This Sunday, the third of our Advent Season, is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, taking its name from the opening antiphon of the mass which reads “Rejoice in the Lord always…” The Latin word for “rejoice” is gaudete. It’s a day when, as a church, we acknowledge the great and wonderful things that God has done and continues to do for us, throughout salvation history. It references the passage in Phillippians 4 which reads:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:1-7)
I can’t help but consider as I read these lines during this season of Advent, when alongside all the preparations that we are making for our annual celebration of Christmas… the meal planning, the shopping, the preparations for gift-giving, the random “holiday parties” which we are all called to navigate… amidst all that preparation, we also keep faith with the tradition of preparing our hearts, our minds and our souls, for a deeper celebration of the Nativity of the Lord.
For many faithful, this is a time of the year when we make common pilgrimage to churches and chapels and participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. It’s a time when we take stock of the quality of our lives, not only in terms of the good and evil which we navigate in life, but also in terms of the quality of our discipleship of Jesus as it is lived out in our relationships with God and with one another. The usual schedule of Confessions at Catholic parishes is supplemented with additional opportunities to engage in the sacrament, usually with additional times for confession being scheduled, and often with evening opportunities in which groups of confessors make themselves available for those wishing to avail of the sacrament. Our communal penance service, as such occasions are called, takes place on this coming Tuesday evening (December 17th) at 7:00PM. The notice board in the narthex of the church has information about other dates and times at other local churches, making the opportunity to avail of the sacrament very accessible for anyone who wishes.
It often happens that some people struggle to approach the sacrament for many different (some very personal) reasons, not least of which is some embarrassment at not having been for so long, or at having forgotten the “act of contrition.” I can’t say often or unequivocally enough, such thoughts are no cause for embarrassment. Just beginning a conversation with the priest involved can be very helpful. “Father, it’s been a while since I’ve done this, and I’d appreciate a little extra help…” That frees the priest confessor to offer the help that is desired.
Sometimes a person can have difficulty in naming a particular sin or offence. It’s almost too embarrassing to admit that “I pulled my sisters hair,” or whatever it is. In my experience, there is little or nothing that is too embarrassing to ‘fess up’ to. Given that priest confessors regularly hear confessions, and have done so for many years, there is really very little chance that a particular sin hasn’t been brought up before. After all, we’re all human, and so there’s very little chance that a particular sin isn’t experienced by many others also. If I might steal an “in-joke” from an older priest of many years ago… It’s been a long time since there was a real “original sin.”
So perhaps this Advent might be the opportunity to gift ourselves with joy… joy in the knowledge that we finally seized the bull by the horns… or the sin by the throat... and we made peace with God over something that we’ve carried around for far too long in our lives… That would certainly allow us to approach the Christmas echoing the words of this Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord…”
And so, in the words of the apostle Paul, and with encouragement appropriate to the season and to our preparation….
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9)