In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we hear the apostle encourage his community to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This verse gives us the name for the third Sunday of Advent - known as Gaudete Sunday. The term comes from the first Latin words in the opening antiphon for today’s Mass – “Gaudete” or “rejoice!”
The third Sunday of Advent means we have passed the halfway mark in our preparations. The mood of the season changes, lightens, as we draw nearer to the birth of Jesus. Priests wear rose-colored vestments to signify our closeness to Christmas. The third candle of the Advent wreath, which is also rose colored or pink, is first lit today.
Week Three – Preparation
When I was in college, I went with the Catholic Campus Ministry on a service trip to the Dominican Republic. Our diocese served a very poor rural parish in the countryside along the border with Haiti. We spent ten days there, living with families and working to build and repair homes. The people had very little, electricity was rare or intermittent, and we took our baths in the river like everyone else.
The priest had to travel each week to several campos, small villages far off the beaten path. He went by donkey because the roads were so rough. One day we walked three hours to one of these villages for mass. We were late (typical college students) and when we arrived at the small building which served as a church, we found the entire community had gathered to greet us. We celebrated a beautiful mass, (which included dancing!) and then shared a meal together. An elderly woman walked up to me and spoke something in my ear. I turned to a friend for translation, and the woman spoke it again. My friend told me, “She said that now we have shared everything that is important.”
I am still amazed at the depth and clarity of that woman’s vision. She could see what that young college student couldn’t, and what I still struggle to see. Somehow, in the midst of difference and distance and poverty and struggle, she knew that what happens at the Eucharist, what happens when Christ is present is what matters most. Her eyes were open, and she could see it.
In this week’s Gospel people come the John the Baptist and ask him how they can prepare. We want to be ready – so what do we do? And he gives them practical answers. Don’t cheat the poor. Give your extra to those in need. Don’t abuse your authority. It is not a question of God not being present – it is a question of our blindness. And the spiritual wisdom of the Church offers us practices that can help us to see. The Church says: Read these texts. Pray about them. Feed someone who is hungry. Visit someone in prison. Skip a meal, or a drink, or a TV show. Spend the time in silence. Forgive someone who hurt you. Forgive an enemy. Do these things because they will help you open your eyes. They will help you to be awake when Christ comes.
From Bishop Robert F. Morneau
John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah. In the desert, at the Jordan, in prison, this prophet remained faithful to his vocation. This courageous disciple points us once again to the mystery of God’s presence in Jesus.
Most of us prefer to live undisturbed lives. We strive to isolate ourselves from the fears of insecurity and the anxieties of poverty. By means of control and power we erect walls that protect us from the bruises of life. No “enemy,” demon or divine, penetrates our fortified souls.
John the Baptist did not live such a life. God invaded his heart and turned him into a prophet. God besieged him day and night until he surrendered to the divine will. No walls of separation remained to impede the currents of grace.
Advent is the coming of God into our planetary city. A disturbing enemy, indeed. God breaks down our walls of narcissism and greed until we are free to welcome the Lord of life and joy. It sometimes takes many Advents for us to offer full hospitality.
From St. Bonaventure (13th century)
He, therefore, who is not illumined by such great splendor of created things is blind; he who is not awakened by such great clamor is deaf; he who does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb; he who does not note the First Principle from such great signs is foolish. Open your eyes therefore, prick up your spiritual ears, open your lips, and apply your heart, that you may see your God in all creatures, may hear Him, praise Him, love and adore Him, magnify and honor Him.
From Anthony de Mello, SJ
This is a dialogue between a student and a spiritual master.
“Is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
From Antonio Machado
I love Jesus, who said to us:
Heaven and earth will pass away.
When heaven and earth have passed away,
my word will remain.
What was your word, Jesus?
Love? Affection? Forgiveness?
All your words were
one word: Wakeup.
Anna Mgaloblishvili: Butterfly
“We imagine the Divine as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.” - Teilhard de Chardin
“A warm glow lies over this painting by the Georgian artist Anna Mgaloblishvili. The soft light of daybreak spreads across the mountain in the background and casts its orange rays over the water, the grass and the face and hands of the man. Darkness is dispelled, a new morning dawns. It reminds me of the words in Isaiah 9: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…’
In the center of the painting stands a man with big sensitive hands. On his hands a small yellow butterfly has descended. Full of attention he looks at this unexpected gift from above.
Now and then we too get glimpses of God’s nearness. When we look closely at the painting, we see several butterflies shooting through the air. Jesus comes to us in all kinds of unexpected signs. Let’s keep our eyes open: the sky is full of butterflies.”
(Text from “The Sky is Full of Butterflies,” by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker)
Anna Mgaloblishvili is a Georgian painter and art historian. She studied painting at the I. Nikoladze Art College and the Tbilisi State Academy of Fine Arts, where she was part of a group of students who established an experimental studio of Church Murals and Icons. It was one of the first attempts to bring ecclesiastical art into the university after the fall of the Soviet rule in Georgia.