Advent Reflection: Fr. Michael MacInnis, Director of Human Formation
Rejoice in Hope
These words are emblazoned around a crest of anchor on the back of Hitchcock wood chairs, on parish stationary, etched in the glass in the church hall, and on the website of at Saint Francis Xavier in New Milford, CT-- my first assignment as Pastor. This scripture passage was part of the spirituality and ethos of the parish.
On my first weekend at the parish, I was able to meet my new flock. Excited and eager for serving this community I met with parishioners in the parish hall attached to the church after each Mass. There were long lines of the faithful welcoming me to the parish. One parishioner stands out. Maria (I changed her name to protect the innocent!) was a sweet 80-something year old with an easy smile, a rosary in hand, bright eyes with a welcoming demeanor. She began our encounter with a pleasant exchange of welcome and blessing. Then she leaned in with a smile, holding my hand, and said, “I have grandchildren older than you. I hope you know what you’re doing.” “Have a blessed day.”
It was an interesting start of what would be six wonderful years of ministry. The motto of the parish would become a blessed reflection especially as the years unfolded.
Romans 12:12 reminds us to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Today the universal church celebrates the Third Sunday of Advent. For much of the Church’s history, this Sunday had a special name: “Gaudete” Sunday. The traditions surrounding this Sunday go back as far as the fourth or fifth century, as does the season of Advent itself.
On Gaudete Sunday, the season of Advent shifts its focus. For the first two weeks of Advent, the focus can be summed up in the phrase, “The Lord is coming.” But beginning with Gaudete Sunday, the summary might be, “The Lord is near.” This shift is marked by a lighter mood and a heightened sense of joyous anticipation.
The word “Gaudete” is Latin for “Rejoice.” In times when the focus of our anticipation is often on the negative and fearful, this celebration is a reminder that God who loves us is still in charge and that we await his coming not with fear, but with tremendous joy.
Today’s second reading, from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians, reflects this joy: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness shall be known to all. The Lord is near.”
The Lord, who is our Hope, is near and that is cause for rejoicing.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reflected, “Just as a man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope.” Hope is what sustains us through trials. Hope leaves room for God and His providence. Hope lets us believe that no matter how challenging the present is that we are going toward light. So, may we rejoice as we prepare our hearts for the commemoration of the Birth of Christ, the Light of the World.