Sunday, December 14, 2008
A young priest, Fr. Oscar, who is now the vice rector of a religious community in Connecticut discovered the amazing capacity of God's Providence right at the beginning of his vocational journey. Oscar and his older brother didn't always get along. At one point, when Oscar was about 13-years-old, his older brother was making life particularly difficult for him. Both boys usually went to the same summer camp, but that summer, Oscar was determined to choose someplace where his brother wasn't going to be. All the options dwindled away, for various reasons, except one. He had received an invitation to come to a summer program at a high-school seminary - a seminary for high-school aged boys who already feel a call to the priesthood. Oscar had no desire to be a priest, but he did have a strong desire to get away from wherever his brother was, so he registered for the program. He ended up having a fantastic summer and a profound experience of Christ. He was so moved by discovering Christ's personal love for him, in fact, that he ended up joining the high school seminary, and that's how his journey to the priesthood began. Trying to avoid the presence of his older brother was not a very virtuous motivation, but God's love used it to lead him right into Christ's arms.
It’s always easy to recognize Christ in the expected places such as entering the tranquility of a church but to live out the paschal mystery also goes beyond the four walls of a church. It’s also living out the paschal mystery with our encounters with people that could be in our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, homes, etc. As we celebrate this Gaudete Sunday, this “joyful” Sunday as we are quickly approaching the Christmas Season as everyone is so busy in making sure everything is aright for Christmas. This is the time that we can easily forget our mission to testify to the light as we heard in today’s gospel. How do we testify to the light? It’s by how we treat others, by visiting those that are the forgotten ones, it’s putting in a couple of bucks when we see the red can outside of the stores as we spent much more before we exited, it’s recognizing other people’s talents and giving them thanks.
Earlier I mentioned that today is "Gaudete Sunday." The word "gaudete" is Latin for "rejoice," and in the Latin version of today's Mass, it's the very first word. The third Sunday of Advent has been "Gaudete Sunday" ever since the time of Pope St Gregory the Great, in the sixth century. It's the reason for the rose-colored vestments and Advent candle.
One thing that can inhibit our experience of Christian joy is wrong expectations. The joy that comes from Christ goes deeper than passing emotions. It is a joy that comes from knowing that Christ is always with us, guiding us, and loving us, even amidst life's trials. If we are expecting Christ to bring us heaven on earth, we simply won't be able recognize his action in our lives, because that's not what he came to do. Something like that happened in today's Gospel passage.
The priests, Levites, and Pharisees who come out to investigate John the Baptist are the same leaders from Jerusalem who later rejected Christ and arranged his execution. When they hear rumors that John the Baptist is attracting huge crowds and preaching to them about the Messiah, they get suspicious. Since he didn't come from their inner circle, they assumed that he couldn't be a true messenger of God. And so when he answers their questions, they pay no attention to what he says. And as a result, they were not ready to welcome Christ later on.
They were expecting a political Messiah, not a Messiah who would redeem the world from sin. They listened to John's message only through the filter of their personal agendas, and they missed the point. Their own preconceived notions impeded their acceptance of God's word spoken through John. They heard the prophecy, but it didn't help them at all.
So my dear brothers and sisters on this Gaudete Sunday, let us always be attentive to the light and testify to the light as John the Baptist did and sing with joyful song, “my soul rejoices in my God.”