Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

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Gaudete Sunday

The Four Introits of Advent

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee” (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). On Ember Wednesday, and again next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. “Send down dew from above you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, him, the Just One” (Is 45:8).

The Gift of Joy

Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy. Give proof to all of your courtesy. The Lord is near. Nothing must make you anxious; in every need, make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well” (Phil 4:4-6).

What the Latin gives as, “gaudete,” and the English as “rejoice,” is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, “chaírete.” It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. “Chaire, kecharitoménè!” “Joy to you, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. “Chaírete” was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. “Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy” (Phil 4:4). Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative -- a command to be joyful -- as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. “What I wish for you, what I send you, what I give you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy.”

A Countenance Serene and Heavenly

The second sentence becomes more intelligible in the light of the first. Paul says, “Let your gentleness -- or your modesty, your courtesy, your forbearance, your serenity, your meekness -- be known to everyone” (Phil 4:5). In other words, give evidence around you of the gift you have received: grace, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord. The widowed Baroness de Chantal, writing of her first encounter with Saint Francis de Sales, says that his countenance was serene and heavenly, and that some assurance in it of inward peace seemed to give instant relief to her grieving heart. Show each other faces that are serene and peaceful, radiant with joy, faces that reflect the loveliness of God. Saint Paul adds, “the Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5). This is the great central affirmation of the liturgy today, and every day. Dominus prope est. “The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).

An Affront to the Graciousness of God

He who is to come is already here, near to us, close at hand. God is present, and from his presence streams all grace, all loveliness, all joy. Paul draws a very practical conclusion from this: “Nothing must make you anxious” (Phil 4:6). Were God absent, had God not yet come in His Christ and in the gift of His Holy Spirit, we would have reason to worry, reason for anxiety, and for fear. Worry and anxiety are an affront to the graciousness of God, a denial of His nearness to us, a turning from Him who has turned His Face towards us. Self-indulgence in fretting and anxiety is a sin that does not often appear on the radar screen of our consciences, and so it is a sin that, more often than not, goes unconfessed.

A thousand reasons not to follow the Apostle’s mandate come to mind. It is easy to listen to the voices of our fears, our insecurities, our need to arrange, rearrange, and attempt to control even things beyond our control. The Apostle says, “Have no anxiety about anything,” but we hold ourselves excused, saying, “Is not a little anxiety, just a little bit of worry reasonable and right?” Saint Paul is not moved by our rationalizations. “Nothing must make you anxious” (Phil 4:6).

Fear Not

At the moment of Holy Communion the Church sings the words of Isaiah, the Advent prophet: “Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold, God Himself will come and will save you” (Is 35:4). The “behold” of the antiphon echoes the “behold” of the invitation to Communion: “Behold, the Lamb of God; behold, our God will come and save us!” And so, He comes. The Lamb comes in the mysteries of His Body and Blood to comfort us and exorcise us of all our fears.

Saint James says something similar. “Be you therefore also patient, and strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Jas 5:8). James invites to a stability of the heart: Confirmate corda vestra, “Strengthen, or stabilize your hearts” (Jas 5:8), and this, because the advent of the Lord is best prepared in stillness. You know well the word of the psalmist, “Be still before the Lord and wait in patience; calm your anger and forget your rage; do not fret, it only leads to evil” (Ps 36:7-8). Saint James enjoins us not to complain, not to grumble. Like Holy Father Benedict, he sees in murmuring a detestable vice. “Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the Judge standeth before the door.” (Jas 5:9).

A Life Without Worry

Saint Paul, for his part, gives us the key to a worry-free life, the means to stop grumbling, the way to, “be still before the Lord and wait in patience” (Ps 36:7). It is disarmingly simple. “In every need,” he says, “make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well” (Phil 4:6). The Apostle sends us to prayer because in prayer God accomplishes the things that of ourselves, and by ourselves, we are unable to do. In prayer we wait, all of us -- the weak, the feeble, the blind, the deaf, and the lame -- for God’s gifts of grace, and loveliness, and joy. Prayer is what makes the desert rejoice and blossom. Prayer is the irrigation of the dried-up heart. “It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (Is 35:1-2).

The Eucharistic Inbreaking of Joy

Today’s Introit, you see, is a blessed imperative and a gracious gift. It sent us into the hearing of the Word of God, and now it sends us to the altar, to the place of Christ’s priestly prayer to the Father, to the wellspring of our joy. To us who “know not how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), the Holy Spirit will communicate the prayer of Christ offering Himself. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the inbreaking of divine joy. “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy” (Phil 4:4). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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