This past weekend, I had the privilege of representing my religious community (the Society of the Divine Savior—the “Salvatorians”) at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry. This bi-annual gathering brought youth and young adult ministers from around the United States (and beyond) to San Jose, California, for 3 days of formation and prayer. It was a great event and it was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of Church leaders and ministers who are genuinely excited about their ministries and the promise of the “Young Church.”
I think the joy that I experienced at that gathering is what Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M., speaks of when he reflects on spiritual “happiness,” that sign of a deeper, abiding sense of true Christian joy: “Happiness is always a gift from first seeking union or love. If love is your actual and constant goal, you can never really fail, and happiness comes much easier and more naturally” (from Silent Compassion). Those priests, religious sisters and brothers, and thousands of lay ecclesial ministers weren’t just excited to be together. They were able to rejoice in what God was doing in and through their ministry because their starting point was love—love for God, for the Church, and for the youth and young adults they serve. Everything else, including the music, social events, and myriads of other fun activities was window dressing.
Beneath the love that I witnessed was also a strong sense of the ways God was at work within their ministries, especially how God’s transforming power was effective in the lives of the youth and young adults. This sense of God’s Providence allows them—often in the midst of busy schedules and demanding responsibilities—to find joy in what they do and to hope and trust that their efforts will bear fruit in ways they cannot imagine.
This same sense of hope inspired Isaiah to see the promise of life hidden in barren deserts and in broken bodies and relationships. He understood that, in God’s time, God would renew and restore all of creation, especially by lifting up those who were sick and most in need: “Here is your God… he comes to save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Church is giving us a very specific mandate: Rejoice! But in a world where there is so much doubt and despair, joy might seem far away. And yet, as the Readings this Sunday remind us, the power of God is at work, transforming hearts and minds, bringing light to places that are in darkness. And this promise of renewal was most perfectly realized in the person of Jesus, who is Emmanuel—God-With-Us.
In the end, Advent hope and joy are not only focused on the approach of Christmas Day. Rather—like the youth and young adult ministers I spent time with in San Jose—we rejoice because God has kept his promises and has given us love and truth in Jesus: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus… The one who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 24a).
For what are you grateful on this Third Sunday of Advent?
How have you experienced God’s transforming presence and power in your life?
How do you share the joy of your faith with others?
Words of Wisdom: “The ‘King who is to come’ is more than a charming smiling infant in the straw… In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to his presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies.”—Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration