Gaudete Sunday, the day when priests all around the world exclaim: ‘It’s rose, not pink’, when, yet another parishioner, or mischievous sacristan, comments, ‘You look resplendent in pink, Father.’
Today there is a burst of colour as the penitential purple of Advent is interrupted for a day. In the delicious anticipation of Christmas that is Advent, the Church gives us a little glimpse of the rejoicing which is soon to come. In the opening words of the Introit to today’s Mass, we repeat the line of St Paul to the Philippians, saying, ‘Rejoice [Latin: Gaudete] in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near’(Phil. 4:4-5).
We are impatient for the coming of the Lord and today’s readings have a mixture of exhortations to be patient; the Good News that the Messiah is amongst us already; and a beautiful picture of the blossoming of the desert and an end to sadness at the coming of the Lord.
I think there is a sense in today’s celebration of the Church saying that what we are impatient for is a good thing and so, like an indulgent parent, she lets us have one present early. However, there’s a good way to celebrate a little early and a bad way.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ll know of numerous incidents of athletes celebrating too soon: from swan dives in rugby where the ball slips from their grasp mid-air to runners crossing the line arms aloft only to have victory snatched from them by the runner who pushed to the end. This is obviously the bad way: celebrating before the hard work is done.
What’s the good way? The good way is the old adage of ‘keeping your eye on the prize’. This helps us strike the balance between doing the hard work of repentance and forgetting the reason for our repentance. You may have met the character who rejoices in his penance, but seems to rejoice in little else. Christ’s call to repentance is Good News because He is opening up the path to salvation for us. This is cause for joy, but a double tragedy if we reject His offer. The joy of a lavish celebration of Christmas will turn to a bitter pill if we have not properly prepared for the Second Coming, and it is the nearness* of the Second Coming, not Christmas, of which St Paul speaks.
We live in the between-times: the already, but not yet. We are privileged because we have heard the Good News and because in baptism we have been cleansed of the stain of original sin; so we rightly rejoice, but we prepare for something greater. What we are destined for is divine friendship; it’s the work of a lifetime and we don’t know how long we have left. We know the fragility of life and we remember the words of Jesus Himself who told us to be ready, ‘[F]or the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect’ (Matthew 24:44). Which will be first? Only God knows; so the time to prepare is now and the time to rejoice is now. We prepare lest we not be ready when He Comes and we rejoice because of what Christ has done for us and because of what He will work in us . . . if only we open ourselves up to Him.
*If you wish to read more on the vexing issue of the apparent delay in the Second Coming when St Paul has told us that it is ‘near’, you may be interested in the contribution of this blog’s editor to the recently published book, When the Son of Man didn’t come, see here . For the record the editor did not make me include this!