The image of Saint John’s vision in the Apocalypse (1360-1390) is by Jacobello Alberegno. I chose it because the Eternal Father is vested in a lovely rosy pink garment. Gaudete Sunday in heaven?
Third Sunday of Advent
A Homily on the Introit
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God (Philippians 4:4-6).
Rejoice in the Lord Always
The Introit of the First Sunday of Advent was like the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: «All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee» (Psalm 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Isaias 30:30). On the Ember Wednesday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. «Send down dew from above ye heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One» (Isaias 45:8). The four Introits of Advent constitute a complete pattern of prayer or, if you will, an itinerary of the soul.
Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from the Epistles of Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. «Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God» (Philippians 4:4-6).
Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy
What the Latin gives as, «gaudete» and the English as «rejoice», is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, «chaírete». It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. «Chaire, kecharitoménè!» «Joy to you, O full of grace!» (Luke 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. «Chaírete» was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth and in the ear of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. «Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy» (Philippians 4:4). Saint Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative — a command to be joyful — as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. «What I wish for you, what I send you, what I offer you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy».
There is in this a mystery: God gives what He commands, and commands what He gives. How can we not recall the words of Saint Augustine: Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis — «Give what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt» (Confessions X, 29). In commanding us to be joyful, God gives us His joy. And in giving us His joy, He rightly commands us to be joyful.
The Lord is at Hand
The second sentence becomes more intelligible in the light of the first. Paul says, «Let your gentleness — or your modesty, your courtesy, your forbearance, your serenity, your meekness — be known to everyone» (Phil 4:5). In other words, give evidence around you of the gift you have received: grace, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord. Show each other faces that are serene and peaceful, radiant with joy, faces that reflect the loveliness of God. And he adds, «the Lord is at hand» (Philippians 4:5). This is the great central affirmation of the liturgy today, and every day. «The Lord is at hand» (Philippians 4:5).
In this there is a daily and practical means of loving one another, of distributing to those nearest and dearest to us the alms of joy. A smile is the alms of joy given freely to the brother who crosses one’s path, or meets one’s gaze, or, in a moment of dejection, looks to us for a sign of consolation. In the cloister, as in a family, a smile is a gift without price. Saint Thérèse who was herself cured by the smile of the Blessed Virgin, said: «A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul».
God is present, and from his presence streams all grace, all loveliness, all joy. Saint Paul draws a very practical conclusion from this: «Have no anxiety about anything» (Philippians 4:6). He who is to come is already here, near to us, close at hand. Were God absent, had God not yet come in His Christ and in the gift of the Holy Ghost, we might have reason to worry, reason for anxiety, and for fear. Worry and anxiety are an affront to the graciousness of God, a denial of his nearness to us, a turning from Him who has turned His Face towards us. Saint Paul is categorical: «Have no anxiety about anything» (Phil 4:6). You will recall the words of Saint Teresa of Jesus: «Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone is changeless. He who has patience wants for nothing. He who has God has all things. God alone suffices».
A thousand reasons not to follow Saint Paul’s mandate come to mind. «But I have this, and he has that. This thing is lacking, and of another thing there is too much». «We have an old house to make ready for the men who will be joining us; we have a kitchen to renovate, a church to build! Where will we find the means to carry out works such as these?» This kind of thinking leaves us wide open to an attack of the «what ifs». «What if this happens, and what if that?» It is easy to listen to the voices of our fears, our insecurities, our need to arrange, rearrange, and attempt to control even things beyond our control. The Apostle says, «Have no anxiety about anything», but we hold ourselves excused, saying, «Is not a little anxiety, just a little bit of worry reasonable and right?” Saint Paul is not moved by our rationalisations. «Have no anxiety about anything» (Philippians 4:6).
The Epistle repeated, word for word, the text of the Introit. And the Communion Antiphon will deliver the same message: «Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be ye comforted and have no fear; behold, our God will come and save us» (Isaias 35:4). Again, the marvelous pedagogy of the Church! She knows that during the Introit, the Epistle we may have been distracted for a moment or inattentive. She wants us to hear the message nonetheless, and so she repeats it again and again at Communion: «Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be ye comforted and have no fear; behold, our God will come and save us» (Isaias 35:4).
The «Behold» of the Communion Antiphon echoes the «Behold» of the invitation to Communion: «Behold, the Lamb of God; behold, our God will come and save us!» And so, he comes. The Lamb comes in the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood; He comes in His Eucharistic advent to comfort us and deliver us from every fear.
Saint Paul gives us the key to a worry-free life, the means to stop grumbling, fretting, and trying to manage and control everything. “In everything,” he says, «by prayer let your requests be made known to God» (Philippians 4:6). Saint Paul sends us to prayer because in prayer God accomplishes the things that of ourselves, and by ourselves, we are unable to do. In prayer we wait, all of us — the weak, the poor, the misshapen, the broken, and the wounded– for God’s gifts of grace, and loveliness, and joy. When Mother Yvonne–Aimée went to prayer, she used to say to Our Lord:
I come to thee, O my God, that thou mightest give to me, to ask of thee, to hope, to humble myself, to submit. O my King of Love, do thou in my soul the wondrous works of thy goodness.
God Silent in His Love
It is in prayer, especially in adoring silence before the Blessed Sacrament, that we experience the truth of the prophecy of Sophonias: «The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, He will save; He will rejoice over thee with gladness, He will be silent in His love, He will be joyful over thee in praise» (Sophonias 3:17). How I treasure that one mysterious phrase: «He will be silent in His love” (Sophonias 3:17). Silebit in dilectione sua. The silence of Christ, loving us in the mystery of His Eucharistic advent, is the wellspring of all our joy. Join Him in His Eucharistic silence and He will give you the joy of His dilectio, the love by which He singles you out, cherishes you, and reveals Himself as the Bridegroom of the soul.
The Sacrament of Our Joy
Today’s Introit, you see, is a blessed command and a gracious gift. To us who «know not how to pray as we ought» (Romans 8:26), the Holy Ghost communicates the perfect and all sufficient prayer of Christ Himself. The Most Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of our joy. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the inbreaking of divine joy. «Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy» (Philippians 4:4). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!