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!