Father, hear our prayers for the Salvation of the world. 
Grant Mercy to all souls that turned away from You. 
Open their hearts and minds with Your Light. 
Gather Your children from the east and the west, from the north and the south. 
Have mercy O God on those who do not know You. 
Bring them out of darkness into Your Light. 
You are our saving God who leads us in our Salvation. 
Protect us from evil. 
We bless and praise You O Lord; hear our prayers and answer us. 
You, our Savior, are the Hope of all the ends of the Earth and the distant seas. 
May Your way be known upon Earth; among all nations Your salvation. 
We put the world in Your Hands; fill us with Your Love. 
Grant us Peace through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Today is Gaudete Sunday

The word "Gaudete" is Latin for "rejoice," and in the Latin version of today's Mass, it's the very first word. The third Sunday of Advent has been "Gaudete Sunday" ever since the time of Pope St Gregory the Great, in the sixth century. It's the reason for the rose-colored vestments and Advent candle.

And the reason the Church is inviting us to rejoice is because Christmas is coming closer. We have reached the halfway point of Advent. In just 14 days, we will celebrate once again the coming of our Lord and Saviour to earth, the source of all Christian joy. And yet, in the midst of life's hustle and bustle, and surrounded as we are by so many tinsel-joys of commercials and advertisements and of a society that thinks religion should be kept in the closet - in the midst of such a secular world, it is a good thing for us to remember exactly why Jesus came to earth. If we can keep fresh our awareness of this deep meaning of Christmas, we will also be able to keep fresh our experience of Christian joy, a joy is strong enough to shine out even in the middle of life's hardest trials,

The Catechism tells us that Jesus became man on Christmas Day for four reasons.

First, "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God" . Ever since original sin, we needed to be saved. The human race, and every individual human being, was created in order to find lasting happiness by living in friendship with God. But original sin was the human race's rebellion against God. As a result of that rebellion, we became so lost and tangled up in the dense jungle of selfishness and sin, that there was no way we could find our own way back to the Father's house. So God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the jungle, to rescue us.

This is a reason for lasting joy because it is God's promise that evil will not have the last word. Just as Jesus came to Bethlehem two thousand years ago, so he will come again at the end of history, righting every wrong, wiping away every tear, and restoring every loss. Salvation began on the first Christmas, and it will continue growing and spreading until the last Christmas - no matter how dark the winter of history may get. As Isaiah put it in the First Reading: "As the earth brings forth its plants and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations."

The second reason "the Word became flesh" was "so that thus we might know God's love" (Catechism #458). God didn't have to save the human race He could have crumpled it up like a bad rough draft and started his creation all over again. But his love wouldn't let him.

"God is love," the Bible tells us (1 John 4:8), and true love never gives up, it keeps on reaching out. God's love is like the sun: it just keeps on shining. When the clouds of selfishness obscure it, it is still shining above them. When we try to hide from it in the dark caves of sin, it keeps on shining, waiting for us to come out. When we find ourselves lost in the dark night of suffering, it is always there on the horizon, ready to shine out in the dawn of a new day.

This too is reason for lasting joy, because the deepest desire of the human heart is to be thoroughly known and thoroughly loved. Only God knows us through and through, all the good and all the bad. And by coming to earth as our Saviour, he shows that even while knowing us so well, he is still willing to sacrifice his own heavenly comfort to come and save us. That's how unhesitating his love is.

This is what Isaiah expressed so beautifully in today's First Reading: God's love for us is the "glad tidings to the poor," it is what "heals the broken-hearted," it is what gives "liberty to the captives" and "releases the prisoners" enslaved by sin and self-doubt

The third reason "The Word became flesh" was "to be our model of holiness" (Catechism #459). Holiness is a fancy word, but it means nothing other than the art of living. When someone is holy, like the saints, it means that they have learned the art of living - they know what life is about and how to live it. (They have learned, as St Paul puts it in today's Second Reading, to "Test everything; retain what is good," and to "refrain from every kind of evil".) Jesus came to teach us that, both by what he said and, most especially, by his own example. Jesus said the he is our truth and our life, but also our way (cf. John 14:6). Many times in the Gospels he says: "Follow me."

This too is a reason for joy, because we all need an example to follow in life.

Nothing would be more frustrating and saddening than to know that a treasure is within reach, but not to know how to get to it.

The fourth and last reason that "The Word became flesh" was "to make us 'partakers of the divine nature'" (Catechism #460). Jesus doesn't want to just lead us back to the earthly paradise that Adam and Eve got kicked out of. Jesus actually wants to lead us into his own home in heaven; he wants us to share his own life with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Salvation isn't just a ticket to eternal life; salvation is grace, it's like a divine blood transfusion in which God's own life is poured into our souls, making us adopted children of God and members of his family.

Imagine a poor peasant girl who also happened to be an orphan. She turns to crime in order to survive. Then one day the King is passing by and sees her. He sees how unhappy the child is, how wounded, sad, and angry. And so he invites her to come and stay with the royal family in their palace. And when she gets there, he gives her a servant, new clothes, her own beautiful room, and treats her exactly like his own daughter. And then he legally adopts her, so that she becomes a princess.

That is a very pale comparison to what God has done for us through Christ and the sacraments. He hasn't just given us spiritual handouts that that we can survive; he has filled us with his own life, his grace, so that we can spend eternity in the divine palace, as princes and princesses of the eternal King.

This too is a reason for joy, because it means that we have much more to look forward to in heaven than we could ever imagine.

That's what Christmas is really about: Jesus becoming one of us, to save us, to prove God's love for us, to teach us the art of living, and to share his very life with us.
And those are the reasons for Christian joy.

But they will not fill our hearts with joy if we don't give them a chance to do so.

In the seven days remaining before Christmas, let's make sure we do give them a chance, by spending some quality time each day alone with God in prayer. St Paul wrote in today's Second Reading, "Rejoice always," and in the very next line he wrote, "Pray without ceasing." Prayer allows the motives for joy to blossom in our hearts. The devil wants to keep us so busy that we don't take time to pray, to read and reflect on the Gospels, to remind ourselves about the reason for the season.

But Jesus is stronger than the devil, and he will give us a share of that strength in this holy Mass.
When he does, let's thank him for coming to save us, and let's ask him to help us find the time to pray, so that we can experience true Christian joy.

God Bless each one of you

Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen