Rejoice always -- even in the desert Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 -- 3:56 PM

This column is adapted from Bishop Robert C. Morlino's homily at St. Patrick Church, Sunday, Dec. 14.

under the gospel book

On the Second Sunday of Advent, we heard about John the Baptist as "a voice crying out in the desert" and we hear it again in this past Sunday's readings. And we heard, during that second week of Advent, about our Blessed Mother. We heard how this woman who was clothed with the sun, the model of the Church, was sent into the desert, where a place had been prepared for her; the desert meaning, briefly, tough times.

A poll of Americans came out this past Sunday morning saying that 2008, largely for reasons of the economy, has been the worst year within their memory. The poll, in our terms, says that, largely because of the economy, 2008 has been, for most Americans, a desert. Those poll results surprise no one.

For reasons with which many of you are familiar, 2008 has been a tough year for me personally. It has not been the worst year within my memory, but it has been a tough year. It's been one of my two toughest years as bishop. But, we all have tough days and we all have tough years. I don't admit that this year has been tough in any way looking for sympathy, but I say it because, in the desert, where John the Baptist was and where Mary the model of the Church was sent, in the desert, it is still possible to rejoice -- it must be!

Perfect Love is near

The message of Scripture on the Third Sunday of Advent is "rejoice always! Always rejoice!" Whether the economy is doing well or poorly, whether I'm having a great year or a tough year, whether the circumstances of my life are very positive or whether they're negative, rejoice in the Lord always!

And our Holy Father posed the question on Sunday morning, "and what is our motive for rejoicing always?" St. Paul tells us the reason: "the Lord is near." And the Holy Father told us that sometimes people took that statement that "the Lord is near" to mean that the end of the world was near, that Jesus was going to return very soon. However, the Christian community came to understand that that statement wasn't saying necessarily that the Lord was near because the end of history and the final judgment were going to be very soon, but rather the Lord was near because the Lord is the fullness of the love of God. And the fullness of the love of God -- Perfect Love -- is always near.

Perfect Love is always near, even in the desert. Perfect Love is near, even in hard economic times. Perfect Love is near when the bishop gets beat up in the press. Perfect Love is always near. And that is our reason for rejoicing always, because there cannot be joy if there is no hope, and we can never be hopeless when Perfect Love is near.

Pointing to the Messiah

And what does it mean to rejoice because God in Christ, because Perfect Love is near? It's all in the Scriptures of the Third Sunday of Advent. The first point about rejoicing is to be able to say, with John the Baptist, "I am not the Christ, I am not the Messiah." If you heard the Scriptures, you heard that John said it, he admitted it, "I am not the Messiah." And that is part of the rejoicing, rejoicing because I am not called to be the Messiah. I don't have to be the Messiah -- all I have to do is point to the Messiah.

If I try to be the Messiah, I'll make a complete mess of things. All I have to do is say, "Look, there is the Lamb of God, I am not He," saying, "He must increase, and I must decrease." And saying that brings joy! Salvation doesn't depend on me, it depends on the Lord! I'll point Him out to you. I don't carry the burden of being the Messiah, I just carry the burden of pointing to the Messiah. I hope that gives you as much joy as it gives me. And that's the first aspect of joy.

Pray constantly

The second aspect of joy, which St. Paul points out on the Third Sunday of Advent is, "pray constantly." And what does that mean? It means, in part, come to Mass on Sunday, it means pray privately every day -- say my morning prayers and my evening prayers, of course. But all of us have responsibilities that take us away from presence in the church or private prayer from time to time. All of us have responsibilities that take us away from our prayer books. And yet, joy means praying constantly. That means, whatever we do, we do it in a way that we could offer it to God as a sacrifice of praise.

To pray constantly means, in the first place, to avoid sin, because we cannot offer sin to God as a sacrifice of praise. But then it means, whatever we do -- at work, at recreation, in our family, whatever we do -- we do it in such a way that if the Lord said, "give me a fitting sacrifice at this moment," we could give him what we were doing. We do everything that we do so that, right then and there, it could be offered as a sacrifice of praise to the Lord. That's what it means to pray constantly, and that's also what it means to be a saint. That's what we all have to strive for.

And if we realize that we're not the Messiah, and we don't have to be, if we live our moments during the day, such that any one of them could be offered as a sacrifice of praise to God, then we rejoice -- even in the desert! Even on tough days, even during tough years, even in hard economic times, we can rejoice.

Give thanks to God

Lastly, St. Paul tells us in the Scriptures of the Third Sunday of Advent, "in all circumstances give thanks to God," for that is his will for you. In all circumstances, in hard economic times and in good, whether you're getting beat up by the press or not, give thanks for any circumstance in which you find yourself, because that is God's will for you. God is permitting something to happen to you, not only for your good, but for your best.

As I reflected this morning, I thought of John Paul the Great, standing at his window, when he was starting to loose his ability to speak, but still could. As he appeared at that window on Sunday, he'd say, "I give thanks to Christ for the suffering I have today, because it draws me close to the crucified Lord."

It's easy to give thanks in good times. It's very hard to give thanks in the desert, when times are tough. John Paul was the great example of publicly thanking God for the sufferings that came into his life. And what a beautiful witness that was for all of us. John Paul was a great example of giving thanks in the desert -- a voice crying out in the desert, giving thanks like John the Baptist and like our Blessed Mother, like the Church.

And as a part of the Church, we are sent precisely into the desert. So, when we find ourselves in the desert, let's not say, "what's wrong, why are we in the desert?" Scripture has told us, John the Baptist was a voice crying out in the desert; our Blessed Mother was sent by God, as a model of the Church, into the desert, where a place had been prepared for her. What in God's revelation to us would lead us to think that we are not meant to be in the desert? What in God's revelation to us would lead us to believe that there would be no hard times?

It is almost as if we need to be in the desert, with John the Baptist, with Mary and like Mary, as the Church. So today let's realize that true rejoicing means, as John Paul the Great said, living out, at times, the truth of suffering, because, the truth of suffering proves the truth of love. And that's where there is great rejoicing -- not once in a while, not only in good times, but always.

Praised be Jesus Christ!