Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

My Gaudete

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, named on the Church calendar, as many Sundays are, for the first word of either the Epistle or the Gospel of the day, according to the lectionary before the liturgical reform. I believe that most of these readings now make up the Sunday readings for year A of the lectionary cycle. The epistle reading for today (Phil 4:4-7) begins, "Rejoice in the Lord always." The command form used in Latin to mean "rejoice" is gaudete. Hence, Gaudete Sunday. It is upon this Sunday of Advent that a little of the gloomy blue
is drained from the priest's vestments, leaving them rose in color ("It's not pink!" they're often heard to say).

And it was upon this Sunday, at about 2 p.m. I found myself unexpectedly standing in the rain along 16th St. NW, a heavily trafficked corridor, next to the-wreck-that-had-been-my-car-only-minutes-before. It was cold, and I was dressed nicely for a community service activity to which I had been running late, at which I would now be unable to attend, waiting for a tow truck and a ride from my roommate. It was only seconds after the car accident that my brain whirred, "I don't have full-time work. I don't have much savings left. My car is totaled. How can this be? Why me?" When I saw that the other driver was uninjured (as was I) but that her car had only some scratches and cracks in the bumper, my sense of the world's mocking unfairness only increased. But now, fifteen or twenty minutes after the accident, as the rain drizzled on my forehead, I realized, "This has all happened for a reason." In that moment of a grace, I felt a thorn or splinter remove from my heart, and the self-pity evaporated. The self-pity and the fear were alleviated. One moment they were there, and at the next they were not. Instead, a confidence of the all-encompassing providence of God's will began to penetrate into my heart.

Then a confirmation came to me from God. Actually, she drove up. She was an Ethiopian woman, and she rolled down her window and said me, "Are you alright?" When I nodded, she burst into a smile that chased away the clouds in my heart and made me smile as she cried, "Praise Jesus! I am so glad that you are well! See, it is a miracle, and for some purpose. Do you have anyone coming?" I told her my roommate was coming. She smiled and said, "It is for something. Do not forget that Jesus still has you!" And she drove off.

If I did not get the message, another Ethiopian woman drove up. I'm not kidding here. The odds seem slim, but it makes me wonder if the services of an Ethiopian church were letting out. She rolled down her window and told me that she liked my bumper stickers. Ending abortion is a passion of hers, she said, and that I should not worry about distractions and turmoil the devil will send to me. "You are well and God will bless you. Trust Him! Do you need to use my cell phone?" I thanked her and declined the favor, telling her that my roommate was on the way and so was a tow truck. She smiled and wished me well.  I noted that her car as well as the first Ethiopian lady's both had dents in them from collisions.  They had experienced my little trauma, and quite probably far worse.  But how they smiled!

After the tow truck took brought my car back to my home, and my roommate brought me back in his car, he and I went to Mass together. The priest punctuated a theme that my roommate and I had been discussing just a day or two earlier. Christian Joy is not a giddy thing, or a naive thing. It is not an emotion any more than love, he said, but it is an anchoring virtue, a continual knowledge or memory of the presence of God in our lives and in the events of our lives. Joy makes the deaths of loved ones tolerable, and weddings not merely happy, but hopeful and passionate. It makes births beautiful and injuries feel passing. Joy maintains an equilibrium, and without negating anything, accentuates the good in how we perceive everything. It does not dispel the troubles around us, but keeps them from penetrating too deeply into us. It keeps God in the back of our mind and disposes us to respond to Him in the events of our lives, rather than to our own emotional responses. We Christians make a grave mistake if we confuse joy with an emotion. If we think we are sinning by being sad, somehow disobeying the command to rejoice; or that we are "in grace" or consolation when things are pleasant, then we shall never see the face of God because we will have already forsworn the Cross without even noticing. Because joy is a knowledge and a decision, it is also a virtue, one that we can pray for and practice.  Joy is a virtue obviously connected to the virtues of faith and hope.

So though I felt sad at my loss, and still feel a bit of trepidation at the possible outcomes of my situation, my heart keeps gravitating, almost on its own, but really under the impulse of grace and the discipline of training, toward gratitude and trust. I am grateful that I have family and friends who care about me, limbs that are healthy and strong, a mind that is sharp, and possibilities unfolding before me, albeit slowly and in their own time. I am grateful that nobody was injured, rather than upset that my car will probably be totaled for a pittance. I am grateful for the gift of faith to see God's love even in darkness and in rain. I am grateful not to feel overwhelmed, but supported and protected.  And I have not given up waiting to see how Jesus is acting in my life.  I hope that you, dear reader, have not either.

This Gaudete Sunday, some key lessons were driven home to me, if you'll forgive the pun. Some other food for thought has been churning around in my head. I also have reason to believe from past experience that this day will turn out to have been a significant and good one when I reflect back upon it.

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