By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
The season of Advent this year is perfectly balanced with four full weeks, and on this weekend we arrive at the half-way point celebrating Gaudete Sunday, an invitation to rejoice in the Lord.
St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians eloquently prepared the way of the Lord for that early Christian community, and for Christians in every age. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: Rejoice! Let your kindness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything but present your needs to God in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. Then the peace of God which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Joy and peace are part of the package of blessings from the Holy Spirit and are the fruits of our salvation in Jesus Christ which the Heavenly Hosts announced to all the world on the first Christmas night, and it has been our hope ever sense.
Following the Lord throughout the year we know that we cannot separate his birth from his suffering, death and resurrection. Yet, even on the night before he died, he prayed that his disciples would know his peace, the power that the world cannot give. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled; be not afraid.” (John 14:27) Upon arising from the dead the first words to his disciples huddled in fear were, “peace be with you” before showing them his hands and his side. (John 20:19)
In the joy of birth and in the sorrow of suffering and death the Lord assures us that his peace can stand guard over our hearts. This is a precious gift for those who are grieving over serious loss during these holy days or holidays. One can easily get more depressed or sorrowful when confronted with the expectation that it is a time to be merry or happy, like in “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Even “Merry Christmas” can ring hollow if overcooked.
With Mary, our Blessed Mother, we are called to hold and be held by the Son of God and allow his peace to stand guard over our lives. We pray for one another that the peace of Christ which is beyond all understanding dispels the darkness of doubt and fear, grief and shame as the ultimate Christmas gift. May we be present to one another in a way that cuts through that which fades quickly to that place where the Lord dwells within us.
Whatever the circumstances of our lives, let us then continue to prepare the way for the Lord in ways that works for us. The hymns of Advent can be a source of hope and inspiration and in a particular way the church embraces the beloved hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” especially coming down the home stretch that carries the faithful to Christmas Eve.
This hymn contains the O Antiphons which represent the yearning of the people of Israel for the Messiah. The verses of the hymn are applied as the Gospel antiphons beginning on Dec. 17 and they can deepen in us a hunger for the Savior.
“O, come, O Wisdom from on high! O, come, O Lord of power and might! O, come, O Flower of Jesse’s stem! O, come, O Key of David! O, come O Radiant Dawn! O, come, O King of All the Nations! O come, O come, Emmanuel!” This hymn can easily be combined with the Advent wreath in our homes during the week before Christmas to prepare the way of the Lord.
At this point in time in Advent, the Blessed Mother points the way to come to her Son through faith. The feast of the Immaculate Conception and of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrate her love for the church and her singular role in God’s plan of salvation. The following is the prayer after Communion on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a fitting ending prayer for the column.
“Lord God, may the Body and Blood of your Son, which we receive in this sacrament, reconcile us always in your love; and may we who rejoice in Our Lady of Guadalupe live united and at peace in this world.”