Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday ~ 13 Sunday 2020
Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Responsorial: Luke 1:46-48, 49, 53-54, II I Thessalonians 5:16-24; Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Gaudate Sunday – The Advent Sunday of rejoicing. It is the Sunday when the pink Advent candle is lit and in the Church usually the clergy will wear vestments of rose color, expressing the joy of Christ’s coming. This extraordinary and difficult year of 2020 it is this eternally real joy found with God as being very relevant.
It is one of the most basic desires of humanity of all ages to be happy. The infant is happy when they are fed, clean and secure in love. The desire for happiness only grows, as we do, more complex and deep. To belong, to be sheltered, free from hunger and pain, to have relationships that bring fulfillment and security is felt as the key to happiness. And truly each of those basic human needs and desires, when found, can make one happy. For a season.
But this is Gaudate Sunday, a day of rejoicing. It is significant the the contemporary meaning of the word, rejoice, is to feel joyful, delighted. But the now archaic meaning is different it is: to fill with joy, to gladden. [Source: The Free Dictionary]. In our post modern age the focus is on the meaning focused on SELF. In times past the meaning was as a verb focused upon others. This distinction is important if we are to both hear and experience the purpose, power and light of Scripture this joyful, holy day.
The joy of Gaudate Sunday is not experienced in the lighting of a pink candle or the priest wearing rose (or pink) vestments. The joy of the Lord is realized when we take to heart and life the words of Isaiah, St Paul and the Gospel. We live in times when darkness and discord is very real and powerful. Many, even sadly among Catholics and Christians, are expressing deep fear and frankly faith in the darkness. But the sacred writers we read this day lived in times of intense darkness as well. And they realized the Light who is our Lord. And they trusted, with intense joy, the Light of Christ would never be extinguished. They also allowed their lives to not just be seekers but servants of this eternal joy who is Jesus. They realized the extraordinary joy and adventure God called them (and us) to share, to bring His joy to others. Whether it be the powerful and wealthy or the sick, imprisoned and broken hearted. In fact Isaiah proclaimed and Jesus fulfilled that it was especially to those deemed unworthy that they were sent. To bring the light, God’s joy to those in darkness as Servants of Joy.
We are all blessed this weekend to have an example of this grace-filled adventure of holy joy. Saturday, December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the celebration of the apparition of our Blessed Mother to St. Juan Diego in the year 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac in what is now a suburb of Mexico City. While celebrated with deep and fervant veneration among the Latino faithful it is important to understand that Our Lady is the Patron of the ALL America’s. And her visitation is an exquisite lesson of being a Servant of Joy and the Light of Christ.
St. Juan Diego was, by the standards of the world, a most unsuitable candidate to become such a powerful part in the Kingdom of Christ in the Americas. He was an unwealthy, uneducated yet faithful farmer in what what would become Mexico City. Sources indicate he was indigenous to the land perhaps of the Aztec people. He would become the first native American to be canonized as a saint by the Church.
His story, briefly, is that one day as he returned from the local Franciscan Mission where he received faith formation, our Blessed Mother appeared to him and said he was to request the local bishop to build a chapel in her honor. He did so faithfully and was turned away by the bishop. Mary again appeared and after hearing his concerns that he was unworthy and unqualified for the task she instructed him to return to the bishop who was more open but asked for a sign that this was the will of God. The faithful servant once again encountered Mary in spite of trying not to face her with disappointments and having to attend to a dear uncle who was dying. The Blessed Virgin gently remonstrated Juan Diego with words well known to many, : “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Juan Diego’s uncle was healed. She then instructed him to go to a special place where he found an abundance of flowers blooming out of season. A place not suitable for the flowers to grow. He gathered them in his mantle and returned to Mary who rearranged them and told the faithful farmer to bring them to the bishop. Juan Diego did so as a servant of joy would do. Upon seeing the bishop he opened his mantle and the flowers cascaded to the floor. And upon his mantle (tilma) there was the blessed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The tilma of St. Juan Diego’s with this holy image is on display, centuries later, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. And her image is found in Catholic Churches especially in the Americas.
It is in this joyful and beautiful account we see the elements of Gaudate Sunday being lived out in the followers of Christ. It is a lesson that being Servants of Joy is an holy privilege that is not confined to those on this side of eternity. The angels and saints, and most profoundly our Blessed Mother bring us ever closer to Christ, the source of eternal joy. They also help us to yield to the promised Holy Spirit in our daily walk and to not be just seekers of happiness but servants of joy.
We also can learn that it is very often those deemed unworthy that are called to be servants of God’s eternal joy, along side those more seemingly able and blessed. And perhaps most vividly it is a clear message of to whom this light, this joy of God is especially to be brought. The indigenous people of the Americas were seen by most Europeans as being very much on the margins of humanity. Especially the governing forces saw the native Americans as subjects to be managed and used, for the benefit of the crowns. The missionaries, while not always as they should did try to see and bring the indigenous into God’s Kingdom.
So it is in 2020. Many are on the edges of survival. Many are considered only acceptable IF certain criteria is met. And many are struggling in a world of dark confusion, sickness, strife and despair. We must take seriously the words shared by St. Paul to not quench the Holy Spirit in each other, in those longing for the light and joy found only in God. We must quench instead our hurtful words, attitudes, fears and doubts that would build barriers to joy, to Jesus instead of doors of hope that others may come in.
It is with the angels and saints God calls us to be , today, servants of His Joy. Perhaps we are unable to go to places of great need. But all of us are able to open our hearts to those in darkness. To learn and understand and realize that while the darkness of evil in this world can be very great the light who is Jesus is unquenchably greater. We bring Him in friendships, compassion, in prayer. As great are the sorrows of this strange year even greater is the hope and light who is Jesus. May we, with St. Juan Diego, our Blessed Mother and each other bring God’s joy and light into the darkness of the world.