12-17-2017 3rd Sunday of Advent
Dec 18, 2017
Advent III / B / Gaudete / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, I want to reflect on our 2nd reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. I think I have mentioned before that this letter of St. Paul is the earliest Christian writing. Think of all the literature of Christianity, over 2000 years, and this is the first, written about 20 years after the death of Jesus. It is extremely important for the Church—so we read it seriously, as the earliest witness to the power of Jesus Christ.
The passage today comes from the very end of the letter. St. Paul says, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks." Hmm. Does that strike you as somewhat extraordinary? A little over the top? Rejoicing always? Praying without ceasing? In all circumstances, giving thanks?
What we have to understand here, as background, is that for St. Paul the coming of Christ changed everything! For St. Paul, and for all of us, Jesus is not just one teacher among many, not just another wise man. The dying and the rising of Jesus Christ turned everything upside down. The old categories no longer hold; the usual way of thinking and acting is no longer valid, "for Christ conquered death in his rising to new life"—and nothing remains the same. St. Paul reflects this newness in his letter to the Philippians—in the passage we heard today. So let’s try to understand his words . . .
"Rejoice always." Always? Is this realistic? Maybe "sometimes," or when "appropriate"? Life is filled with bad days, and bad feelings, and terrible events, and so on. In the midst of this, rejoice? What we have to understand here is that St. Paul is not speaking of an "emotional high" always. What St. Paul is talking about is the enormous significance of Christ’s Resurrection—a victory so complete than no negativity can undo it. There is nothing the world can throw at us, so to speak, to change the wonder of this miracle—nothing can overcome what Jesus has accomplished in his saving death and Resurrection. So, for Christians, there is always cause for joy.
Listen to St. Paul in his letter to the Romans: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . nor anything else . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." That is cause for rejoicing. Rejoice always!
"Pray without ceasing." Okay. That’s a nice thought—one more impossible expectation to place upon us? Even Trappists and Carthusians take a little time off from prayer! So, again, we must think differently, in a new way—and the difference is Jesus Christ. Here we look to his Incarnation, becoming a human person. When Jesus become one with us, he gave us access to the Father—an intimate relationship with the Father—the same love that Jesus shares with the Father for all eternity. This love of Father and Son is the Holy Spirit, which we receive at Baptism. We are grafted onto the body of Christ—we share the divine life ALWAYS! And so we live in constant communion with the Father—even when we don’t know it. And this is prayer.
It’s like breathing—we breath to stay alive, but we don’t always know we are breathing. We don’t think about it. It is the same with our intimacy with God. It is there, even when we don’t think about it—praying without ceasing!
"In all circumstances, give thanks." All circumstances? Even when life throws us a rotten tomato? Once again, we have to think differently. The difference of Jesus Christ, born into the world, who died and conquered death in his Resurrection. As one with us, Jesus experienced all that we do—all the ups and downs of life, all the hardships, the suffering, even death itself. Having experienced all these things, Jesus touched them with his divinity and transformed them—making them all a means of sanctification.
"By his stripes, we have been healed." "By his cross we have been saved."
As Christians, we live differently in the world—to live in Christ is to live in grace, and to live in grace is to "rejoice always," to "pray without ceasing," and to "give thanks in all circumstances." And that is what Gaudete Sunday is all about!