3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17th, 2017

I have a classmate from Buffalo, NY who worked on the Vatican’s Congregation for Education for a period of time.  Living in Rome, he would, on occasion, head up the Gianicolo to concelebrate Mass at the seminary where we lived as students during theological studies; the North American College and affectionately known to alumni as “NAC”.

“They’re joyless!” Bob said to me when we were on vacation together some years ago.  “They’re absolutely joyless!”  He was commenting on the liturgical life he found there and during his time at the Vatican; so different from our experience when living there as seminarians.  Joyless because they had, to his eyes, become obsessively focused upon rubrics:  how to fold one’s hands and how to bow, for example; with the palpable fear of making any mistakes.  The music during the Mass orientated towards Latin and chant, with little, if any, contemporary liturgical music used in most parishes in the U.S. today.  The ambience seemed rarefied; joyless.

In his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis writes:  “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”  He goes on to warn that we “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”  (Pp. 3; 5)

This 3rd Sunday in Advent is known as “Gaudete” Sunday; Latin for “Rejoice”.   In the prophet Isaiah for Gaudete Sunday we hear the words:  “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”  (Isaiah 61:10)

What is this joy and why does it seem elusive?  The joy God promises is quite different from the Bacchanalian joy embodied in Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Present and when he appears to Scrooge.  I attended the production this year and noticed, for the first time, how the Ghost’s hair turns gray as his time with Scrooge runs out.  Such joy wears thin and grows old.  It cannot last, though we vainly try to make it so.

What, then, is this gospel joy?  How does it look?  Let me offer two faces of such joy from my own life that came quite unexpected; taking me by surprise.

A few weeks ago, the Pre-K class was at recess on the upper playground.  As I watched, this little guy squatted before a rain puddle and, all alone, began playing on its surface; like a set of bongos!  I found myself grinning at his delight.  It opened me to the time when I was that small and simple in my approach to life.

Another morning, I was standing at my kitchen window, looking at nothing, really; out at my small garden deck and at the summer flowers gone to seed.  Suddenly, two birds, Oregon Juncos, flew in and began feeding on some unseen feast beneath those lifeless stems.  As I watched, I found myself smiling.  It lightened a rather serious morning.  And I thought of Jesus’ words from the gospel of Matthew; about birds and how “They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  Will I ever learn?

Sometimes, we make life heavy; a resented burden and joyless.  We need to lighten up.  Yes, life involves suffering.  We’ve all known our share of tears.  The world today seems lost:  from devastating fires and sexual harassment ad nauseum to nocturnal tweets.  Nevertheless, the makings for joy are there.  When you take time to live Advent by watching, by waiting, and making yourselves small, then the gift that is there is received.  You’re ripe for joy in ways that will surprise and bring you to the One “who is opening to you so deeply” (Simeon the new Theologian); upon the surface of your life and within your own backyard.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor


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