The Third Sunday of Advent
                                                                                    December 17, 2023

                                                                                                                        Fr. Josť Maria de Sousa Alvim Calado Cortes, F.S.C.B.
                                                                                                                                                                           Pastor of the Church of St. Peter
                                                                                                                                                                                North St. Paul, Minnesota

Sunday Reading Meditations


Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always" (1 Thes 5:16).  As we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent; we are invited to rejoice in the Lord.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul urges us to rejoice.  In the New Testament, there are eleven occurrence of the exhortation "rejoice!," showing us how important it is to rejoice in the Christian experience.  When we read about the lives of the saints, we see they are animated by a certain inner joy.

Christian life is founded in joy.  Jesus comes to the world to bring us joy.  In the first reading we read: "(...) he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the  brokenhearted" (Is 61:1).  Christ wants to share his joy with us.  He wants to include us in his rejoicing with the Father: "At that very moment he rejoiced (in) the holy Spirit and said, 'I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike'" (Lk 10:21).

Saint Francis of Assisi is the greatest example of a joyful saint.  However as a human being like ourselves, he also had some moments of sadness.  Thomas of Celano, Francis' first biographer, tells us how the saint faced those moments: "He took the greatest care to protect himself from the dire sickness of melancholy, and when he noticed that it was creeping into his soul, he immediately had recourse to prayer" (cited in Gobry 2016).

With prayer, Saint Francis was able to conquer his sadness.  There is an intimate connection between joy and prayer, as Saint Paul says in today's reading: "Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:16).  A lack of prayer may be why people around us are far more likely to be complaining than rejoicing.

In order to rejoice, we need to practice what Saint Paul suggests: "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus" (1 Thes 5:18).  How can we give thanks to God in all circumstances?  It is not easy to give thanks when circumstances seem to be against us.  At such moments, doubts that God really loves us can assail our hearts.  God knows what our greatest happiness is but we do not.  Sometimes God leads us in strange ways.  If we thank him, even in the obscurity of incomprehensible situations, we shall start to experience a new and different joy.

We are not talking about natural joy.  That type of joy depends on the circumstances: we feel happy when they are favorable and sad when they are not.  The joy that Jesus brings to the world is different, one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Mary's joy at the moment of the annunciation is the same joy that enables her to stand before the cross.

To rejoice, we need to pray.  We need to recognize the One who is among us.  In today's Gospel, John the Baptist says to the Pharisees: "(...) but there is one among you whom you do not recognize" (Jn 1:26).  Jesus is present in all circumstances.  If we constantly search for his countenance, we shall find that even what we think are adverse circumstanc4es can become favorable: "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus: (1 Thes 5:18).

It is our encounter with Christ that brings us true joy.  Sadness comes either from our nature or from sin.  That is why Saint Paul says: "Refrain from every kind of evil" (1 Thes. 5:21), as sin deprives us of the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we are clearly invited to pray more in order to rejoice more.  May our awareness of God's proximity fill our hearts with joy!  Amen.