Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gaudete Sunday

Third Sunday in Advent
17 December 2006, 7:30 a.m. Mass
St. Mary’s R.C. Church, in St. James
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Christmas Novena: “Jesus, the Root of our Hope”


“When that day comes… have no fear… the Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior… he will renew you by his love;”
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve people have been yearning to get back under the shield of God’s protection, back safe home where, as we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah, he will renew you by his love. Just as all generations before us, so we too, in the old language of romance, yearn to be swept off our feet by God, so to speak, and carried away from all the sorrows and trials of this world. If we’re serious, we know that no human companionship can do other than remind us of our ultimate destiny, to be happy with God forever, to be with the only One who can, really, renew us by his love.
As I say, this has been people’s yearning since the time of the fall of our first parents. What getting back to God meant or should mean has become progressively clearer thanks to the Law and Prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it has finally become crystal clear in the person of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Root of our Hope.
Our hope in embracing Jesus, in taking on Him and His teaching, is in and through Him to get back to God. The goal for now in this life and later, for all eternity, is to get to what St. Paul told the Philippians and tells us in our second reading for this Gaudete Sunday, this Sunday of Rejoicing: …that the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. St. Paul said to them and to us: “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord… there is no need to worry!”
When mommy or daddy takes a small child’s hand to cross a busy street that little child crosses without worry, confident that mommy or daddy will take care of any danger. With God, however, it is more than child-like trust: we really have nothing to fear ultimately, as St. Paul says: there is no need to worry! In Jesus this is our experience, yours and mine, not in the sense of complete fulfillment – heaven comes later – but in the sense of promise, of a sure hope. We set our eyes and our hearts on Jesus in the assurance that the salvation promised us will be ours in Him.
St. Luke’s Gospel says that after having heard and seen St. John the Baptist, a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ. John was that good, really; he announced the good news, but his baptism was a baptism of repentance with water; John pointed toward the Messiah. John basically told the people: if you are impressed by me, well just think, you haven’t seen anything yet: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Meantime, Jesus the Root of our Hope has come, comes, and will come again to save his people, to save us from our sins. In the light of this good news and before the face of God’s only Son, born for us and for us given, we can, let me say we must, react with that same feeling of expectancy as the people had who heard and saw John the Baptist. We too need to pose the question: “What must we do?” What must we do? John said repent, share what you have beyond your basic need in terms of food and clothing with those who have not. Be fair, be just, be content.
I read in the papers the other day about a young man shot off his bicycle for the gold chain he was wearing around his neck. Overpowering greed in somebody’s life and a total disrespect for the life of the other, perhaps an addiction, a habit to feed which respects nothing and no one, seem to be evident here. “What must we do?” Older folks here and even where I come from reminisce about our childhood, when nobody locked their houses, nobody put bars on the windows and doors, and nobody was afraid to go out for a walk after dark. Days gone by and sad to say that is no longer the case either here or there. Don’t misunderstand me: these are not the worst of times and it’s not the first time in the world we find ourselves comparing past to present and saying that something has gone wrong.
A gentleman from Santa Cruz, who now worries about the safety of his family because of the gang violence which has invaded his once peaceful neighborhood, told me that when he was a boy, the object was to be cool (a harmless enough pastime), now the boys all want to be tough (usually at the expense of others)… What must we do? Is more law and order the answer? It doesn’t seem to stop prison riots or prison violence, does it?
“When that day comes… have no fear… the Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior… he will renew you by his love;”
The prophet Malachi said that all that was necessary was to act justly and to walk humbly with your God, kind of like that happy child holding on to mommy or daddy’s hand. But is that really enough to be able to change our world? Is that really enough to let the light who is Christ shine forth and transform our world? Yes, I think so. Look at the categories of ordinary people and even those types notorious for disrespecting and abusing their authority to take advantage of others who opened up to John the Baptist (tax collecting was not a respectable profession back then and soldiers often abused their authority and weapons to supplement their pay). John, upright, humble and hungry for God’s rule in his life and in the life of the world, spoke from a pure heart. You can do the same for the world around you, adding as John did, that this is nothing, just wait until the Christ reveals himself in our midst.
Somebody, please, remind me after Mass who that statesman was who said that it is sufficient for evil to triumph that good men do nothing. The opposite is true, as well, and provides part of the message of this Sunday within the Octave of preparation for Christmas. Do not let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst. Pray to God and he will do for you more than you ever ask for or imagine. Pray rightly, though! The object of our prayers cannot be gold chains or other jewelry, not play stations, iPods or cell phones, not wealth or physical beauty, not Mr. or Ms. Right for the rest of my life. No, I pray Come, Emmanuel, Come, Wisdom of Our God Most High, Come, Flower of Jesse’s Stem, Come, Key of David, Come, Radiant Dawn, Come, Jesus, Root of our Hope! I open my heart and my life to Jesus, I let him in and taste already here in this life, by way of promise, the fruits of the life to come.
Is it that simple? What do you mean that simple? I suppose it is if your heart is in order and you hearing John’s call to repentance and follow it. If you have not as yet, then I would invite you, challenge you to take this path and set your heart and your hopes on Jesus. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…
Back to God, back on His side, happy, like St. Paul says, really and lastingly happy, with no reason to worry: is that not what our hope is all about? These days in the comics in one of the daily papers two children are having a bad dream that Santa Claus granted them their wish and brought them every single Christmas present in the whole world! We know that would not make us happy, nor do a lot of other things we dream about getting for ourselves or keeping for ourselves for a forever and ever in this life, which is here today and gone tomorrow. This world, everything and everyone in it, is passing away. Things wear out, even nice things wear out, and people grow old and frail and then pass on.
I got a very good question not too long ago from a young university student at the University of the West Indies. He said, “It seems as though the Church doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to here in our country. What is the Holy Father, what is the Catholic Church doing to regain its influence, its authority in our society?” I’ll pose the question to you as you reflect here at St. Mary’s during these days of the Christmas Novena on the theme, Jesus, Root of our Hope, but I’ll do it by twisting and turning the question a bit. “Are you fully on board as far as Church is concerned? You see, I won’t believe that you are fully grounded in Christ; that He is your hope, unless I see the evidence. Lots of other Christians can pray up a storm and preach up a storm for all the world to see. That’s not the Catholic way. A Catholic shows me that God is the center of his or her life, that he or she has set his or her life, hope ultimately, on Jesus, if and only if that person moves, each and every Sunday without exception, from home to church for Sunday Mass: I’m here, Lord, and I wouldn’t miss for all the world, because you are my life; you are the center of my life; you are my only real hope! Actions speak louder than words and nothing else will convince me you really mean it. Are you sorry for your sins? When is the last time you made a good confession? Tell me? No, do something! Act, just like in the Gospel today, when after hear John the people spontaneously asked, What must we do? And John said, do this and that! What’s the first thing you do on waking in the morning? Do you call on His Name and offer Him your day? Do you stop to thank Him before you eat? Do you bow your head when you pass a church? Do you pray before bed each night? Hope? Well, show me that you do; show me you really have put your trust in him by doing! He will renew you by his love. Have no doubt about it! I don’t!

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