By Father Kyle
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” This well-known 1963 Christmas song by Andy Williams claims that what we are fast approaching in this season of Advent is the best time of the whole year. After all, there is so much singing, so many decorations and beautiful lights, so many people coming together and treating each other with a little more kindness and generosity than usual. During this latter part of the season of Advent, which we enter into today, many people are rightly excited for Christmas, but for many other people, it is not experienced that way. Depression is usually higher during this time of year, leaving many people bereft of the joy and peace that Christmas brings. Speaking for myself and looking back to 2018, at my first and only full year of my first priestly assignment, I can say that I was not feeling much of either, for many reasons, and in that darkness of soul, I was not as excited for Christmas as I had been in years past.
One day, in the midst of that gloom, my parents came up to Erie from Franklin and were there for the 12:10pm Mass that I offered, and they surprised me by bringing with them three of my uncles and one of my aunts, who I had not seen in quite some time. I had spoken with my parents before about how much our family seemed to have been growing apart in the past several years, one of many things that contributed to my depression, and on that particular day, my family came to me. We were all there for the Mass together, and we went out to lunch together afterwards. I felt so uplifted by them, by their presence with me. They did not take all my problems and pain away, but they were shining lights, letting me know that I was not alone. They were there for me and with me, and that meant the world to me.
This third Sunday in Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday,” the Latin word “gaudete” meaning “rejoice.” The first and second readings we just heard, as well as today’s Responsorial Psalm, all speak of rejoicing and joy. “[The Spirit of the Lord God] has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor…I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul….” “My soul rejoices in my God.” “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior….” “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always.” The mysterious Servant of the Lord whom we hear about throughout much of the book of the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in first-person that part of his God-given mission, as anointed by Him, was to bring glad tidings, or “good news,” to the poor. The Messiah, for whom the Jewish people waited and desired for so long, would Himself rejoice in being the object of God’s favor, thus setting an example for those He would come to redeem and being an inspiration for them to rejoice in the Lord.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm contains for its verses some of our Blessed Mother’s Magnificat, in which she expressed her own joy at being so favored by God and in the salvation that her divine son would bring to her and to the whole world. In speaking to His fellow Christians in Thessalonica, St. Paul the Apostle urged them to always rejoice and give thanks to God for all that He had done for them in and through Jesus Christ, simultaneously reminding them of Jesus’ second coming in glory. Regarding St. John the Baptist, about whom we have heard in today’s Gospel reading and throughout much of this season of Advent, we must remember that he leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when Mary drew near with his savior and Lord, and that joy did not end on that day because the Lord never left him, even though He was physically apart from him throughout most of his life. That joy remained in him throughout his life and mission of preparing His way, even during his austere residence in the wilderness of Judah and his time in Herod’s prison, leading up to his martyrdom.
When we hear all these words from Scripture, we might be tempted to think, “Great, they found some joy and peace back then, but what about us, what about me?” We might be in sorrow at the loss of a loved one. We might be fighting a strong habit or addiction and experiencing little to no progress. We might be struggling with a broken relationship in our family or with a friend and all the hurt and pain that comes with it. There are countless things that might be trying to rob us of our joy and peace during this time of year, but the Lord is as near to us, each one of us, as He was to ancient Israel, St. Paul, the Thessalonians, those who heard John the Baptist, and our Blessed Mother. He never leaves us, even when we think He has. Look at the tabernacle. He is still here; He is always here with us, and no matter what trials we might be undergoing right now, we can rest assured that He hears us. He hears and answers our prayers if we trust in Him, if we keep reaching out to Him and asking Him for the graces we need each day.
He heard me on that day several years ago, as my depression started taking hold of me, when I was feeling devoid of joy and peace, and He gave me a sign of His presence with me and concern for me. He holds us when we feel like we are falling and lifts us up when we feel like we have hit rock bottom and have no cares left to give. His presence in its fullness is the eternal joy for which we long when He comes again and or when we die and depart this world, and His presence here in our midst now is what reminds us that we are never alone. His presence and His infinite love for us, is cause for rejoicing, no matter what obstacles stand in our way. He does not take away all our sufferings, the crosses we have been given to bear, but He is there for usand with us as we carry them, leading us to find our delight in Him as He finds His delight in us.