Rejoice in the Lord Always

Happy Gaudete Sunday!  Today we light the pink candle of the advent wreath and rejoice in expectation of the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.”
But, this Gaudete Sunday many are asking whether rejoicing is appropriate.  This past Friday, half an hour away from where I teach my own rambunctious kindergarten class, 20 innocent lives were senselessly taken.
In the aftermath of any tragedy, we must ask ourselves what our response, as Christians should be.  The second Mass reading for today, from Philippians, gives the perfect answer:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

As I observed the responses of the teachers I work with and the many Facebook posts concerning the shooting, I began to ask, why are we shocked and surprised when things like this happen?
We have to face the reality that we live in a fallen and broken world.  People are sinful and are not perfect – that is the simple truth.  Realizing this does not lessen the pain and sorrow caused when great evils are committed, but we should look at every tragedy as a sign of our utter need for Christ’s saving mercy.
I think the normal response to anything like this is to ask the recurring question of the human condition: why does suffering exist?  Books upon books have been written on this subject and it has often been pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that gives true meaning to suffering.  One of the most famous is C.S. Lewis‘s The Problem of Pain.  In it he writes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Since sin entered the world, suffering has become an essential part of life.  Some of the best things in life, such as having a child, come with a great amount of suffering.  The cross is the ultimate sign of this – our redemption came through the excruciating suffering of the passion.  Pain within our lives reminds us of the disconnect with God which will only be healed in the great and perfect union of heaven.  Sometimes God has to strip away everything else to remind us of our utter need for Him.
In the midst of tragedy we often hear of people whose “faith is shaken.”  I was pondering the idea of having your faith shaken and realized that if this is occurring then we need to examine what we are really placing our faith in.  God is faithful and unchanging.  If we truly place our trust in him, the actions of one misguided, imperfect human being should not shake our faith in His love.
The meditation for today in Magnificat reminds us to be a joyful people, full of hope, for we know that Christ is coming once again to save us all:  “do not grieve the Holy Spirit within you by letting the world’s miseries depress you. Child of God, friend of Christ, bearer of the Spirit, live by the joy of your God.”
The homily at the Mass I went to this morning was all about facing the truth that only God can heal us, satisfy us, and make us whole.  The priest challenged us to reach into the depths of our loneliness, emptiness and pain and realize that only God can fill the void we all feel at the end of the day.  Although the season of Advent often gets the short end of the stick, it is meant to be a season of preparation – preparing our hearts for the unknown day and hour when they will be bared before the great merciful judge.  And being filled with hope and expectation, we are called to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

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