A reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah
This Sunday in the church year is called Gaudete Sunday: Gaudete means “rejoice.” We hear the reason for this title throughout this reading: “Shout for joy,” “Sing joyfully,” “Be glad and exult with all your heart.” Why is the prophet Zephaniah saying this to the people of Israel? Because “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.”
Throughout the history of ancient Israel there was the expectation that God would become present among the people and save them from their enemies. We believe that Jesus was and is that presence of God. The promise to Israel and to all peoples has been fulfilled in him.
“Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” The Holy One of Israel is, of course, Jesus.
A reading from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians
This is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in all of Paul’s letters. He starts by saying, “Rejoice on the Lord always.” Then, to make sure the Philippians get his message, he repeats it. “I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Remember that Paul is saying all these beautiful, hopeful words while he is in jail. How can he be so consistently upbeat in the face of suffering, loneliness, and approaching death? His answer is simple. “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.”
So, if Paul can be so joyful in such a desperate situation, why is it so hard to avoid anxiety in our everyday lives when we have so much to be joyful about? Of course, we all have our share of pain, suffering, and sorrow; but we still can rejoice over the divine gifts that stay with us even in terrible times—the graces we receive through Jesus Christ. We need to make our “requests known to God.” “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
How can you find the peace of Christ in your busy and challenging life? First, believe that God is already with you. His Spirit lives within you. Try to keep an ongoing conversation with the Spirit, especially in times that are not joyful. Joy may be right around the corner, if only you can recognize it.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
John the Baptist preaches a message of tough love to everyone, including tax collectors and soldiers, two privileged classes in ancient Rome who often gained their wealth by exploiting the poorest of the poor. I wonder what John would say to the rich and powerful today. Do you think they would respond positively, or would they set out to kill him as the rulers of his time did?
However, when people asked John straight forward if he was the messiah, the Christ, he did not hesitate to tell them the truth. One mightier than he was coming. John baptized with water; Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That is how each of us was baptized: in the Holy Spirit. So, when we pray, it is not to some distant deity but to the God who lives within us. Talk about a direct connection! That’s the way to pray—not inside-out but inside-inside to our spiritual partner, the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit window by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.