Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Sunday, December 17, 2017
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

     For many people in our midst, these are days of joy.  Finals week is over.  Some of you graduated from the university yesterday, so congratulations.  And many of us look forward to a bit of a break and seeing family and friends for Christmas.

     The Church calls today Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin is a command:  Be joyful!  But the kind of joy given by Christ is much more than the joy of achieving something. It is more a matter of receiving something.  In our second reading, St. Paul maps out the path to joy in three simple sentences:  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances, give thanks.

     This is not the kind of joy that comes from things going well in our life.  Remember St. Paul himself was often in prison, often beaten up and rejected, and eventually beheaded.  The joy he speaks of is not from a lack of adversity but in the face of adversity.  The joy he speaks of comes from above, when the Holy Spirit invades our hearts.  The joy he speaks of flows from prayer and being grateful in all circumstances, in all circumstances.

     If we seek that kind of joy, we seek Christ himself.  But how do we come to such joy?  People like me need some really practical advice in what to do.  Many people have found this practical advice in what is commonly known as the Serenity Prayer.  It is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential American Protestant theologian of the last century.

     You probably have heard the first part of this prayer, which asks the Lord for the grace to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  This is really important and helpful advice in how the live a peaceful life.

     Fewer people know the second part of this prayer, which continues on like this:  "Living one day at a time;  Enjoying one moment at a time;  Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;  Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;  Trusting to You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will;  So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever and ever in the next."

     There are three parts to this section:

     Living one day at a time.  This is so we do not become paralyzed by the anxiety of what might happen in the future, all the "what ifs" that can take over our minds and hearts.  We do not need to worry about tomorrow until, well, tomorrow.

     Then acceptance of reality.  The reality of our fallen world, and of the limitations of others, and the toughest one, our own limitations.  This is the part of the prayer I struggle with the most.  Instead of the constant frustration of thinking that something outside of myself needs to change for me to be happy, this prayer invites us to accept hardships as the pathway to peace.  Our challenges, our limitations, our struggles are God's will for us, and if we surrender to his will, we can become holy, we can become saints.

     The goal is to be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy in the life to come.  This means to drop the unrealistic expectation of perfect happiness now.  There is not perfect anything this side of heaven: no perfect life, no perfect marriage, no perfect family, no perfect parish, no perfect church.  There is not even a perfect priest, although Fr. Aaron comes really close!  When we accept limitations in ourselves and others, we have a real shot at being reasonably happy.

     Today the Church says gaudete!  Be joyful!  We may be helped by the practical advice of the serenity prayer, and certainly need the grace that comes to us in the Eucharist we are about to celebrate together.  May this lead us to the joy which comes from Christ himself, a deep and abiding joy which no one and nothing can ever take from us.