|12/13/2012 9:01:00 AM|
AMAZING GOD REFLECTION
An Advent message: Rejoice!
BY FRAN ROSSI SZPYLCZYNAfter years of Church scandal and corruption, during a time of distrust of the Church, a saint came along who would help change minds and hearts. This saint had a great desire to counter feelings of anger, suspicion or a lack of trust, and replace them with a love of the Lord.
If you were in Rome during the 16th century, you might have spied him, standing in a piazza or on a corner. He might stand out because he was often wearing ridiculous clothing, and sometimes half of his beard was shaved off. It was in this way that St. Philip Neri helped to change the course of Church history and bring many souls to know Christ.
Neri is known for his extraordinary evangelizing, which was helped by his offbeat sense of humor. By joyfully reaching out, St. Philip left a huge imprint upon the Church and the world. This was accomplished by engagement and conversations which often began with distrust or curiosity. They would eventually turn to laughter, which became moments of conversion for many.
Introducing others to Christ came naturally to Neri, and in a joyful way. He once remarked that "a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one."
Joy is our theme for the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. "Gaudete" comes from Latin, and it means "rejoice." In our rejoicing, our hearts are made more perfect as we prepare a place to welcome Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Prepare a place for the Lord - what place? We are to prepare a place with joy - what joy? In our culture, the broader call of these weeks is to prepare for Christmas. We spin ourselves dizzy sending cards, cooking, shopping and socializing.
Gaudete Sunday directs us to the heart of our joy, reminding us to focus on the Lord.
Every year, I vow to practice a quieter, calmer Advent. I like to think I will achieve it, but I rarely do. This year, I have attempted to trim some activities, creating needed space. This is a mirror of our liturgical season, so that a place for the newborn Lord might be prepared in my heart.
If we keep our preparation focused on joy and on our hearts rather than on our tasks, the birth of Christ might be anticipated with the silent, patient, hopeful waiting of this season.
It is dangerously easy to make religious practice into a dry, somber act. How can we joyfully prepare this barren place for new life?
Joyfulness is the core of the words of the prophet Zephaniah in the first reading for this Sunday, which tells us to shout and sing for joy, to "be glad and exult."
We are told not to be discouraged: We have a savior who wants to rejoice in gladness. God is in our midst, having removed all judgment against us. I imagine St. Philip, with half a beard and funny clothes, telling people about the promise of Christ!
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul repeats the same message: "Rejoice!" As if he understood that we might be skeptical, as if he knew that we would lack joy, he repeats himself: "I shall say it again: Rejoice!"
What don't we understand? The Lord is near, offering peace beyond our understanding. What is available to us through Christ is a kind of joy not known before. "A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one:" St. Philip reinterprets St. Paul, who said it first, using different words.
Why is this so hard to integrate into our lives? I ask myself this. Although I make my way, I stumble. I try to muster some joy and gratitude, some hope and recognition of the God who is in my midst, healing, forgiving, loving and reconciling, right here, right now.
Here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas, and I'm not there yet. What do I find in my midst? I find anxiety over shopping and money, incomplete work and not being good enough for God. Yet God is in our midst, bringing us joy in great abundance. We are not asked to manufacture joy; we are asked to respond to it in kind.
The question at the heart of Luke's Gospel for this Sunday is, "What, then, should we do?" John the Baptist, forerunner of the Lord, is drawing attention by baptizing and preaching. Unlike St. Philip, who often used levity, John the Baptist is very serious - but they have more than a few things in common.
People want something, but they do not know what to do, so they ask John. John minces no words: "Give more. You have two tunics? Give one to someone else! If you have anything, share it." Even the despised tax collectors want to know what to do, and John is as clear with them: "Do not take more than you are supposed to take."
That went against the standard of the time - and of course, John is addressing us, as well. Can we do this? Is this joyful?
It is, if we stop confusing joy with happiness and begin to understand the state of our hearts when we encounter Jesus. When we stay with Christ, we find the heart of joy. We come to discover that God is in our midst, and we are forgiven.
This God in our midst, this God-with-us, has given deep peace. This God, our Emmanuel, has come to save us in the form of the Christ child. That is at the heart of our joy.
Perhaps, out of that joy, we can find the ability to both prepare a place for the Lord and also to give what we have away. The more we come to know Christ and give everything away, the more He comes to live in our hearts. Now, that is cause for rejoicing! In that rejoicing in Christ, our hearts - perhaps not joyful at first - might be turned to Him.
(Mrs. Szpylczyn is a Catholic writer from St. Edward's parish in Clifton Park who works at Immaculate Conception parish in Glenville and blogs at http://blog.timesunion.com/bread. This reflection was originally published in "Hungry, and You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C," available from Clear Vision Publishing. Readings for the third Sunday of Advent are Zep 3:14-18, Phil 4:4-7 and Luke 3:10-18.)
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