Isaiah's prophecy on this Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday comes with a promise: those who live as if in dry and arid places will see an end to their privation and will have the flowering of life for which they long. And they shall rejoice. Their exultation will be true rejoicing because it will never be taken away and therefore not tinged with any worldly care or limitation. When God gives He gives everything and His gifts are without beginning or end. If we want authentic happiness, a sure source of unending joy, then we must seek it in God as Isaiah invites us to do.
The pause that Advent and Christmas bring, and to which we look forward in joyful anticipation, lift our minds and hearts because they demand something from us: we put aside much of the business in life and focus on things that last: God's total self-giving through Jesus Christ come in the flesh and the faith in Him which we share within our families at home and in the Church. How can we live this Faith always? Must Christmas joy come only once a year?
Christians are called to live the joy of Faith each day, but in a particular and public way each Sunday. Through keeping the Lord's Day covenant well, we shall "rejoice always". How? Through observance of Sunday rest as much as it is possible for us to do and to attend holy Mass except when prevented by a grave reason. By putting aside on one day of the week the things that will not last in this world, and focusing more intensely on the One who never ends and the unending life He shares with us in Christ, born for us at Christmas, we receive again the perfect gift. In Christ our deepest longings and needs are met superabundantly with grace: infinite in power to redeem us from sin and restore us to life. Knowing and living this truth always brings true rejoicing into our lives here on earth.
This Advent we are asked to seek out and encourage those who have fallen into a pattern of neglecting to keep the Lord's Day holy through the worship and rest commanded by God to come back and together with us find in Christ "the perfect gift".
Sunday rest configures our lives more closely to the Creator who rested on the seventh day and who is Love itself and thus seeks to share the true joy of loving with us.
"Sunday, the 'Lord's Day,' is the principal day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. It is the pre-eminent day of the liturgical assembly, the day of the Christian family, and the day of joy and rest from work. Sunday is "the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year" (SC 106). (CCC 1193)
We live in a society which sometimes, unfortunately, is lacking in the balance required between work and rest needed for human flourishing. Americans are a proudly industrious people and known for their hard work, but even work must serve a higher purpose: the good of the human person whose flourishing requires more than "bread alone".
"In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church's holy days as legal holidays. They have to give everyone a public example of prayer, respect, and joy and defend their traditions as a precious contribution to the spiritual life of society. If a country's legislation or other reasons require work on Sunday, the day should nevertheless be lived as the day of our deliverance which lets us share in this 'festal gathering,' this 'assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.' " (CCC 2188)
Belief in God brings true joy when faith is allowed to influence how one lives and inspires a generous return to God for creating and redeeming us in love. Today in our Mass we will profess the Creed together and to say out loud and before the world that "I" believe. Those words must be borne out in a consistent expression of generous love for God and for others in the witness of our lives.
"Thus the Creed's final 'Amen' repeats and confirms its first words: 'I believe.' To believe is to say 'Amen' to God's words, promises and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the 'Amen' of infinite love and perfect faithfulness. The Christian's everyday life will then be the 'Amen' to the 'I believe' of our baptismal profession of faith:
"May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe. And rejoice in your faith each day." (CCC 1064)
We are invited to share in the rejoicing that God has brought to the world in Christ. As we prepare once again for the great Christmas celebration of God's birth over 2,000 years ago, let us ask for the greatest of all gifts: the love of God expressed in a lived faith, especially in the joyful keeping of the covenant by which we "keep holy the Lord's Day".
Our faith is joyfully expressed in love each Sunday in our worship at Mass in union with the total self-giving of our Eucharistic Lord and Savior, in our rest from servile work and unnecessary shopping, and in the time we spend with our families to deepen our covenant love with God and with one another.