Happy belated Gaudete Sunday everyone! This is my favorite part of the Advent season. The candles (and the vestments) change from purple to rose, the Gospel charges us to "prepare the way for the Lord" in both the world and our hearts, and we hear a lot of homilies and talks about joy. It's a reminder of who we are awaiting during the Advent season!
"Gaudete" is, after all, the Latin word for rejoice. Now, I hear you. "How are we supposed to rejoice right now? Things are so tough!" I understand! This year has stunk in many ways. However, that does not preclude us from experiencing joy. Know where I'm going with this? If you've read my blog post about joy from a while back, I'll bet you do!
The easiest (and best) description of joy and its superiority over happiness is the "Perfect Joy" story of St. Francis. You know, the one where he describes joy as the ability to withstand the evils of the world and still take heart in the knowledge that you're a beloved child of God? Well, I already used that one, so I'd like to draw your attention to someone else today.
That someone is Paul the Apostle. I believe there's a strong case to be made for Paul as one of the 5 most influential people in the history of Catholicism. In case you're curious, my nominees for the other 4 are Jesus Christ, Peter, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther (for dubious reasons, of course). But right, Paul. Stay on track here, Regis.
Paul's letters are just dripping with practical theology, and I'd like to focus on Philippians today. This letter is PERFECT for a Covid Gaudete Sunday. First, some historical background. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome. Not only was he confined to a cell, he was also chained to a guard 24 hours a day.
Being a Roman prisoner was no walk in the park, even for a Citizen like Paul. Paul's day-to-day existence was, in essence, in limbo. He didn't know if his next day would bring release, execution, or simply further imprisonment. He was completely blind to what his future held. Sound familiar?
Paul's predicament was pretty rough! Considering that this was the situation he was in when he wrote his Letter to the Philippians, it'd be reasonable to think that it would be chock full of worry and anxiety, right? WROOONG! In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Instead of bemoaning his fate, Paul uses Philippians to encourage and uplift the church in Philippi. He shared how often he thought of and prayed for them. Even in his moment of loneliness and potential despair, he used his sphere of influence to bring joy, comfort, and peace to his Christian brethren.
"My situation has turned out rather to advance the gospel...so that the majority of the brothers...dare more than ever to proclaim the word fearlessly." Paul used his situation as an opportunity to grow his own faith, and therefore to grow the faith of his followers by his witness.
Think of your faith as a living organism. In nature, when something is living, it's growing. If something is not growing, it's dying! Think of your faith in that context. Is it growing? Is it dying? Only you can answer that. Sometimes, God puts difficult obstacles (like a global pandemic) in our path to help us grow in our faith and trust in Him.
God also places people like Paul in our lives to bring us joy, consolation, and strength. It's great! I guarantee that God has placed those people in your lives. Sometimes we have to look hard to find them, and sometimes they've been sitting under our noses the whole time. Who knows?
Either way, God has given you people to help grow your faith and joy. Let's call them "Holy Helpers." Here's the real kicker, though: He's made you someone's Holy Helper, too. The "Catholic" part of our Church is its universality; we can't get to Heaven on our own, nor should we try to!
We are meant to help each other get to Heaven. This is our Christian duty, not something nice to do when we have a little extra time to spare. Imagine what the world would be like right now if everyone functioned as someone's Holy Helper. If we chose to use our limbo, our collective lot in life, as an opportunity to grow in joy and faith - and to use that faith as a witness to others.
It's like a Pay it Forward chain. Someone brings me joy and faith through their witness, and I in turn do the same for two others. They each bring that same joy and faith to two others, and it goes on and on forever. It's like the greatest pyramid scheme of all time! Seriously though, this is SO important.
It doesn't take a lot. It might be something small, like resisting the urge to complain to a spouse or parent or offering up your suffering for the intention of someone else in your life. The great thing about prayer and sacrifice is that they're personal and flexible! God will bless you for trying.
I can't stress this enough right now. I know it's tempting to complain and wish that this was all over and that the world was back to normal again. I get it. I wish that, too. But let this Gaudete Sunday be a reminder to us that true joy is not tied to our temporal world, but rather to the knowledge that we are beloved children of God.
Let us emulate Paul's witness of faith and use our joy in the face of suffering as an example to others. Let's come together as a community of believers and truly embrace the JOY (not cheap happiness, materialism, or commercialized "cheer") of the birth of our Lord.
I continue to pray for you this Advent season, and I hope you will do the same for me. May God bless you.