Gaudete Sunday this year was truly a Sunday of rejoicing for me. I thank God for that, and I pray that it was a great day of rejoicing for all of you, as well. It would have been enough had I simply been given the gift of our liturgy in anticipation of our celebration of Christ's coming, but there were some additional gifts to be experienced.
One blessing was the presence of Fr. Christopher Klusman, a still newly ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, along with some terrific women and men who were present to pray the Mass in a particular way by Father Chris' gifts in American Sign Language. The presence of so many of our friends who suffer with hearing impairments, along with Father Klusman, who is deaf himself, allowed us almost a taste of Pentecost, where many languages were spoken, all in praise of the same God!
Gift of celibate-chastity
On Sunday I was also privileged to experience, on behalf of the whole Diocese of Madison, the joy of witnessing as a wonderful woman offered publically the consecration of her whole life and virginity to the service of the Lord. After years of working with her spiritual director, Sue Gudenkauf requested that I receive her formal consecration to a life of celibate-chastity.
We, as a diocese, are so fortunate to have Sue approaching the Lord so that she might be consecrated to Him as a virgin. We show how much the Church -- any follower of Jesus Christ -- esteems virginity, celibate chastity. (Of course, the Church also esteems married chastity very highly.) But in a particular way, Sue comes along for us, by God's Grace, at a good time, because we esteem chastity and virginity, but we know what the world thinks of chastity and virginity -- they have no use for them.
The commitment of a Christian to a life of celibate chastity is a fulfillment of the words spoken in Scripture, when the Lord says, "as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts" (Is 55:9). We can never forget that. As we go about the life of daily witness, those who have consecrated themselves fully to the Lord undertake a very special ministry, a ministry of holiness -- with Mary and like Mary -- to remind us that, in the end, nothing matters except holiness. And chastity is a very privileged path to holiness in the virginal life.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank Sue and all those who have given their lives in virginal consecration for that witness. It is a charism given to Sue and to others for the good of the Church and for their own personal holiness. We all welcome that charism and we all need it!
Rejoicing always and praying always
The Gospel message that we heard on Gaudete Sunday provides words of strength and love not only for Sue, but for all of us. In the Second Reading (1 Thes 5:16-24), we receive the commands: "rejoice always," and "pray always." It is no accident that those two are put together, because the only way that one can rejoice always is if one can pray always.
But the concept of praying always, I think, is a bit difficult to understand and in some ways I think many of us have a conflict when it comes to praying always. There are many people who have so many commitments to prayer that, actually, they don't perform their work in the best possible way because they have a conflict between doing their work and making enough time for prayer. In fact, it's a very good problem to have nowadays.
We all have to make enough time for true and focused prayer. But, the Lord tells us, through St. Paul, "pray always!" And that is the only way you'll be able to rejoice always. We can certainly conclude that St. Paul's words don't mean: pray always, therefore don't work. Even those who are called to the contemplative life do work, whether they farm, whether they make Altar bread, etc.; whatever good work our contemplative Sisters and Brothers do, they do excellent work.
Work is necessary. So, if one is going to pray always and rejoice always, one has to learn really how to do one's work with such excellence that it is a beautiful offering to almighty God. How many of us think of our work that way? So often we think, "in another hour I can go home," "why do I have to get up this morning to do this?" If we are going to answer the Lord's call to pray always and so rejoice, we've got to so excel in our work that when we are finished, we can, with a clear conscience, present that work to God.
We really are commanded to pray always, and the only way that we can pray always is if we do our work in such an excellent way that it is a beautiful thing to present to the Lord at the end of the day -- whatever that work is, whether it's farming or janitoring, banking or lawyering. It is a challenge for all of us.
So, we should be called to an examination of conscience about prayer and about work, because only if we pray always -- meaning only if our work is done well, as a worthy offering to the Lord -- only then can we rejoice.
'I am not the Messiah'
In our Gospel from Sunday, Jesus provides us another reason for rejoicing, as He relieves us from what would be a terrible responsibility. In the Gospel (Jn 1:19-28), they ask John the Baptist who he is. John does not tell the people who he is, but tells them who he is not. He says, "I am not the Messiah."
What a relief to St. John the Baptist and what a relief to you and me that we don't have to be the Messiah! We have to be the ones who point to Him, but we should never think that we are messiahs.
Every morning when I get up, one of the first things I do is to look right in the mirror and say, "you are not the Messiah!" and that makes a better day for me, right from the start! It is beautiful to know that the only one who is called to be the Messiah and to solve all of the problems of the world is the only one capable of doing so -- Jesus Christ. Jesus does want me to take His place at the Altar, but He doesn't want me to take His place in healing all of the problems of the world -- which only He can do and only He will do, at the end of history.
Those then are two beautiful keys to joy, not only for a consecrated virgin, but for all of us: pray always -- that tells us something about how we should work; and don't ever forget that we have a Messiah who is truly capable and willing to heal all! Those are two marvelous keys to joy, which we can take from Gaudete Sunday!
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Continue to rejoice as we come closer to our celebration of Christmas! Praised be Jesus Christ!