Rejoice Always!

(Homily for Third Sunday Advent)

Today is Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word which means "rejoice." Zephaniah in the first reading says, "Rejoice, Oh daugher Zion. Shout for joy, Oh Jerusalem." St. Paul tells us to "Rejoice in all circumstances." What a challenge it is for us rejoice always! Fortunately we have two Advent figures to help us.

The first is John the Baptist. He was poorly dressed, hungry, laughed at--but he had a deep joy in his heart. He knew the Messiah was near. It is interesting that to prepare for the Messiah he does not ask us to do anything that extraordinary--just the simple justice that all of us recognize in our hearts. If you have two coats, give to the person who has none. Don't charge anything more than what is fair. Don't abuse anyone or make false charges. That is pretty basic stuff. You can find precepts like those in all great religions, in fact they spring right from each person's sense of the moral law.

But John adds something, "Be satisfied with your wages." How hard it is for us to be satisfied with what we have! We're always thinking about some time in the future when we will really be happy. Perhaps some here are thinking about what they will have for lunch--or maybe even looking forward to that moment when they can sink into their bed at the end of the day. This constant desire, projecting in the future causes us such unhappiness. In fact that desire is the root of our sadness. So John tells us, "be satisfied with what you have...and place your hope in the Messiah. He will renew the earth with fire--the Holy Spirit. He will fulfill all our deepest longings.

By quelling our immediate desires and looking beyond them to the coming Savior, John teaches us the key to joy. We have a second Advent figure who takes us a step father. He is also named John - Juan Diego of Tepayac.

We all have heard the account of how Juan Diego received the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his cloak. But what happened to him after the apparition? Even tho he was poor--he did not even have a pair of sandals--he divested himself of what little property he had. He gave his plot of land to his uncle Juan Bernardino and went to live in a small room next to the chapel where the tilma was enshrined. He lived there for almost seventeen more years till his death on May 30, 1548 at the age of 74. He spent those years telling his people about the appearance of our Lady. He went to confession regulary and was devoted to the Eucharist, attending Mass every day. He obtained a special permission to receive communion three times a week, something very rare at that time.

How much time did he spend just looking at the Blessed Virgin who left her image on his own tilma? She was not only his mother but his "daughter" ("niña mia, la más pequeña") Her beauty must have grown in his eyes. There are two moments when a woman is most beautiful. One is on the day of her wedding, but the second - and even greater - is when she is about to give birth. Mary appeared to Juan precisely as a young woman, pregnant with child, bearing within herself Jesus. It must have been pure joy for Juan Diego to have contemplated the Virgin in that state.

One important fact about Juan Diego is that he and his wife María Lucía had no children of their own. That would surely have been a terrible suffering, especially in that culture and at that time in history. But Juan Diego was rewarded for his patient suffering. He is sign to all of us to bear our crosses, as St. Paul says, rejoice in all circumstances. The Savior is near who will fulfill our heart's deepest longings.

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From Archives (Homily for Third Sunday of Advent, Year C):

2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 3: Joy
2012: What Should We Do?
2009: Joy as a Duty
2006: To Be a Happier Priest
2003: Profile in Courage
2000: A Priest's Examination of Conscience
1997: Rejoice Always!

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