Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe

On this day we celebrate the Gaudete Sunday. It’s the reason for the rose vestments and candle. The word “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”, and we are rejoicing today because Christmas draws closer, just like our final beatitude in heaven. We are halfway through Advent and the Church wants us to rejoice. The First Reading invites the people to rejoice because, “The Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst, a victorious warrior. ”The Responsorial Psalm says: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel. ”And in the Second Reading, St Paul encourages us to be happy at all times, and to pray always for our needs with thanksgiving. We rejoice today because we have our Lord Jesus Christ, the Master of our destiny, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb.12:2).
It is little wonder that the word “joy” appears several times in the today’s readings. Jesus comes to save us, to restore our communion with God, and to guarantee us the plenitude of joy and the security of everlasting communion with God. That is the reason for our joy; a joy founded on hope; not the blind optimism of the modern secular world, but the sure redemptive hope that we will see the Lord face-to-face and his name will be written on our foreheads (Rev 22:4). This is hope based on the promise of the One whose word is “yes” and “amen”. Our salvation and fellowship with God is consummated, rock-solid and eternal. And so we rejoice in the certainty of the promise coming to fruition, and with confidence we echo the words of St Josephine Bakhita: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. ”This is the message of Christmas which resonates around the Christian world during this time.
What is special about our Christian Joy? The distinguishing factor is its eschatological dimension –connection to the afterlife. It is inseparably linked to our hope in the beatific vision, and not determined by the state of affairs here on earth. Unlike the secular “joy” which is geared towards and is almost synonymous with pleasure, our Christian joy transcends the sufferings of earthly life. That is why the holy martyrs would march to their death singing songs of praise. St Charles Lwanga, as he was burning at stake, said to the guard: “It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.” St Ignatius of Antioch, as he neared his martyrdom, wrote a Letter to the Romans saying: “Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” That is the unique character of Christian joy – death-defying and awe-inspiring. It is not averse to hardship but rather embraces it as a stepping stone to glory.
Our Christian joy never fades, because it springs from a living relationship with Christ. That is why the Christmas tree is evergreen – a sure sign that our hope is enduring. Our Christian joy gets more intense as we advance in the spiritual life. That is why the vestments today are rose-coloured, symbolizing the threshold of sunrise in the morning. The skyline takes on a pale rose color that gradually gets redder and brighter as the sun rises. For us, life is like a long sunrise, and death is the gateway into the bright, everlasting day of eternal life. Our Christian joy, like goodness, is self-replicating – the more we give the more we gain for ourselves. This is why we exchange gifts at Christmas, as a measure of goodwill and solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
How then can we sustain this living relationship with Christ to ensure that our joy remains unshaken? Well, St John Baptist provides us a clue in the Gospel Reading. When asked by the people what to do he said to them: “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the one who has none”. This is a call to generosity, and this call is as important today as it was two thousand years ago. It was the Second Vatican which observed that: “Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the world’s citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. (Gaudium et Spes # 4). This is moral imperative that demands our attention this holy season.
Next, John says to the tax collectors: “Exact no more than your rate.” This is call to fairness in business, politics and government. We must learn to treat everyone fairly no matter how lowly placed or powerless they might be. As Scripture says: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his wages on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down” (Deut. 24:14-15). The unfair treatment of workers is one of the grave sins crying up to heaven for vengeance. Finally, John the Baptist says to the soldiers: “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!” This is a call to justice and right conduct by those who work for others, and those in charge of public law and order. The worker must put in a decent effort and avoid corrupt practices! Those on welfare support must not defraud the system that sustains them! And those in law enforcement must not abuse or intimidate those they are paid to protect!
These three things – generosity, fairness and justice – demand serious consideration from us at this time. Let us all examine ourselves to see how well we have done in these areas. May the good Lord, the fountain of mercy and spring our joy, help us with the grace to apply ourselves to the demands of the true discipleship, so that our joy may be complete when we finally see him face-to-face! AMEN!

Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18



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