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Today is “Rejoice! Sunday”

Homily by Archbishop Thomas Wenski for the Third Sunday of Advent

Homily by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Mass at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point, FL for the Third Sunday of Advent. December 15, 2013.

Today, is Gaudete  or “Rejoice! Sunday”.  We rejoice because the Day of the Lord is closer at hand. Perhaps, with the new bell tower that we bless “rejoicingly” today, St. Paul Parish will give a new twist to that Christmas song, “Jingle Bells”.  Of course, bells and bell towers have been part of Christian Churches for centuries.  Bells give us the time of day; bells call us to worship; and bells at times sound the alarm.

Bells are rung at Mass – at the Consecration, for example, to announcing the coming of the Lord on the Altar in the Holy Sacrament; bells are tolled at funerals, to announce the soul’s departure from this life.
I congratulate Msgr. Dever in bringing this project to completion and also to all of you parishioners who contributed generously to make this beautiful work of restoration possible.

On this the Third Sunday of Advent, once again we encounter John the Baptist.  Last Sunday, he was in the desert, a voice crying out “Prepare the Way of the Lord; make straight his paths”.  This week we find him in prison – locked up by King Herod because he had the audacity to call Herod’s choice of lifestyle a sin– his significant other happened to be his brother’s wife.   Prophets are called to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  But in speaking truth to power, there is often a high price to pay.

So he languishes in a dungeon. For a man who had lived in the wilderness the bugs and rats probably didn’t bother him as much as the claustrophobic confinement of his cell.  He sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question:  Are you the one?  Or should we look for another?   With the coming of the Word made flesh into our history, God acts decisively to save us – but, he doesn’t act always in accord with our expectations.  Certainly this was true for John the Baptist – who, if you remember from last Sunday’s gospel, spoke of the “coming wrath” and of the “chaff being thrown into the fire”.  John’s expectation of how the Messiah would manifest himself might have been not too unlike the bumper sticker seen on the back of a car at one of those store front churches that said:  Jesus is coming soon – and, boy, is he mad!  

So even though John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan, he still could have experienced - especially given the circumstances of his imprisonment - what spiritual writers called “the dark night of the soul” when faith is more darkness than light and one must hope against hope.  Perhaps, this might explain Jesus’ curious words that “among those born of woman there has been no one greater than John the Baptist yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  The least are greater than John the Baptist because they recognize who Jesus is.  John preached that the Messiah would come – and come he did; but, on his terms and not on John’s.  This is something for each of us to consider. – For how often do we expect God to act on own terms?  We want to write the script – it’s not easy for us to “let go” and “let God”.  All the more reason for us to heed St. James in today’s second reading who says more than once “Be patient, brothers and sisters…Be patient…Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Of course, when John’s disciples report back to him, he learns that Jesus is doing those very things that the prophet Isaiah had said the Messiah would do: the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. He is the one who is to come – there is no other.

To be great in the kingdom of heaven is to know that Jesus is the one. In Jesus Christ, God has come to dwell among us.  Again as Isaiah says, the desert will “bloom with abundant flowers”.  We should understand the image of the desert as descriptive of that place where God has not visited, where God is not to be found.  But Isaiah promises soon he is to come.  

Advent is a time of hope – Gaudete!  Rejoice!  For, God can come into the desert that we have made of our lives – and he can make it bloom once again. And doesn’t our world – our secularized world resemble a desert – lifeless and sterile because God has been “exiled”, marginalized, pushed – as it were -to the far borders of our consciousness.

In the desert, the Hebrews wearied from their wanderings.  “Frightened, weak-kneed and feeble”, they fell into idolatry – they worshipped a golden calf.  Idols that people worship are blind, deaf and dumb – and so are the people who worship them.  As Pope Francis said, “the sin of idolatry stifles the truths of faith”.

Idol worship has not disappeared from human history – we just give new names to the idols and new forms to our worship.  As Advent quickly advances towards Christmas, allow me to end by quoting from a homily that Pope Francis gave some weeks ago.  He offers what we could call a plan of action to follow during these remaining days before Christmas.

“We have to empty ourselves” he says, “of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.”

These “idols” are what Pope Francis’ spiritual father, St. Ignatius Loyola, would call “disordered attachments”.  (And you have idea of what those attachments are for you.) These idols, these disordered attachments crowd God out of the space he should occupy in our lives.  Freed of those deaf, dumb and lame idols, we will be freed of the deafness that keeps us from hearing God’s word; the dumbness that keeps us for proclaiming his praises and the blindness and the lameness that keeps us from walking in righteousness.

Again to quote Pope Francis,  “…I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the center, as the highway of our lives.”

And such worship renews hope and brings joy.  Gaudete!  Rejoice!

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