“Gaudete in Domino semper” – Rejoice in the Lord always! (Fil 4,4).
These words of St. Paul open the Holy Mass of the third Sunday of Advent, which is therefore called Gaudete Sunday. The Apostle exhorts Christians to rejoice because the coming of the Lord – that is, his glorious return – is certain and won’t be long in coming.
The Church makes this its own invitation while it prepares to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, looking ever more to Bethlehem these days.
In fact, we await with certain hope the second coming of Christ because we have known the first. The mystery of Bethlehem reveals God-with-us, the God who is near us, not simply in a spatial and temporal sense. He is near us because he has ‘wedded’, one might say, our humanity. He took the human condition upon himself, choosing to be like us in every way, except in sin, so that we may become like him.
Christian joy comes from this certainty: God is near, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and in pain, in health and in sickness, as a friend and as a faithful spouse. This joy remains even through trial, in suffering itself, and it remains not superficially, but in the depth of the person who trusts in God and confides in him.
Some might ask: Is this joy still possible today? The answer is given, with their lives, by men and women of every age and social condition, who are happy to consecrate their existence to others.
Was not Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in our day, an unforgettable witness of true evangelical joy? She lived daily in contact with poverty, human degradation, death. Her soul knew the ordeal of the dark night of faith, and yet, she gave everyone the smile of God.
We read in one of her writings: “We await Paradise with impatience, where God is, but it is in our power to be in Paradise starting here and starting now. To be happy with God means to love like him, to help others like him, to give like him, to serve like him” (La gioia di darsi agli altri [The joy of giving oneself to others], Ed. Paoline, 1987, p. 143).
Yes, joy enters the heart of whoever places himself in the service of the little ones and the poor. God takes up his dwelling in he who loves this way, and the soul is in a state of joy.
If instead one makes happiness an idol, then one loses his way and it is truly difficult to find the joy whereof Jesus speaks. Unfortunately, this is the proposition of cultures which place individual happiness in place of God, a mentality which finds its emblematic effect in the search for pleasure at any cost, in the use of drugs for escape, as a refuge in artificial paradises which then prove to be totally illusory.
Dear brothers and sisters, even at Christmas, we can lose our way, replacing the true feast with something that does not open the heart to the joy of Christ.
May the Virgin Mary help all Christians and men in search of God to arrive at Bethlehem and encounter the Baby born for us, for the salvation and happiness of all mankind.