Sunday, December 16, 2007
Sermon of Fr. Gabriel for The Third Sunday of Advent/ Gaudete Sunday
This Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, that’s from the first word in Latin for the Introit, which means “rejoice” and that’s also taken from the Epistle where we just read St. Paul saying: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice.” That is the theme, every year, for the Third Sunday of Advent. It’s one of joy and expected joy, expecting the great joy of Christmas, which is to come very soon. And so, even though this season of Advent is a penitential time in preparation for Christmas, every year, on the Third Sunday of Advent, The Church allows a little mitigation of that and so instead of the violet vestments, the priest may use the rose vestments, which has a more joyful character to it than the penitential purple, it still reminds us that we are still in this time of penance and preparation. You’ll notice that there are flowers on the altar, which is not allowed on the other Sundays and ferias in Advent, but it is allowed on this Sunday. So the Church gives this Sunday a little foretaste of the joys of Christmas, which are very soon to come, especially in a year like this year where Christmas falls so near to the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We only have nine more days of Advent before Christmas.
I wanted to reflect today upon this theme, what St. Paul says in the Epistle: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The spiritual writers warn us about the dangers of sadness and how it is a good sign with us that we are going on well in the spiritual life, and we have cheerfulness about us. Now that doesn’t mean that sorrow is a bad thing. There are two types of sorrow. One of them is bad and one is good. There is a type of sorrow where someone is sorrowful to the point of despair. You have someone who is sorry for their sins but they are despairing over their sins, never thinking that they are going to overcome them. That is not a good sorrow, not a Christian sorrow. That is the kind of sorrow and trouble over sin that the devil tries to get us to have where he gets us to simply give up trying.
But now a good and true sorrow for sin is that kind of sorrow that is tempered by the virtue of hope, a trust and confidence in God. Although we grief very much over the fact that we have offended God by our sins, we nevertheless do not give up trying to fight them, we trust that God will forgive us our sins, we make a good confession and he will give us the grace to overcome them. That is a very good sorrow and of course, it is a very good thing to sorrow over our sins because they offend God.
Now, one of the things the devil tries to do is to tempt us to one or two extremes. There are many contradictions in the spiritual life and when the devil can fit one thing against another it seems to be contradictory, then he can get us to fall or at least to prevent us from making the progress we should in the spiritual life. A good example of this is the fact that in order to go on well in the spiritual life, we need to have a certain knowledge of ourselves, we need to know our virtues and we need to know our vices. But the devil can take that knowledge, he can take the knowledge of our virtues and tempt us to pride with it. He can take the knowledge of our vices and tempt us to despair with it. These are two contrary things that the devil keeps tempting us to.
There’s an example in the life of St. Catherine of Sienna, the devil tried to tempt her once. First he tried to tempt her to pride at the sight of her virtues and so to fight the temptation she humbled herself and brought to mind her failures and what she is in the sight of God. So then the devil went and he tried to tempt her to despair in the sight of her failures and then she turned away from the sight of her failures and lifted her thoughts up to God and his great goodness and mercy to resist the temptation to despair. So the devil said: “I can’t tempt you, I tempted you to pride, you humble yourself and think of your failures. I tempted you to despair, you forget your failures and you think of God’s great mercy.” And so he couldn’t get anywhere. Well, the devil often tries to do the same thing to us. When we have a little knowledge of ourselves, very often he’ll tempt us to pride at the sight of our virtues. But then when he can’t get us to fail that way, he will try to get us to fail by despair and by an excessive sorrow and sadness. This is why St. Aluphisious Guzanga said that: “The devil always finds fish to catch in troubled waters.” The devil can get us to despair to unreasonable sorrow and sadness, then we don’t go on cheerfully in God’s service and he can get us to fall very easily. So that’s why St. Francis De Sales says: “The worst thing after sin is sadness.” The devil ruins many souls by sin but after that he will ruins many souls by an excessive sadness.
So to resist this temptation we like to know sometimes: are we going on well in God’s service? Are we growing in holiness? That is sometimes a difficult thing to know and in fact, we can’t know for certain when we trust in God’s mercy and we try our best and we trust that God will not abandon us if we are truly trying to do his will. Now if we don’t avoid the occasions of sins and we commit many venial sins without even caring about it, then yes we are not going on well in the spiritual life because we are deliberately neglecting something that we know we have to do to go on in holiness. But let’s say that we do make a conscious effort to avoid occasions of sin and although we commit venial sins, as everyone does, we do care about that, it does bother us that we commit venial sins, then how do we know if we are actually making progress? There are signs that are true ones and there are false ones. A good example of a false sign is when we look at how many faults we’ve overcome or how many we have not overcome. That is not necessarily a sign of progress or a lack of progress. Yes if we overcome various failures, that may be a sign we are making progress but often times God may allow us to struggle against various venial sins as a trial to us, to keep us humble, and that doesn’t mean necessarily that we are not making progress. On the other hand, let’s say that we overcame many of our faults, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are making progress because perhaps we are in circumstances now where we are not tempted so much or circumstances that make it easier for us to practice virtue.
So there is a saying of St. Teresa of Ávila, I think this is after she was selected to become a Superior, she said that she had more faults than she had before but she felt that she was making greater progress in the spiritual life. There’s one of those contradictions in the spiritual life. How is it that you can commit more faults but be making greater progress? Well the answer is very easy if you think of it. Previously, it was much easier for her to practice virtue. But later on, she was in circumstances where, perhaps, her patience was much more tried, many other things entered into the picture which made it much more difficult to practice virtue. And so she committed more faults but by the fact that she made sincere efforts to overcome those faults, she was making very great progress in the spiritual life.
There was one spiritual writer, Fr. Louis Dupont, who used to say that he had many faults but never made peace with them. And that is a true sign of progress in the spiritual life. Even if we have many faults if we never stop trying to overcome them, we never make peace with them, that is a sign that we are making progress in the spiritual life.
I’d like to conclude just by pointing out today that as Catholics we have every reason to have a great joy in our lives, a supernatural joy. Not that worldly happiness that those in the world think they have. They don’t have true joy if they don’t know what their end is to know and serve God in this life and be happy with him forever in heaven. If they don’t know that is their purpose in life and they don’t strive to fulfill that purpose, they can’t have true joy and happiness and they are the ones who have reason to sorrow. When I look around the world about us, you see so many people that are in a hurry to do so much and very few of them know what they’re doing. It reminds me of a couple weeks ago, when I came at the airport in Ontario, we got off the plane and we were walking to the gate and we walked for a while and all of a sudden we came to a wall. We had gone the wrong way. Whoever was first off the plane went the wrong way and everybody else followed, myself included, and none of us bothered to read the signs, everybody was just following everybody else and the whole plane went in the wrong direction. That’s very much like how many people in the world are, everybody is following everybody else, everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere, we were in a hurry to get through security, but nobody knows where they are going. Unfortunately, they get to the end of their life and they hit a wall and realize they went the wrong direction and the problem is, at that time, many times, instead of turning around and going the right direction they simply despair and give up. They didn’t read the signs along the way, that is, the warning signs that God gave them to point them in the right direction, they were too absorbed in the world, too absorbed in following everybody else so they just continue on, lost in the wrong direction. So we have every reason to be grateful that God has given us the Catholic faith and let’s be sure by living that faith we cooperate with God’s grace and so we are able to have that true joy that St. Paul spoke of in the Epistle today.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.