Third Sunday of Advent
Recently someone who was mourning the loss of a loved one came to me and asked: “Father, several months have gone by and I am still grieving and hurting—is this revealing that my faith is weak and that I’m not entrusting my loved one to God?”
Our liturgy for the Third Sunday of Advent urges us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). This celebration of Gaudete Sunday exhorts us to rejoice because the Lord is near, in fact, the great solemnity of His Nativity is quickly approaching. But, as people of faith, what do we do when we don’t feel like rejoicing?
We can’t deny the stress and anxiety that people in our country and throughout the world have experienced—the feeling of frustration, fear, and worry for the well-being of loved ones, division in our nation, and those who are suffering and will spend Christmas alone. How do we rejoice when so many people live with heavy hearts?
We don’t have to rejoice from a place of where or how we might be feeling, but we rejoice in the truth of God’s saving action in the world—the mystery that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus’ birth completely changes everything, for it is the fullest and most concrete sign of God’s love for the world: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” It’s from the knowledge of this great mystery that we can rejoice even in the midst of trials and suffering, as St. Paul specified, “in all circumstances give thanks.”
I’m convinced that our faithfulness to daily prayer and meditation gives us the foundation for knowing God’s love, not just in our mind, but also have the certainty of God’s love in our hearts. An authentic friendship with God is important for our life of faith because it allows us to trust that God can use all things to work for our good. Our faith shows us what God has done for all humanity, and our personal prayer opens us up to a love that is unique and consoling. The human heart is this place of encounter with God—where God dwells in us, and we become convinced that this love is everlasting.
I heard a priest comment that the primary obstacle to a deeper prayer life is that people do not truly believe that they are loved by God. Daily prayer convinces us of God’s love, and it ends up transforming the way we view ourselves, others, and it even changes how we look upon the suffering we endure. So, even in times of hardship, we can trust that God’s grace is abundant, His presence and love are still available, and the trial we are experiencing has the potential to bring about our growth in ways that might not come about otherwise.
“The Lord is Near”—He is near indeed, not only in the anticipation of celebrating Christmas, but the Lord is near to your heart, at all times and in every moment. Take the time to free yourself from distractions and the busyness of the holiday season, to sit in silence, and to listen to that voice that whispers and speaks to your heart. It is in welcoming that voice that we find peace, it’s in delighting in that voice that we can truly rejoice!
Reflection by Fr. Paul Sheller, OSB