Grace and Peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the joy of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Before I begin the substance of my homily today, I want to turn to the college students who are here that the campus ministers; Fr. Jon, myself, Misty and Shari, are here to visit if you are feeling overwhelmed this week. This is a stressful time for you and we want you to know that we are not only praying for you but hoping that you will find joy in the midst of this time.
This past Tuesday night, I celebrated the 7:00 mass here at St. Thomas for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was determined to do so even though I knew I was going to have to travel the mile and a half back to my apartment after it was over. And I hate snow! I hate being cold. I hate the cold wet feeling that you have when you go inside and the snow melts on your jeans and neck. But I’m also just enough of a stubborn German to hate the idea of cancelling mass. After mass, I kind of wanted to just hurry home, settle under a blanket and tuck in for night. However, I forgot to notify my apartment complex that I was going to be late in returning so they hadn’t plowed when I got there. I got about a hundred yards from my garage when I ran into a two-foot tall snow drift. I tried to get my truck out by backing up and taking another run but it was no use. It was stuck. I walked over to get my shovel try and free my truck and, thankfully, a stranger came by and helped me dig. It took an extra half hour of clearing a path and moving the truck forward before I could go into the warmth of my apartment and relax. The strange thing was, however, when I got in I got very excited. I probably could have been frustrated at the fact that I got stuck and had to dig myself out. I even could have been frustrated that I couldn’t get my truck in the garage where it belonged but, instead, had to park the thing in an already snow packed parking spot where the plows would just keep packing snow around it. But, I was joyful. I was joyful because I had met someone who I probably wouldn’t have met any other way. And I was joyful because I had a warm place to call home with enough food to survive for several days if I had to.
Today is called Guadete Sunday in the church because the opening antiphon for today’s mass begins with the Latin word Gaudete, REJOICE! The full quote is actually from the second reading for today, “Rejoice in the Lord, always. I say it again, Rejoice.” Paul is writing this to the church in a little town in modern-day Turkey called Phillippi. The crazy thing is that Paul is writing this letter to them from Prison. He was put there for his willingness to spread the Gospel in a country that considered it illegal to be Christian. And, despite the fact that Paul probably knows that he is on his way to execution, he tells his people to rejoice. He tells them to rejoice in two other places in this letter as well. You could say it is one of his central themes for the church in Phillippi, Rejoice! It is what binds the Christians together. It’s not fear that will define the Christian but joy.
It’s the same kind of joy that the people who came to question John would have felt. They are all aware that something is wrong with their life. Some are not being charitable but only taking care of their own needs for food and clothes. Tax collectors are there who are robbing from all people in order to pad their pockets. And the soldiers sent to protect them are helping the tax collect extort from people in order to take their own cut. John’s reaction is not to tell them to abandon everything and take on a whole new way of life. He simply says that they should take the life they have now and live it with renewed vigor for justice, peace, and holiness.
What strikes me about this is that John doesn’t tell his questioners that they need to make a radical change. Even the evil tax collectors can find joy if they just doe their job well and stop extorting. If John the Baptist were here tonight/today, I wonder what his message would be to each of us. If you are a student, find the joy in finals! Find joy in demonstrating to your professors the hard work you’ve done this semester in learning their subject. Do not be afraid that you’ve not done enough work, just show them in joy what you have learned. If you are a professor, find the joy in realizing that, even though they didn’t learn everything and undoubtedly could have worked a lot harder, you did your best in conveying the information to them. If you aren’t either one of those, find joy in that; that you aren’t being tested this week and say a prayer for them as this semester finishes. Let us all find a way to rejoice this Gaudete Sunday in the midst of our shopping, work, family, school, and other commitments, we are almost there! Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again and again and again, REJOICE!