Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Presents" or "Presence"?

Today's celebration of Gaudete Sunday on the third Sunday of Advent is the Church giving us a chance to "come up for a breath" in our celebration of this season.

"Why do we need a breath?"  That's a good question, because if you have to ask that, then chances are good that you've bought into the cultural mentality that it's already Christmas time.  Do we act like it's Christmas already, and then stop occasionally when we step inside a church?

So what should we be doing?  The readings today give the recipe:
  • The First Reading tells us how we can do it: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;"  At our Baptism and at our Confirmation (and for the YF Priests reading this, at our Ordination), the Holy Spirit has prepared us for this task.
  • The Responsorial Psalm tells us that "my soul rejoices in my God".  Can we honestly say that?  Do we have a soul that rejoices?  Do we have a joyful soul?  If the answer is "no", why not?  A joyful soul is the "default setting" that our soul was set on.  If not, what did we do to our soul to make it the way it is?  What has gotten into our soul to prevent it from being joyful?
  • The Second Reading is St. Paul telling us what to do, like he told the Thessalonians: "Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  Give thanks.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil."  Does that little voice in us say, "You mean every kind of evil?"  "If I do 5 of the 6, isn't that still a good percentage?"  I dunno, ask yourself whether you'd fly on an airline that proudly announced, "Our flights land safely 84% of the time"?
  • The Gospel today jumps from Mark to John.  Long before John McCain, there was another John who gave "straight talk" without any remorse.  John the Baptist gets approached by representatives of the muckety-mucks of Jerusalem: the Levitical Priests and the Pharisees, who want to know who he is.  He humbly answers with the words of Isaiah: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord."  There it is.  There is the goal.  Do we prepare the way for Jesus Christ?  Do I live my life trying to make Jesus Christ known, which doesn't necessarily mean making myself known.  Remember that there were very few straight roads in biblical times, roads were bumpy, curved, steep, etc.  A straight road was a luxury.  A straight road was appreciated.  That's what we're called to do, make an easy road for the Lord to travel upon.
This is what the Church wants us to be doing in the Advent season: to bring Jesus Christ's presence into the world.  The world has told us that we can best do this if we shower our family and friends with expensive gifts.  The world says it's all about the presents, while the Church says it's all about His presence (hence the title of this blog entry).  Presents make us feel good for a while, but even the present we begged for, or heavily hinted that we wanted, will eventually get old and we'll get used to having it.  In short, presents have a "shelf life".  But presence never grows old.  As I'm getting older, my memories of Christmases past have little to do with what I got, and more and more about the family members who were there (of which some are now gone).

But before we can "be" Christ's presence, we need to "feel" Christ's presence.  At Mass.  In the Tabernacle.  In the Confessional.  In our prayer life.  Then we'll feel the joy the Church wants us to feel.  Otherwise, we're just a walking Christmas decoration: bright and cheery on the outside, but perhaps a bit of a mess on the inside.  God wants us to be prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ on the inside as well as the outside.  When it comes to Christmas, we decorate our houses with lights, we decorate trees with tinsel and ornaments, we decorate gifts with wrapping paper and bows, we decorate cookies and dining room tables and fireplace mantles.

When was the last time you decorated your soul?

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