Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means, “Rejoice!” – and we visualize this by the rose-colored vestments and candle in the Advent wreath.
Yet, it is so difficult to rejoice in light of the unspeakable horror and evil that befell the 27 innocent children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, or the 22 children and an adult who were slashed by a man wielding a knife in a city in China, or the teenager arrested in Oklahoma for plotting to kill his fellow students and bomb his high school; and this all occurred on the morning of December 14th.
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, at the Vigil service at St. Rose of Lima Church on Friday night, spoke of the fact that true evil had touched the community of Newtown and that this evil would continue to have repercussions for many years.
Its consequences would be long lasting because it would continue to test the faith of the children and all those families and residents affected by this tragedy. He went on to say that it would be “a test not only of our faith in God, but faith in our fellow man – our community.”
He was right in saying that, given that the forces of darkness have always preyed upon mankind in an attempt to subvert and infect the beauty of the most significant element of God’s creation – our fellow human beings.
Through distortion of the good, and the promotion of rage and evil, the forces of darkness attempt to drag mankind down into the despair, and loss of God, that they themselves feel.
But, the knowledge of that ancient cosmic distortion of God’s creation, perpetrated by Satan himself, on a spiritual and historical level, is the exact reason for our celebration of the solemnity of Christmas. It is the reason for our rejoicing – for the moment of the birth of the innocent Savior marks the beginning of the end of the period of time that evil will reign on this earth.
We cannot help but remember another madman, King Herod, who upon learning from the Magi of the birth of this innocent child, gave the order to kill over a hundred children, and their parents, if they attempted to get in the way of his psychotic depravity. And we remember another grieving mother, Our Blessed Mother, who witnessed the horror of the killing of her child – and the tears that must have flowed from her.
Rage against motherhood, rage against childhood, rage against innocence: in two thousand years of Christian history this has become the sad spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man; it appears nothing has changed.
But, if we are a people of faith, we have opened our minds and hearts to understand that the birth and death of Jesus Christ – has, in reality, changed everything.
Today, Gaudete Sunday, we are called to rejoice, as St. Paul tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always” – not just in good times but in bad, as well.
How do we do that?
How do the parents, and husbands, and wives, the teachers and children, the communities of Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, and many other cities and towns in America, and the world, surrounded by the darkness of evil and senseless violence – do that?
To a secular person the answer would come simply from psychological and grief counseling that would occur over many years. Yet important as that is, it is not the only answer.
A close reading of the letters of St. Paul show us that it was St. Paul’s faith – the knowledge in his mind and heart that he shared a deep personal relationship with the Savior of the world – that enabled him to withstand all sorts of evil.
It was that mental memory of who Jesus was – what He preached – how He suffered and died – and the truth that Jesus – the Word of God and the Light of the World – had resurrected from the dead and had appeared to him – face to face – mind to mind – to express His love for all of us and to say that evil would never endure – it would never in the end – win.
It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled St. Paul to deal with his problems and maintain joy in the knowledge that all the evil that he faced, and that ultimately would kill him, was overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul tells us today “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
My brothers and sisters, the Apostle Paul does not speak empty words. They are there for us to hang on to with dear life in times of great trial and grief as we turn our heavy hearts over to Jesus and Our Blessed Mother.
It will be many, many years before the grieving parents, and the innocent children and adults heal from the trauma of Friday morning; yet, St. Paul tells us that healing is possible. The Blessed Mother’s life – and Jesus Himself – tells us that healing is possible: through daily prayer, faith, trust, and the love of God Himself. When we pray we must not forget these families or the families throughout the world who suffer, and walk the path to Calvary, carrying their own crosses thrust upon them by a violent world.
It is at times like these that we truly understand our own fragility and brokenness – and realize that we are not able to survive without the grace of God and the support of the people in our own families and community.
So on this Gaudete Sunday, our hearts and prayers go out to all the grieving people of Newtown, and we remember that we are called to rejoice in the truth that, even though evil swirls all around us, Jesus our Savior loves us – was born and was killed for us – and He will never abandon us; with that knowledge, and His grace and strength, we can endure any tribulation.
Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Sermon delivered by Deacon Iacono on Sunday December 16, 2012 at St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Romuald Chapel Wakefield, Rhode Island USA