Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Gaudete Sunday: A Season of Evangelization

The Church today has named this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. As we all know, Gaudete means joy but it is a very specific type of joy – a subdued, subtle joy. Not a full blown joy but more of a quiet “yay”. Why is that? Because we are still in a penitential season. The Christmas carols are not yet supposed to be playing, or at least, not constantly and at full blast. Of course that is a little hard at the office or on the Metro. That being said, we should be preparing for Christmas with an attitude of quiet and stillness. The words of Psalm 46:10 come to mind,

Be still and know that I am God.

If we do not embrace this season of Advent, how are we supposed to hear what obstacles the Lord desires to remove from our lives? If we do not make room for him in our heart, He once again will hear that there is no room in the inn.  We try to practice this at every liturgy when we say,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Seriously, and let’s be honest, have we used the last two weeks to make room in our hearts for the revelation or the unveiling of His presence that He desires for us at Christmas? How are we to experience Christmas joy if we are celebrating up to that day? He has a special joy for us but it means we first must be still and quiet.

But there is a more important reason for us who claim Christ as our Lord and our love. Literally two weeks ago, speaking about the United States, Pope Benedict said:

“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts” (Pope Benedict XVI, To the Bishops from the United States of America on their ad Limina visit, Nov. 26, 2011).

We need to use this time of preparation because it is our duty and obligation to provide a reason and a context for this season…

Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing two baby boys, Daniel and Joshua who can now say with the prophet Isaiah,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; (Isaiah 61:1a)

We who have been baptized also share in that anointing and thus we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,(Isaiah 61:1b)

In imitation of John the Baptist, we need to be that,

voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”(John 1:23, cf. Isaiah 40:3)

Over the next two weeks, many of us here will be at holiday parties. And, while the culture encourages, much to its credit, a season of generosity and gift-giving…I look around and cannot help but wonder if it is not a distraction for hearts in which “the love of God has grown cold.” Bishop Loverde shared this week that he sees in the culture (and the Church) that Advent does not seem to build

“toward the coming (adventus) and reliving of the Christ Child’s birth in our lives, but rather toward some blend of sentimentalism, vacation and entertainment.”[1]

We will inevitably meet those who are not practicing Christians and who are looking at us…looking at me asking, “Does he have something that I do not? Is he any different because of Christ? Why does he celebrate this season?”

The good news is that this season, of all the seasons during the year, is tailor-made for Catholics. I would suggest in our conversations that we start with something commonplace like our Christmas decorations because they betray our cultural and Catholic Christian heritage.

Take for instance our Christmas trees. The Middle Ages were replete with plays and reenactments of Scripture or lives of the saints, much like what we put on here for Good Friday. Many Germans will tell you that they put up their tree on Christmas Eve, which happens to be on the old calendar the feast of Adam and Eve. Of course, if you are going to reenact the fall of man the day before we celebrate the redemption of man through the birth of Jesus, you are going to need a Paradise Tree or a Tree of Life. Naturally, the evergreen is the only green tree in Europe during the harsh winter. Along with that, did you know that red bulbs are the number one selling color ornament? Funny that it looks like that apple that Adam and Eve took a bite out of.

Maybe you decorate your house with a candle(s) in the window. The Irish Catholics, who started this tradition in the 16th century under Queen Elizabeth I, told the English soldiers they put candles in their window to welcome the Holy Family to their house who originally were rejected by every inn-keep. Of course, the truth was that the candle was a signal to priests that you were Catholic and it was safe for you to come in order to have a place to rest.

Then there are the carols. For 271 years in England and the Commonwealth of Virginia, it was illegal to be Catholic. Did you know that the Commonwealth of Virginia was among the worst of the colonies and states to persecute Catholics? And yet, here St. Mary of Sorrows stands today in one of the most vibrant Catholic dioceses in the nation. How did we response to Catholicism being illegal? We wrote music.

Even today, though our public schools refuse religious songs, we love to hear the 12 Days of Christmas. As you know, it is a catechism song that was used by English Catholics to teach their children since the 17th century. In St. Louis, we started caroling only when there was a candle in the window. Why? Well, we didn’t want the local constable to pick us and through us in the clinker.

There is very little about this season that is steeped in the deep and rich Christian tradition. In fact, to be a Catholic in good standing you must believe in Santa. He is not a mere myth and the way the culture portrays him, though veiled in symbolism, is very much what we believe as Catholics.

Needless to say, there is plenty of material for you to begin to have the conversation with your family, friends, co-workers – that grumpy person in line who just took the last of what you needed to buy for Christmas – just have the conversation.

The culture needs to see true joy and hear that Jesus was not born to provide an excuse for an Ipad upgrade. He was born because He loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. This culture…we all need stable life-giving relationships, and the most important one, is first found in a manger.

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