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IN A NUTSHELL
The tone of
the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is set by the coming joyful days of
Christmas, which the Advent season awaits.
notion of joy mystifies many. Pope Francis' words offer insight into the true
meaning of joy.
joy, Advent anticipates new life. A mother and writer describes the
similarities between pregnancy and Advent, reflecting on her own experience and
the Virgin Mary's.
Advent calls God's people to patience and looks to the stories of people in the
Old and New Testaments who awaited the fulfillment of God's promise.
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Advent joy for
By David Gibson
Catholic News Service
It is not
mysterious at all that the church lodges an annual day of joy in the heart of
Advent. The tone of this December day, called Gaudete Sunday, is set by the
coming joyful days of Christmas, which the Advent season awaits.
something is a little mysterious about joy itself. The entire notion of joy
mystifies many. For joy is as difficult to define as the happiness it
resembles. Am I joyful if I do not feel wonderfully alive and excitedly hopeful
at every moment?
themselves harshly against an imaginary standard for joy, perhaps joy as they
imagine it to exist in other people's lives. Here they suspect that they do not
gets this. He realizes that "joy is not expressed the same way at all times in
life, especially at moments of great difficulty."
In "The Joy
of the Gospel" ("Evangelii Gaudium"), his 2013 apostolic exhortation on
evangelization, the pope said that "joy adapts and changes, but it always
endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when
everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved."
Pope Francis made clear his conviction that joy can coexist with "great
difficulty" in life. A problem-free life does not define "joy."
"The most beautiful and natural expressions of joy that I have seen in my life
were in poor people who had little to hold on to." He turned attention as well
to "the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional
obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of
lamentable, though, he said, that "sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and
complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were
met." The lives of some Christians, he observed, "seem like Lent without
The road to
joy is not paved by "narrowness and self-absorption," Pope Francis suggested.
Neither is joy characterized by "naive optimism."
Christians are "challenged to discern ' how wheat can grow in the midst of
weeds" and to remain confident that the light of the Holy Spirit "always
radiates in the midst of darkness."
Is it time
to rethink the illusory image of joy that makes itself known too frequently --
a dispiriting image that makes us think we've missed out on joy?
Scripture readings for Gaudete Sunday Masses in 2016 could aid this rethinking.
"The coming of the Lord is at hand," they proclaim (Jas 5:8). A Christmastime
of joy is visible on the horizon. But what will its joy feel like?
of the joy farmers feel after waiting patiently for a harvest and viewing "the
precious fruit of the earth" (Jas 5:7). If their joy is not of the
jumping-up-and-down, gleeful kind, it nonetheless is real.
also is experienced when "the blind regain their sight" and "the lame walk" (Mt
11:5), the Mass readings suggest. This prompts memories for me of what it feels
like when, after thinking long and hard about the right decision to make in a
consequential matter, my eyes suddenly open and I see clearly the steps I
makes me think, too, of the quiet sense of satisfaction felt when a fearful,
reluctant friend or family member -- possibly someone suffering the effects of
an addiction -- takes the first steps into a more rewarding lifestyle.
there is the joy that, at least for a while, displaces other worries when
someone close to us recovers from an energy-sapping illness. We rejoice as
"feeble" hands regain strength and "weak" knees are firmed-up (Is 35:3).
when considering what joy looks like in real people's lives, think how the
spirit soars when a desert bursts into bloom and the "parched land" sings (Is
are deserts in many lives. These deserts may assume the form of lifeless,
damaged relationships at home or the loss of any sense of life's purpose. Joy
of a special kind is experienced when hard work, renewed commitment and faith
bring a desert back into bloom.
enough, however, any of these forms of joy could bring on tears. But they will
not be tears of despair.
typically feels more joyful when a sense of expectation pervades it. It is
easier to relish life when we look forward to something, whether a birth, a new
home, a child's return, a vacation or a reunion that promises time together
with friends or relatives we seldom see.
is what makes Advent unique. Advent looks ahead expectantly. It points directly
away from despair and toward the joy that accompanies the Lord's coming -- not
his coming into a perfect world but into the actual world we inhabit.
Francis insisted on Gaudete Sunday 2013 that Advent joy is "not a superficial
joy." It is the kind of joy that comes of being able to reopen our eyes, "to
overcome sadness" and "to strike up a new song."
(Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff
for 37 years.)
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by new life at Advent
By Effie Caldarola
Almost 30 years ago, I volunteered at a pregnancy support
program. Our office was in a ramshackle house in an old neighborhood. We
offered free pregnancy testing, a big deal back then.
Grocery shelves were only on the cusp of stocking easy
do-it-yourself at-home pregnancy testing kits. Instead, you made a doctor's
appointment to confirm your suspicions.
So, a free, confidential walk-in test done on the spot was a
gift, especially if you were scared, alone, poor.
Giving a woman her results was a spiritual experience. Either
a negative or positive test could bring deep emotion -- fear, disappointment,
joy, panic, loneliness, betrayal, relief.
It was moving to be with another in a moment of such deeply
personal revelation. Ultimately, we wanted each woman to know she and her child
deserved dignity and that we would help.
Advent and pregnancy have much in common. Advent is all
about anticipation, a looking forward to a mystery yet to be revealed. Like
pregnancy, Advent speaks to expectation, but not to certainty. Advent, like
pregnancy, invites us into a hopeful future that lies before us wrapped in a
cloud of unknowing.
The Jewish people did not know the Messiah for whom they
waited. In him, they invested hope without understanding. Pregnancy brings that
ambiguity, that hope in the unseen.
I experienced three pregnancies, two of which took me
That's probably why, for me, the early words of Luke are
among my favorite Scripture passages. Gabriel's visit to Mary is loaded with
emotion. Imagine the fear and perhaps even panic of young Mary.
Despite the bold words of the Magnificat -- God "has thrown
down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly," -- Mary's personal
experience must have been similar to countless women before and since who have
experienced a surprise pregnancy.
Someone is growing within me, a stranger close to my heart.
When the angel Gabriel delivers God's wish that Mary bear
the Savior, he also reveals that her cousin Elizabeth is with child, "for
nothing will be impossible for God."
Those consoling Advent words are soon followed by the two
words in Luke's Nativity story on which I often dwell -- "in haste."
Those words describe how Mary journeyed from the north, down
from her home in Galilee, to the hill country of Judah, or Judea, to visit
Elizabeth. On the map, it doesn't look so far, but for a young girl on foot it
was a daunting expedition to the arid land of her cousin.
"In haste" tugs at my heart, describing the rapid, anxious
footsteps of a girl seeking solidarity with another woman, another woman also
surprised by new life. My two daughters, named Elizabeth and Maria, remind me
of this female alliance, this partnership of women.
During my days working at the pregnancy center, we were
hoping for another child. Elizabeth was heading for kindergarten and no brother
or sister had yet appeared in our future. We were disappointed but undaunted.
One day, things were slow at the pregnancy center and no
drop-ins appeared. I knew that once again, this month offered hope for us, a
hope that had been dashed many times.
I've forgotten exactly how those old tests worked, but I
know it was very early for this particular test to be accurate for me. I gave
it a shot anyway.
I remember that the positive strip was very pale. We
probably would have suggested to a client that she come later for a retest. But
I knew. I experienced a deep sense of presence that day, as if I were not alone
in the little office any longer. It was as if my personal angel had appeared in
that pale strip of paper.
I was being invited to journey yet again in expectation and
mystery. During Advent, we each experience that invitation in different ways.
With God, all things are possible.
(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for
Catholic News Service.)
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A people of patience
By Paul Senz
Catholic News Service
It probably could go without saying that our culture today is largely
one of instant gratification. It seems that with every passing week, there is a
new fad or product that promises faster results, shorter waits, or more
exciting features for those with short attention spans.
In many ways, patience is no longer considered a virtue -- the common
perception is that patience should not even be necessary, because we should not
have to wait.
In the liturgical life of Catholics, waiting is a foregone conclusion.
Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Perhaps a more fitting word to
describe this season would be "anticipation."
There is so much that we are eagerly anticipating in the weeks leading
up to the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. We await the coming of Jesus
Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. We await Christmastime, with its family
celebrations, gift-giving and general merrymaking.
And in this anticipation, we are called not simply to wait, but to be
The third Sunday of Advent is commonly called "Gaudete Sunday." Gaudete
-- rejoice! It might seem an odd thing that we are called to rejoice in the
midst of the anticipation. We have been waiting so long, and we are not yet at
the end. Why rejoice?
We rejoice because the wait is almost at an end. We know that we are
near the fulfillment of God's promise, that he is coming to save his people
from their sins. What better reason to rejoice could there be?
The second reading is from the Letter of James, which exhorts us to be
patient. "The coming of the Lord is at hand," James tells us, so we must be
patient, we must make preparations, as does the farmer who waits for the fruits
of the earth.
In this passage, James also calls to mind our forebears. "The prophets
who spoke in the name of the Lord" are exemplary models of hardship and
And this could not be truer: If we look back at the stories recounted
in the Old and New Testaments, what we hear is one overarching story of God's
providence and steadfastness and countless examples of the need for his people
to wait patiently.
We think of Noah and his family on the ark, waiting patiently for the
rains to subside. We think of Moses leading the Israelites through the desert
for 40 years, waiting to reach the Promised Land.
We think of Jonah in the belly of the whale, waiting for three days. We
think of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah and the other prophets, calling on
the people to wait patiently and trust in the Lord.
We think of Jesus and his incessant reminders that his time "had not
yet come." We think of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, waiting for
who-knew-what after the crucifixion and, following the Ascension, waiting for
Jesus to come again.
And here, in that great tradition of holy men and women, we wait
patiently, for the advent of our King. Gaudete -- rejoice!
(Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Mike Aquilina, in their
book, "The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics," write that in
the Middle Ages, Catholics occasionally observed Advent for only nine days,
"representing the nine months that Jesus was in Mary's womb."
Today, Catholics can still partake in this nine-day tradition by praying
an Advent novena for nine days.
According to Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina, "the custom has become very
popular in the pro-life movement, as it recalls the prenatal life of the
Messiah, who was truly human from the moment of his conception."
An Advent novena:
Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment at which the Son of God was
born of a most pure virgin at a stable at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing
cold. At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech thee, to hear my prayers and grant my
(Mention your intentions here.)
Through Jesus Christ and his most Blessed Mother.
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