Spending Time in Gratitude

12-11-2022From the Pastor's DeskMonsignor Ellsworth R. Walden

Rejoice! Today was formally called Gaudete Sunday. Guadete is a Latin word that means rejoice. The third candle, the pink one, will be lit today as a sign of our joy. In the twenty-first century we are not looking ahead to the coming of the Savior, but to His presence in our lives and our presence in His life. We do not wonder what He will do and how powerful He will be, but through the vision of faith we see how Jesus truly is our hope for life as individuals and fellow human beings in this world and our hope for eternal life in the joy of His presence with one another. In Philippians 4:4 St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” St. Paul was not on cloud nine - comfortable and accepted by everyone. In 2 Corinthians 11:25-26 he says, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers.” How can we reconcile this encouragement to rejoice in the midst of so much that is destructive and damaging in our lives with one another with His words to “Rejoice in the Lord always?”

While we have brightened the barrenness and shortened sunlight of winter days with our decorations of lights, greens, and a host of secular and religious Christmas scenes, we do live in an atmosphere of civil division, anger, distrust, hatred, confusion, and destruction. We worry about climate change yet are doing all we can legally in our government to protect access to abortions. Our physical comforts are getting more expensive almost by the day. There is controversy caused by what is being taught to our children in our schools. It seems like truth, sacrifice, and humility are bad words and bad thoughts. Yet today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday and hear these words proclaimed to us as people of faith: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Are we on Fantasy Island? Are we unrealistic fools? Are we entertaining ourselves with fictitious thoughts that will never become a reality?

We can begin to experience the hope of St. Paul in his life and ministry when we allow the words of Psalm 28 to be etched into our hearts: “The LORD is my strength and my shield, in whom my heart trusts. I am helped, so my heart rejoices.” As we send cards, gather with family and friends, give gifts, and receive gifts, all these things are pointing beyond themselves. They are not an end in themselves. We do them because we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. But even more, we are being invited and encouraged once again to open our hearts to Him. First and foremost we thank Him. As much as we can easily focus on what is negative and divisive in our world, we have access to God Himself in Jesus. He brings us into His life as we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the maternal and holy love and care of His mother as He gave her to St. John and all of us at His crucifixion. Jesus was not readily welcomed into our world as there was no room at the inn, so He was born in a stable. Herod tried to kill Him as he slaughtered the Holy Innocents. Yet we celebrate Christmas. How can we not be amazed, overwhelmed, humbled, and grateful for such love as individuals and as His family the Church? 

The best gift we can give to ourselves at Christmas and every day of our lives is to spend time in quiet prayer. Put down electronic devices, turn off the TV. Spend time in gratitude for and with family and friends. Spend time in simple prayer, first and foremost giving thanks for the blessings of faith, love and hope, recognizing all the blessings we have, blessings so easily forgotten or taken for granted. That is the essence and gift of Christmas that makes us a gift to Jesus and to one another - pure gratitude.

Philippians 4:4-9: 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. Finally, brothers, 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.