A visiting tourist left his hotel room on a Sunday morning, looking for a church. He approached a policeman and asked him for directions to the nearest church. He thanked the policeman for the information and was about to walk off when he turned and asked, “Chief, why have you recommended that particular church? It looks like a Catholic church. There must be other churches nearby that you could have recommended.” The policeman smiled and replied, “I’m not a churchgoer myself, but I have noticed that the people who come out of that church are the happiest looking people in town. I thought that would be the kind of church you would like to attend.” [Could it be Santuario de San Antonio? Sana.]
Today is Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. Joy is all over the texts of today’s Mass: Rejoice in the Lord always (entrance antiphon); enable us to attain the joys of so great a salvation (opening prayer); I rejoice heartily in the Lord (first reading); my soul rejoices in my God (responsorial psalm); rejoice always (second reading). It looks as if the Church wants us to take a break from our Advent penance—although you wonder if any Advent penance is really going on, with all the Christmas shopping and Christmas parties going on!
The first question that comes to mind is: Rejoice, why? What about? Do we have any good reasons to rejoice? What is it that makes us happy these days? Hopefully not just the material frills and perks of the season, such as the Christmas bonus, the 13th month payment, gifts, vacation, extra food, etc. There must be better and deeper reasons for joy. (One of the first gifts I got this Christmas is a book entitled, “14,000 Things to Be Happy about.”)
Today’s Mass readings help us discover the true joy of the season. In the gospel we meet John the Baptist, a powerful voice and a powerful witness to Christ. People were drawn to him because of his austere lifestyle. He made a difference. As somebody once said, “Do not give an explanation of your faith unless they ask you; but live in such a way that they will ask you.” Hopefully we will arouse interest for being forgiving, generous, and honest in business and in politics.
John the Baptist was thought to be the Christ, or perhaps Elijah, or the Prophet. However, he did not take advantage of the people’s mistaken opinion about him. He knew his role and stuck to it. He was not the light, but only a witness to the light. He gave Christ the place of honor. That’s it: Christ, at the very center of our life, at the center of our Christmas celebration; not overshadowed by Santa Claus, not drowned by the glitter of lights and décor, but outstanding and out-shining them all. He is the true source of our joy!
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.” Amid the noises of the Christmas caroling and Christmas parties, we must strive to find some time and place for silence and prayer in order to keep in touch with the mystery. It will surely enhance the joy of our Christmas celebration.
Finally, prophet Isaiah reminds us that we must provide reasons for joy to others. We must be messengers of joy: “[The Lord] has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor!” Definitely, this reading puts our Christmas celebration in focus. Our Christmas will be truly happy and meaningful only to the extent that we bring happiness to others, and share with others God’s blessings, just as God the Father has shared with us the most precious gift—his only Son. Sharing is another name for Christmas.