“Not pink. Rose,” I remind the altar boys as I vest for Mass. “Barbie girls wears pink. Real men wear rose.” That’s the color of the vestments and the color of the Advent candle for the third Sunday in Advent -- Gaudete Sunday.
It’s called Gaudete Sunday from the first line of the Introit antiphon which reads in Latin, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete” and translates to English as “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” The verse comes from the fourth chapter of St Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!"
The exhortation to rejoice comes at the end of the epistle and the full context continues, “Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
No wonder Pope Francis, the successor of Peter and Paul, published his own apostolic exhortation named Evangelii Gaudium --the Joy of the Gospel -- during Advent when we realize that the Lord is near. Unfortunately the pope’s views on economics have captured the headlines and comment. The heart of his message is an exhortation to spread the gospel with unrestrained joy.
He writes in his opening words, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy….”
The joy Pope Francis is referring to is not just human happiness, nor is it a false religious euphoria or an artificial mask of religious niceness. Instead joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) It is the result of being infused with the fire of Divine Love. This joy is the sign of a supernatural energy in a person’s life. It presents as a kind of supernatural optimism.
The Divine Joy sparks evangelization because it is attractive. People see this divine happiness and peace and want it for themselves. The Divine Joy is present not only when things are going well, but especially when things are going badly.
I will never forget my friendship with a Poor Clare nun named Sister Mary Lucy. Sister was blind and suffered from a degenerative bone disease. Her spine was crumbling and the doctors could do nothing about it. Sister Mary Lucy was in constant, excruciating pain but I never heard her complain. On the contrary, she always greeted me with a peaceful patience and would light up with joy as we spoke.
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I once asked Sister Mary Lucy if she was in pain. Through her broad grin she said, “Oh, yes, constantly!”
“Do you ever get mad at God for allowing you such suffering?”
“Oh no! No! You see, I have drawn so close to Jesus! I can’t really describe it.”
Sister Mary Lucy’s joy radiated even more powerfully because it did so in the midst of intense suffering. This is the supernatural optimism that overcomes our fears, worries, disappointments and regrets.
The language of the liturgy always reflects the realities of life. Gaudete Sunday comes in the middle of the sober Advent season to remind us that rejoicing in the midst of hardship is not a duty but a gift. It is a gift that comes from the realization that the Lord is near.
An old Jewish saying is that God is nearer to us than our own breath. The Lord is not only near because the celebration of his birth is at hand. The Advent season reminds us that he is near right now. He is closer than our own breath.
When you see the rose vestments at Mass and see the rose candle lit for the third week of Advent, take a moment in the midst of the waste of your haste. Calm down. Be still and rejoice in the Lord always….and again I say rejoice!
Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch atdwightlongenecker.com