach us that lawlessness and the tyranny that precedes it do not protect the vulnerable, promote the common good, or secure the rights of the Church.
Other folks say that they have earned their gloom as they observe the present state of the Church’s life. These folks call “apostasy” what one prominent Catholic described as “miscues” during the recently-concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family. These same folks also use the word “persecution” as they look at those circling the Church around the world and closer to home. Beheadings abroad and local legislation show that nowadays those with access to either to power or force tend to have no love for Holy Mother Church.
So, for those who are more inclined to count clouds during the day rather than count stars at night, Gaudete Sunday seems a bit…incongruous.
Nonetheless, duty calls. Saint Paul exhorts us with these words: “Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice!” Saint Paul is right, and whatever dark, brooding, Irish melancholics you may know, and those like him, are wrong. Let me explain why.
Consider this. What is the best thing that a father can say and do for his beloved child? A good father will, without hesitation, look his child in the eye and say, “You are worth my time.” And then, a good father will prove it. He will prove his words by actually spending time with his child. Whether it is teaching his child how to ride a bike or drive a car, how to read a book or how to write one, a good father will give his child time. He will give his child time to know his father’s heart and mind, and he will give his child time so that the child can express his own thoughts and feelings to his father, allowing the child to see that his father cherishes those thoughts and feelings.
But any father, even the very best of fathers, is but a mere shadow, a reminder, a pointer to the one true father, the father by whom all other fathers take their name—and that is our Heavenly Father. What is the best thing that our Heavenly Father can say to us? What can He say to us that no one else can say to us? If we can answer that question, then we can understand the wisdom of the Church in scheduling Gaudete Sunday. The best thing that our Heavenly Father can say to us, the words that only He can say to us, are in fact what we most need to hear, but it is something that we could never have dreamed of asking for. Only our Heavenly Father can say these words to us: “You are worth my Son.” Only our Heavenly Father can say that, and only He can prove it.
Our Heavenly Father proves that amazing declaration to us by speaking His Word, His Son to us, so that His only-begotten Son becomes the Word-made-Flesh. The Son of God becomes the Son of Mary—He is the Christ of God, Who is become man for us.
And Our Heavenly Father proves that amazing declaration—“You are worth my Son”—by accepting the sacrifice of His Son upon the cross, for only the shed Blood of Jesus can wash away the stain of our sin. Our Heavenly Father allows us to heap upon His Son all of the malice, betrayal and wickedness that must be dredged up out of the human condition—up to and including even death itself. And our Heavenly Father amazes us yet again by overcoming evil and death by raising His Son from the dead, and then, amazes us even more by offering us a share in that victory.
By the Incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, and Resurrection of His Son, our Heavenly Father declares to us, His adopted children, “You are worth my Son.” Through the proclamation of the Word, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the life of the Church, through the power of the sacraments and above all, through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, our Heavenly Father declares to us, “You are worth my son.” With tenderness and fierceness, as both lamb and lion, through whisper and through thunder, our Heavenly Father declares to us, “You are worth my Son.”
We sinners, we who have the most terrible power to reject love and glory and embrace decay and death—and have done so—we are loved sinners. I myself can testify that God has not let me die in my sins. I myself can testify that God has offered me again and again the opportunity to choose eternal friendship with Christ. I myself can testify that God has declared to me that I am not defined and identified by my sin but by His gracious gift to me—adoption through the work of His only-begotten Son. The coming Season of Christmas is a reminder of how God’s proof-of-love became visible, tangible—human. The Season of Advent anticipates Christmas, yes, but it also anticipates the completion of our Heavenly Father’s saving plan with the return of His Christ in glory. Gaudete Sunday is rightly a time of rejoicing because it calls to mind and heart the great, unexpected saving truths and undeniable proofs of our Father’s declaration, “You are worth my son”, a declaration that echoes through all time and eternity.
But it is not enough to say that. Today is rightly a time of rejoicing because Gaudete Sunday gives us a guide for our living and for our dying. Our Father has not left us orphans. He sent His Son to clear a path to our only true home, which is Heaven, where already a banquet is prepared for us. He sent His Son to accompany us on our pilgrim’s path through this valley of tears to our eternal home in glory. We have a destiny, an inheritance, a vocation which no created power can take away from us. And that is why even your favorite melancholic doomsayer—whoever he may be—should be called upon to rejoice today.
Think of it! Tyrants, savages, sickness, poverty, danger or death—none of these can rob us of what our Heavenly Father offers us in His Christ. We may rightly grieve the loss of law, home, loved ones or life, but no created power can rob us of friendship with Christ! As patriots, as friends and families, as scholars and workers, as disciples of Christ, we can and we must resist evil at every turn. Fidelity to Christ demands that we do so, and lives and souls may very well depend upon our fidelity to Christ. Whether over time day by day or all in one sudden moment, we will certainly be called upon to give all to and for Christ. But the final victory is already won, and we are offered a share in it.
Our Heavenly Father has made to us this most amazing declaration: “You are worth my Son.” And then He proved it. What is our most worthy response? We must stand before our Heavenly Father and declare: “I believe You.” And then we must prove it. We can offer such proof if and only if we give God every opportunity to be the first satisfaction of our hearts. We can offer such proof if and only if our lives declare to God and to the world: “Eternal friendship with Christ is the greatest good.”
Concretely, how shall we do that? Let’s start small and keep it simple. First, between now and Christmas, find one thing in your life that is unworthy of your Christian dignity and get rid of it. Second, between now and Christmas, find one sacrifice to God that you know would make only grudgingly, and make it. Third, between now and Christmas, tell one person what difference it makes because you believe your Heavenly Father when He declared: “You are worth my Son.”
If you do that, then you will know the truth of Saint Paul who reminds us that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily during Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday). Father McTeigue is currently finishing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel. He recently began writing a weekly column, which this week will discuss what to do when you are not looking forward to going home for Christmas. Father McTeigue earnestly seeks your prayers that his life and work be to God’s greater glory.