Happy “Gaudete Sunday,” everyone! Some would wonder what sort of greeting that is! I send you this greeting on this Rose Sunday or Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice and it underscores the tune of today’s liturgy. You must have observed the change from violet to rose—a much brighter color. You also noticed the third Advent rose-candle different from the rest and corresponding to the vestments to create a harmony of rejoicing. Then the readings of today echo the mood and atmosphere of rejoicing. An Ode written and put into song by Henry Purcell for the funeral of Queen Mary on December 14, 1558 took a line from today’s second reading, Phil 4:4-7. Purcell wrote in old English:
“Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again, I say, rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God... And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”
These words were actually written by Paul from his prison cell: in prison of all places. Can people rejoice in prison? St. Paul would rather ask in Rom 8:35: “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Would imprisonment or torture or nakedness or hunger or the sword?” He says: The peace of God surpasses all understanding. Purcell captures same in the beautiful Ode to Queen Mary.
Why is there rejoicing? The straight answer is: “The Lord is at hand.” As kids in my family, we usually waited in anticipation for the arrival of my older siblings for Christmas, from the city where they worked. The mere announcement that they’ll be home for Christmas gave us tremendous joy as we knew that they’ll be coming with new dresses, shoes, school bags, and most importantly, new football (soccer ball). By December 16th, we are very anxious, or rather full of joy as the assurance of their coming is enhanced by a letter or a phone call. What do we do to prepare for their return? We clean the house, wash the curtains and drapes, mow the yard, cover potholes and put things at their proper places. We wake up looking for more things to do.
In the dialogue with John the Baptist which we read in today’s gospel, the people asked, as my siblings and I would: “What must we do?” That should be the question on every lip at this point in our advent journey. How may I experience a full blossom of the coming and anticipated joy? John tells them to share their goods with the poor. Have you given a gift this season to someone who cannot give you back? Have you contributed to St. Jude’s? Everyone should be part of the giving. Children should be taught to give toys to another child who has none or donate a pair of kids’ socks to the clothing drive. Even soldiers and tax-collectors asked what they could do. Our military veterans who are home for the holiday are not exempt. Banks, credit card and pharmaceutical companies, gas stations, lenders, and politicians who have made a fortune from people’s sweat are called to give massively this season. Those who have made huge profits by charging high interest rates should start writing off people’s debts. Airlines that have enjoyed low cost jet fuel yet charged cut-throat prices for checked bags and extra leg room must now give. Everyone should play a part in alleviating the sufferings caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
In 12 days, we’ll sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” Would you be part of the peace announced by John? You might have posted Christmas lights, trees, snowmen, and Santa to their places in the house. How about putting your soul in order through forgiveness and reconciliation? Have you fixed what needs fixing in your life, your soul, and your relationships? Listen to John the Baptist as he calls you to prepare a highway for the Lord.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo