Today is a challenge. We crowd into our churches to celebrate the Mass. We light a rose colored candle on this third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — and “rejoice” as our hearts journey closer to Christ and the celebration of Christmas. Today is a moment set aside in the midst of Advent to ponder with great anticipation the reward that lies ahead of us at Christmas, but even more so with Christ’s second coming.
And yet our hearts are so heavy.
This morning, I sat in my parish staring at the giant letters above our altar which proclaimed a single word:
I prayed, three thousand miles away from the heartbreak in Newtown, Connecticut, pondering moms sitting in their pews so many miles away, their arms empty, their lives devastated. I tried to put myself in their place as I watched the young mom in front of me struggling to quiet a cranky little one. “Don’t worry if she cries,” I wanted to say to her. “Treasure every moment, even the tough ones.”
In times of crisis like this latest one we’ve experienced, it’s sort of tough to be a blogger. You want to employ words to provide some sort of aid, to share a small bit of comfort, or just to fill the silence that pools around us in our devastation.
And yet there is nothing to say that could ever resolve the grief of those who have lost precious loved ones. No words can take the place of a kindergartner who was supposed to serve as an angel in the Christmas pageant and will now be an angel in heaven instead. No words can pay credit to brave teachers and administrators who answered the highest calling with such valor. No words can ease the pain of a community forever changed.
And yet, there is that word, hovering over the altar:
Listening desperately for God’s voice this morning amidst the grief, I found a tiny glimmer of hope — perhaps once small clue to my query — in the words of today’s second reading from Philippians 4:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
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.
I’ve always paid attention to the first part of that reading — the “rejoice always” part. Today, my heart lapped up the closing words: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
In this moment, I feel no potential to understand. In this moment when we can do so little to spread our arms and our hearts out to those in need, it’s that peace for which we grasp, even when understanding seems impossible. Can there possibly be joy amidst the grief and pain we feel this weekend? In faith, we believe the answer in our souls:
“The Lord is near.”
For that, we rejoice.