Rejoice in the Lord always
Today’s Mass has a constant refrain, “Rejoice!” Stop worrying, it tells us: the Saviour is coming. Rejoice!
But rejoicing does not come easily to fetters like ourselves. When somebody urges us, “Be of good cheer,” we are liable to retort, “What is there to be cheerful about?” We can tick off a whole litany of miseries in proof: inflation, violence, political wrangles, family problems, physical ailments. When we have run out of other items, there is the weather. Sometimes we sigh seriously for the “good old days” before we were born. Everything seems to have been simpler then, and at least relatively perfect. A person could really rejoice, we say, in times like those.
One day back in the fifth century, St. Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo, was preaching to a congregation of worry-warts like ourselves. He has heard them sighing, too, for the “good old days.” In this case it was the days of the Apostles four centuries back. Then, they said, everything had been rosy. Then, the glow of Christ’s resurrection still tinted Christian life.
Augustine took issue with their unrealistic nostalgia. “You hear people complaining,” he said, “about this present day and age because things were much better in former times.” “I wonder,” asked the Saint, “what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors – would we not still hear them complaining?” You may think past ages were good, he concluded, but it is only because you are not living in them!
True. We are not yet residing in heaven, but neither were our forebears. The “good old days” never existed. Our cause for joy is not the clouded present but a cloudless eternity. Even now, faith and hope in eternal life can bring us real joy, because they instill in our hearts “God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding.” (Philippians, 4. Today’s second reading)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
C245: John the Baptist seems to be giving a set of guidelines to follow, to prepare for Jesus’ coming (Lk 3:10-18). Is this a formula to gain God’s favor when he comes?
There are two dangers to watch out for during Advent. One is to think we can “earn” God’s favor by being “a good little Catholic.” Pelagius was a monk from the fifth century who thought and taught that we could be perfect, all by ourselves. We just had to have the will power and determination to live a good moral life. Of course, that heresy (Pelagianism) was destroyed by Augustine’s arguments and eventually condemned by the Church, because at its root it challenged our need for redemption, for Christ, and even our need for a sacramental Church. [This is also one of the many flaws in Buddhism, Islam, etc.] God’s grace is freely offered, freely given; we cannot “earn” it or “gain God’s favor.”
The second danger during Advent is “memory loss.” We need to avoid getting wrapped up in “end time worries” and apocalyptic fears which make us lose sight of a terribly important point during Advent. That important point is that Christ already dwells within us from our Baptism! By his life, death and resurrection he has cleared the way between us and God. He has already leveled those mountains and filled those valleys, making our journey back to God possible, and now we wait with joyful and hopeful expectancy for his second coming.
As we reach the midpoint of Advent, it is time for to check the “travel weather.” Is our Advent journey superficial, focused only on “methods” and external actions? Or have I made a deliberate effort to change my behavior and seek Jesus Christ at a “deeper,” interior level? Do I recognize that I need his grace every moment of my life? Is my effort to grow closer to Jesus this Advent coming from a sense of love or a sense of fear? Have I even made a real effort in the first place? It is not too late to start.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! God never forces himself on anyone. He offers us a relationship, and even gives us the grace necessary to make the right response — but the free will choice to accept or reject Him and his ways is still ours (CCC #1730). Since we have this free will, it demands responsibility on our part (CCC #1734), because the root of sin is still in the heart — the free will — of man, as the Lord teaches us (CCC #1853; Mt 15:19-20). Pray earnestly that His kingdom come, and that we respond from our hearts to his actions and invitations as we await his second coming (CCC 2816-18).
Q402: Why would so many different classes of people go to see John the Baptist and seek his baptism?
If you had a chance to ask Pope Benedict XVI one question, and be assured that he would answer you immediately, what question would you ask him? Well, John the Baptist was faced with a similar situation 2,000 years ago. He had magnetism; everyone wants to shake the hand of famous public figures, and get advice from a holy man of God. The prophets had been silent for a very long time. Their reappearance (John the Baptist) meant that the Messiah would not be far behind.
If you notice the three types of questioners in today’s Gospel (Luke 3:10-18), you will see a specific pattern. John the Baptist has just called them all a “brood of poisonous snakes,” and told them to “produce good fruit” or else! Now that sort of prophetic word got their attention! First the crowds ask what they need to do, and the Baptist tells them to share their possessions. The hated tax collectors also wanted to be baptized, and asked the same question; John tells them to stop abusing their taxing authority. Finally, even the hated Roman soldiers sought John’s advice. They, too, are advised not to abuse their position of power and authority.
Possessions, money, and power – – the same three things that are usually stumbling blocks on the road to salvation for most people today. It recalls the camel-and-needle story about “rich” folk entering heaven. But these words are more than just suggestions from an ancient “Ann-Landers-type” advice columnist named John. These accusations about improper life styles and the ethical way to produce good fruit are coming from a prophet, one who speaks God’s will, not his own will. The message is timeless, because whether spoken by John the Baptist or Pope Benedict XVI, it is God’s will that we all live the Christian way of life. John tells us then and now that good fruit will be the only “evidence” of a repentant heart.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Catholic Church “echoes” the words of the Baptist, encouraging everyone to engage in “works of mercy,” both spiritual and corporal (CCC #2447). Performing works of mercy are indeed “bearing good fruit,” and truly are one of the many signs of a compassionate and repentant heart.
Rejoice in the Lord Always!
The prophecy of Zephaniah is only three chapters long. For two chapters he belabors Israel with the punishments she will suffer for her infidelity to the Lord. But now, at the end, he promises that God will return to his people, not as a punishing judge but as a loving savior. The temple will again be a sign of God’s presence among his people, so “Cry out with joy to the Lord.” Paul too tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Do not be anxious. Ask God for your needs and his peace will come over you. Luke tells us that the people asked John the Baptist, “What are we to do?” and John tells them and us to “prepare the way of the Lord” not by changing our state of life, but by changing our way of life, being concerned for the poor and doing to the best of our ability what our state in life requires of us.
Father, ever faithful to your promises, prepare our hearts to see the coming of Jesus in our daily living. Let us see the face of Jesus in our neighbor and so join in St. Paul’s “Rejoice always; the Lord is near.”