Sunday, December 14, 2014

Traditional readings, Third Sunday of Advent

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh.
Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I'm always suspicious of Christians who go on and on about the joy of the Gospel. God wants us to be rich and successful and maniacally happy at all times, they tell us. Rejoice, celebrate, party hard, carry on! Those of us who are grim and reserved by nature, well we must be bad Christians then. The Gospel hasn't really taken hold of us. We lack faith. We make the little baby Jesus cry. The Joel Osteens of the world, they must not ever suffer or feel bad at all, so strong is their faith.

Scripture superficially supports the happy go lucky types. Today is also known as Gaudete Sunday, taken from today's epistle: Gaudete in Domino semper. Doesn't St. Paul himself tell us to rejoice always in the Lord? I think the words "rejoice" and "joy" are becoming as abused as the word "faith." Many people, even many Christians, believe that faith means to believe in something without any evidence at all to support it. The Church has never held to this definition of faith, going so far as to anathematize those who claim the existence of God cannot be proven through reason alone. The theological virtue of faith means accepting truths solely upon the authority of the God who has revealed them.

When St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, does that mean we should always be partying hard? Not necessarily. We may feel emotional joy in the fact of our baptism and being in a state of grace, but such emotions are generally gifts from God. We can't manufacture them at will. Everyone suffers and everyone feels bad from time to time, even and especially Catholics. The joy of the Gospel consists partly in rejoicing in our suffering. We have hope in God and hope for paradise where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death. As far as the Godless heathen is concerned, suffering is just one damned thing after another. The Christian suffers but he has faith that the God who loves us won't test us beyond our endurance.

John 1:19-28: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: Who art thou? And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.
And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No. They said therefore unto him: Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias. And they that were sent, were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said to him: Why then dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet?
John answered them, saying: I baptize with water; but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not. The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. These things were done in Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 
Humility is one of the greatest of Christian virtues. Christ tells us, "Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart." Unfortunately, humility has a bad reputation these days. We think being humble means being a door mat. We think of the humble man as one who neurotically runs himself down, who never stands up for himself or speaks out when the situation warrants it. The humble man is the beta male, the runner up, the good sport who doesn't care about winning or losing. Sounds like a nerdy loser, right?

That's not how the saints understood humility. Humility means recognizing yourself for what you truly are. What are we compared to God? We are weak and sinful creatures. We are incapable of performing meritorious good works without the grace of God. It's God who leads us to prayer, to fasting, to all virtue and holiness. Humility means acknowledging that we are as nothing compared to God, and yet still he loves us and takes care of us. Because we are made in his image and likeness, no human life is worthless or useless. Our fallen nature often rebels at submitting to earthly authority, let alone the authority of God. The saints tamed their egos through mortification. Mortification can take many forms: fasting, abstaining from harmless goods, wearing hair shirts, keeping silent, forgiving injuries, etc. The idea behind mortification is to strengthen our will and our spirit to be more devoted to the things of God. We see the spirit of mortification live on in an increasingly secular world. How many people diet and subject their bodies to rigorous discipline because they want to look beautiful on the outside? Are we going to do less to look beautiful on the inside?

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