‘Rejoice With Expectation’

Bishop Raica Celebrates Gaudete Sunday

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we rejoice that the Lord is indeed near! For this reason, we call it “Rejoice Sunday” – “Gaudete Sunday” in the Latin. It is a time when the nearness of Christ’s coming at Christmas gives us every reason to raise our heads and quicken our steps. Our hearts beat just a little faster!

Still as I look around, there are still challenges that draw me away from that moment to rejoice. We think of the violence in our cities and schools, the virus and its new variant whose impact cannot be predicted, the havoc caused by recent storms north of us, the economic and societal uncertainties which weigh upon us as we plan for our families and our future. Can there be hope left, we wonder? Is there someone that we are really waiting for that will answer our worries or address our longings and dreams in an adequate way? Is it all worth it, coming Sunday after Sunday, saying our prayers, participating in the various events that characterize the joy of this season?

From a cynical point of view, it all seems to be so useless. Is that all there is? At times, I spend time in my chapel or go out on a walk, and I say in my conversation with the Lord, “Is this what it’s all about? Will we ever become hopeful and hope-filled people again?”

When all seems like we’ve waited an eternity for an answer, we recognize in our readings a similar experience. Certainly, the Jewish people who were in Babylon in exile far, far away from Jerusalem must have felt that same hopelessness and uselessness. Yet, they mustered the courage to keep the hope alive. The Lord will come! He will come in glory! He will come and save us! He will come and redeem us! He will come and bring us home!

We seem to be shackled by insurmountable obstacles to build a world of respect for the dignity of each human being and a world of peace and tranquility. In one sense, we can’t do it by ourselves or through our own efforts apart from God. Even a military action can’t achieve it totally, once and for all time.

Like the horrific events at the high school in Oxford, Michigan, and many other events that have caught our attention recently, and which leave us scratching our heads, we recognize that evil is not just some vague notion or idea - or an elusive or chronic bad thought. It can become incarnate in the lives of individuals. Attitudes and behaviors and tragic deeds, find an entry point into our world and our history. These deeds would be all the more tragic if we remain paralyzed, defeated, and powerless victims of violence, disorder, and chaos, subject only to the most powerful that seek attention and control. Rather, we look for lessons to be learned. Even from the most innocent, we look for heroes - a glimmer of hope.

For us as preachers this weekend, this is a bit paradoxical. After all, this is Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday. In the meantime, we are attempting to move the Advent season forward – from the great Advent figure of John the Baptist’s “Prepare the way of the Lord!” to our Lady’s ready “YES” to the Angel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation.

Preparing ourselves to accept Christ every day and saying “YES” to the invitation that comes our way to “follow Him” are not merely hollow spiritual clichés.

Nor are they just wholesome and pious thoughts about the past - or in the wake of terrible things to withdraw into one’s shell. As we can already see, they are insufficient to attract us and even produce Christianity. Jesus entered the world with a tremendous capacity to attract the fascinated people of His time. As Charles Peguy, noted French author wrote, “He (Christ) did not waste His years groaning and demanding explanations of the wickedness of the times. He cut through [it] … making Christianity.” Christ became such an extraordinary presence that one could not but take it into consideration – to reject Christ or accept Christ. No one was left indifferent – as we know. These are the things that touch us today as well.

When we speak about the crises of our day – pick whichever one you want – whatever results in our anxiety about the world around us, we are still looking for the first budding signs of the miracle of spring to come – “the shoot from the stump of Jesse” – that first glimmer of hope. This great season of Advent, this Sunday in particular, reminds us that no matter what is going on around us, we are a people who stand strong in hope because we have put on Christ, our Light as a radiant sign of hope.

I mentioned John the Baptist. He comes onto the scene again. Crowds are drawn to him. He was a vanguard figure with searing and soaring rhetoric, thundering: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight His paths!” So many who came to hear him were moved by his words. He called for conversion of life – a life with greater purpose and meaning rather than wandering about aimlessly. So, they asked him in turn, “What should we do?” The Gospel says, “They were filled with expectation” because they thought that maybe even John was the Christ. In all, they felt the closeness of the Messiah because of John, primarily because he preached good news to the people.

As for us, we are a people who don’t merely think about past events. The nearness of Christ is something that should continue to guide us forward even today. Yes, we struggle to understand! We have our doubts! We are distracted! We can be very critical about what we like or don’t like. Christmas is near. It is the great event that changed the trajectory of history. It touches us even today because Christ is near to us today. Christ is near to those in Michigan affected by recent tragic events. The Lord is near to those who have been severely affected by the tornado and bad weather in Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and various states. He came to show that life – even a short life – has meaning and value. What we have before us is a beautiful thing that surpasses all understanding.

Listening to some of the testimonies of parents, teachers, and families, I am struck by the concern even they have for others. Christianity generates persons like this – a person able not to reduce our humanity but enlarge it because Christ is near, dwelling in our midst leaving our freedom intact but walking with us in the journey of life. He is constantly educating us about our life, our call.

Finally, today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a moment of rejoicing for the Hispanic community and the patronal feast of the Americas. There within her iconic image is a woman, radiant as the sun, who is with child. Her life reminds us of the great expectations that await us who are faithful.

So, on this Gaudete Sunday, we know we are not alone. We have a joy and peace and hope that cannot be explained by those overcome with grief and who have no hope. We have a small reason to rejoice with expectation because Christ the Lord is near indeed.