Gaudete Sunday 2012

A propos Gaudete Sunday, several days ago I wrote the following for my column in this week’s Universe:

This Sunday the Church invites us to rejoice in a big way. Our Saviour is coming! It isn’t an impersonal salvation we are awaiting but a person, someone with a name and personality, Jesus of Nazareth. So, rejoice we ought; but what if rejoicing seems artificial? How do we rejoice when we feel nothing, or if our hearts are breaking because of death in the family or some other tragedy? Do we just try to put on a happy face?

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced that they were expecting a child, the media suddenly became attentive. The language they used changed, even in the most ‘pro-choice’ newspapers. There was no talk of a ‘foetus’ having been conceived; no dour allusions to silver spoons and gilded circumstances. No, the Cambridges were expecting a baby, a human being with a history and, please God, a future destiny. The most surprising people seemed to take pleasure in the prospect of new life, adding their own good wishes to the chorus of congratulation. This well-wishing was quite independent of anything the well-wishers were personally experiencing. It was, if you like, general goodwill and hope evoked by the prospect of a new birth.

Sometimes we are so in awe of the majesty and holiness of God we can overlook the fact that we are invited to rejoice in the birth of Jesus in much the same way as we rejoice in any human birth. We do not have to falsify anything, certainly not pretend to a delight we may not feel. We have only to acknowledge that with this birth life and hope are reborn in us and the world generally. There, surely, is reason to rejoice.

However, even that may be too hard for some. How can I rejoice when all I know is blankness and despair? If we cannot climb over the mountain, we must burrow underneath. The first reading at Mass, from the prophet Zephaniah, tells us how. If we aren’t rejoicing, we need to know that God is rejoicing over us. He is so filled with joy and delight at the prospect before him, he is dancing — indeed, dancing for joy.

I’ve put some phrases in bold to remind myself, and perhaps some of my readers, that when we are grieving for all those little children and their teachers in Newtown, or all those killed by the storms in the Philippines (the death toll is now over 1,000), the call to rejoice doesn’t mean falsifying anything we think or feel. It is enough to know that God is rejoicing over us, wiping away the tears from our cheeks, gathering us to himself in an ever closer embrace. That is what salvation means for us, and, incidentally, what it means for our Saviour: a joy so deep and pure that those arms stretched out on the Cross are ever ready to receive us. Gaudete!


5 thoughts on “Gaudete Sunday 2012”

  1. My, what a beautiful encouragement to take joy in Christ, our Savior! It’s much easier, perhaps even politically correct, to let our souls express the burden of the circumstances of recent days. But we have great reason to rejoice and we must make a choice to do so. And maybe others will see Jesus Himself in us and discover their own reason to rejoice. Blessings to you, Sister, and to your community.

    • All true. However, those who feel joyful need to be sensitive for those for whom emptiness, loneliness, desolation and depression are a daily reality. The joyfulmess of others only increases their sense of not belonging and can drive them to despair. They are given the impression that those around them believe they ought to feel good and can feel guilty and inadequate for not doing so. Feelings can not be manufactured or willed.

      • I must have put things badly as your comment suggests you understood the reverse of what I was trying to say, Maria. ‘Happy face’ joy can indeed make others feel bad, and is often false anyway. Not to be recommended at any time, least of all when others are suffering/grieving. The joy I was talking about, the joy that led Jesus to endure the Cross, isn’t so much a feeling as an alignment of will with God’s, an acceptance, resignation if you like, that is active rather than passive and draws its strength from God.

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