Sunday, 15 December 2013

Rejoice the Lord is near!

Gaudete Sunday - 3rd Sunday of Advent Yr A

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.

We begin mass today with St Paul's exhortation to rejoice – and indeed this Sunday is traditionally designated “Gaudete Sunday” - a Sunday for rejoicing in the midst of the season of Advent, which is traditionally a somewhat penitential season. As Laetare Sunday (or Mothering Sunday) is to Lent, so Gaudete Sunday is to Advent. And on our Advent wreaths we light a rose coloured candle, and the priest's vestments can also be rose in colour. Rejoicing is what today is all about!

But why? What do we have to rejoice about? St Paul was exhorting the Philippian Christians to be patient and forbearing in all their troubles, knowing that the Lord was near.

The nearness of the Lord is the nearness of deliverance – the nearness of our salvation. For Christ is in Himself “salvation”. And thus our hearts are gladdened as we contemplate such a great and mighty wonder.

As the prophet Isaiah put it, let the wilderness exult, and the wasteland rejoice and bloom! Without Christ there is indeed only wilderness and wasteland. Within us, without Christ there is indeed wilderness and wasteland. With Christ there is blooming fertility – abundant life.

We, as Catholics, have a rich feast because of our faith; for we can look back to our Lord's first coming, we can look forward to being united to Him in His second coming; but also, as Catholics, we can also know Him in a very special way: His close and intimate presence in the Sacrament of the Altar. Every time the priest says “This is my body”, Christ draws near, truly present even though the accident (outward appearance) remains the same. He is near, and we rejoice. He is near! He is salvation! And He is near wherever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle!

There are times you know, when I wonder how the ordinariate is to grow and develop. Usually it is at those times in the middle of the night when all sorts of despondent imaginations cross the mind. But they are of course the fruit of a lack of faith and hope. Despondency can come perhaps because of our small numbers. If only we had more people we could do X, Y or Z! But what we must all remember, just as the Philippian Christians needed to remember is that our joy comes not from 'success' (usually defined by ourselves of course!) but from the nearness of the Lord. We must always come back to this point and remember that 'unless the Lord builds the house, they that labour, do so in vain.' We rejoice not because we have been a success, but because we are close to the Lord, we have been faithful. Bl. Teresa of Calcutta said, “God has not called me to be successful; he has called me to be faithful.” Focusing on being faithful to God, on remaining close to Him, rather than what we would like to see as the outcome of our work means that we are recognizing that it's not all about us. Rather, we are “pencils in the hand of God” (Bl. Teresa of Calcutta) and, in so many ways, God's plan for our lives and for the lives of the people that we love and serve, will be a mystery. We depend on our Lord; we wait on Him; for with Him alone is salvation.

To use Isaiah's prophetic vision today, for our wilderness to spring to life, to flower and blossom, we need to be close to the Lord.

I have a small book of devotions of Blessed John Henry Newman. In it is a devotion to say whenever we visit the Blessed Sacrament. This is recited before a meditation on Christian doctrine. It is a beautiful thing to do when we enter the presence of the Lord, when we draw near to Him – when He draws near to us. The Lord's near presence brings joy as we contemplate the truth of He Who is before us. It is a practice I would recommend. We should not take for granted the presence of the Lord, but when we come to Him, acknowledge that He draws near to us – He who is salvation and the bringer of joy.

Let us then, in what remains of this glorious Advent Season, continuously remember that the Lord is truly near – for we are indeed nearer to Him now than when we first believed. He is near! And we draw near as we recall and treasure His first coming, and as we look forward in hope to His second coming, but perhaps most of all let us not forget that He draws very close to us in His Sacred Body. Let us make the effort to visit Him in the tabernacle whenever we can, and take with us the joy of His presence, so that as we face the trials of life we can do so with patience and forbearing. He is truly near. For that we have everything to thankful for.

The Lord can indeed make the barren desert fertile, and by placing our trust in Him, in His drawing near to us, He can do the same for us.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)