This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday. The term Gaudete refers to the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, "Rejoice". Rose vestments are worn to emphasize our joy that Christmas is near, and we also light the rose candle on our Advent wreath. "Rejoice: the Lord is near." As Christmas draws near, the Church emphasizes the joy which should be in our hearts over all that the birth of our Savior means for us. The great joy of Christians is to see the day drawing near when the Lord will come again in His glory to lead them into His kingdom. The oft-repeated Veni ("Come") of Advent is an echo not only of the prophets but also of the conclusion of the Apocalypse of St. John: "Come, Lord Jesus," the last words of the New Testament.
Pope Francis published his own apostolic exhortation named Evangelii Gaudium —the Joy of the Gospel — during Advent when we realize that the Lord is near. The heart of his message is an exhortation to spread the gospel with unrestrained joy. He writes in his opening words:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy….”
The joy Pope Francis is referring to is not just human happiness, nor is it a false religious euphoria or religious nicety. Instead joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) It is the result of being infused with the fire of Divine Love. This joy is the sign of a supernatural energy in a person’s life. It presents as a kind of supernatural optimism.
The Divine Joy sparks evangelization because it is attractive. People see this divine happiness and peace and want it for themselves. The Divine Joy is present not only when things are going well, but especially when things are going badly.
Gaudete Sunday comes in the middle of the sober Advent season to remind us that rejoicing in the midst of hardship is not a duty but a gift. It is a gift that comes from the realization that the Lord is near. The Lord is not only near because the celebration of his birth is at hand. The Advent season reminds us that he is near right now.
We have to keep in mind that the One who is to come is, in the words of Thomas Merton, “more than a charming smiling infant in the straw.” In Advent we celebrate the coming and the presence of Christ in the world. This demands a response of conversion and living lives worthy of his Kingdom. We can also rejoice because He is present among us, even in the midst of all the problems, trials, and tragedies that seem to overwhelm our own lives at times and our world today.
So when you see the rose vestments at Mass this Sunday and see the rose candle lit for the third week of Advent, take a moment in the midst of the hustle and bustle of these days. Calm down. Pray. “Be still and rejoice in the Lord always….and again I say rejoice!” This is the last full week of Advent before Christmas and we have only one week left to prepare ourselves spiritually. It is not too late. That is the great truth of this season of Advent: we can start out like the Magi, or stumble into the stable like a shepherd. Either way, we are to reach the Divine destination, the Christ Child lying in the manger. We seek Jesus, and nothing less.
How can we make the most of this last final time before Christmas? Come to God and make a good confession. The Incarnation is God’s promise that we are not abandoned to sin and death. We should seek to abandon sin and death in our own souls in Confession.
It’s a week to be generous with what we have including our words and deeds. Think of the less fortunate, reach out to the lonely, visit the sick, offer a compliment rather than a complaint, or send a note of thanks. Give as St. Nicholas gave with generosity and charity.
Slow down this week and be vigilant for the Lord’s coming. In this time before Christmas prepare room for the coming of Christ into the mangers of our hearts and homes. Let us rejoice as we cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus!” Be well. Do good. God Bless. Go Pats!!!