In the 1st Reading today, on this Gaudete or ‘Rejoicing’ Sunday, we see the prophet Isaiah rejoicing in his call to prophecy. “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God. And the key characteristics of prophecy are outlined here, including integrity, salvation and healing. But yet, it is clear from the words of the prophet that both the gift and the fruits of prophecy come from the Lord. And Isaiah considers that the correct response to these gifts is to rejoice and to praise the Lord.
Then, in outlining the importance of faith in the 2nd Reading, St. Paul again reminds us that it is God who has called us and that he will not fail us. Again, the notion of being called by God is important, and the faithful response to this call is to pray constantly to God, to thank him for the gifts we receive, and to rejoice in the gift of his love which is given to us in Christ Jesus.
There are many things in life that we strive for, and every person has certain talents and gifts. Sometimes what we strive for comes easy to us, whereas at other times we have to work really hard to achieve our goals. In any event, it is always good to strive to be the best that we can be. However, it is also important to acknowledge that many of the good things in our lives are blessings from God. We need to realise that our gifts are given to us in the service of others, so that we can all play our part in building up God’s kingdom.
And in the Gospel today, John the Baptist exemplifies that understanding. By contextualising his ministry as announcing the ministry of Christ, he gives us all a wonderful example to follow – particularly an example in modesty and humility……“I am not fit to undo his sandal strap”. In other words, John sees himself as just the messenger. He is none other than “a witness to speak for the light”.
These final days of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth are very special days. In fact, they are sacred days. Above all, they are days for rejoicing. But do we really rejoice? I was greatly taken aback recently when someone asked me: How is it that in Ireland we don’t celebrate our faith; we keep it to ourselves, and at times we even feel that we must apologise for it?
It’s true that in Ireland we have gone through (and continue to go through) very difficult times. As a result, many people have lost faith in the institutions (including the Church). And given the suffering which so many have experienced (followed by their perceived subsequent abandonment by the institution) this is understandable. And yet, although the ‘institution’ is important, we must always remember that the Church is a much wider entity than those who might appear to make up its governing body. The Church is above all the ‘People of God’ and a community of faith. We must recognise that Jesus Christ is the foundation of that ‘people’, and the source and the summit of our faith. And we should never forget that it is in our faith (both as individuals and as community) that we can find hope, comfort, strength, and most of all, joy.
Just like Isaiah, St. Paul and John the Baptist in the readings today, we too are called to preach the Good News. We too are called to be prophets - to preach a message of comfort and hope to those who have suffered, and “to bind up hearts that are broken”. Most of all, we are called to convey the ‘gospel’ in the way we live our lives. Above all, we are called to be people of joy. Like John the Baptist, our ministry and lifestyle should always point beyond ourselves - to the source of all ministry, Jesus Christ himself.
So today, Gaudete Sunday, is a day to rejoice. And the entrance antiphon invites us to do just that: “Rejoice in the Lord always…….the Lord is near”. But maybe during these days (as we prepare for the coming of Christ) the question we should really all be asking ourselves is: What does our Christian faith actually mean to us; does it make us better people; and (most importantly) does it make us a people of joy?
Fr Jim Butler