Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday

  The Third Sunday of Advent is upon us--Gaudete or Rejoice is the theme. We are invited to have joy because Christmas is upon us soon.  Yet in light of the tragic events of the past week, and tragic doesn't even begin to describe them, what is it that we are to rejoice in.  Are we just asked to go along for the ride liturgically as we grieve, ponder and question the meaning of this horrible event where 20 innocent children and 6 adults, some of them heroes who prevented further death, were killed?

  On the surface it is not only absurd, it is an insult to the fallen and wounded people of Sandy Hook, CT to dedicate this Sunday to rejoicing just because the liturgical calendar calls for it.  But let us ask nonetheless whether there is cause for joy and what, after all is joy?

    With these questions in mind I would like to share with you my own journey of the past week.  On Saturday, December 8, I had a wonderful weekly phone chat with my brother Michael.  Both of us were upbeat, waiting for Christmas and my visit to Boston and chatting about the New England Patriots upcoming games and Super Bowl chances.  On Tuesday, Dec. 11 my niece Laurie called to let me know that he had suffered a stroke.  Life indeed has a way of changing the game plan.  I immediately asked for prayers and worked things out so that I could travel to Boston early for my Christmas break. I chose the Amtrak auto-train so that I could have my car when I arrived.  I was quite shaken by this news about Michael's stroke. I fought back tears. He is my younger brother. I remembered the day of his birth and taking him to his first Red Sox game.I thought of the fact that he is due to become a grandfather in May and I asked the Lord to bring him through. Even before leaving Florida I realized that prayers were being answered.  Mike's improvement began immediately. I was hopeful. 

   When the train arrived in Lorton, VA on Friday morning there was more good news of his improving condition, but then as I was awaiting the unloading of my car from the train the station monitors began to show coverage of the horrible tragedy unfolding in Sandy Hook and Newtown, CT.  I have heard the news of too many other tragic mass shootings and always felt both compassion for the victims, anger at the perpetrator and confusion about the irrationality of it all. Certainly every incident form Columbine to the movie theater to the Siek Temple and so forth have evoked prayer from me.  In this case  innocent children were killed and in my already emotionally vulnerable state concerning my brother I drifted into a quiet corner of the station and began to weep. I was mildly embarrassed by this and hoping that no one would see me, but then I thought, "No, this is good. Weeping is the most appropriate response to this."  Later on Facebook I found that someone in response to this horrible event had quoted the well-known line from the Hail, Holy Queen,  "Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."  At times that is what we need to do.

     After retrieving the car and beginning to drive north I thought of this Sunday and was glad that I didn't have to preach and somehow try to bring joy into all the sorrow and concern that I was feeling. I turned on the car radio however and in addition to hearing more horrible details I heard an interview with a rabbi from Newtown who was offering spiritual assistance to the victims.  I heard that there were to be prayer vigils at two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant.  It was then that i realized where joy came into play.  Our joy is not necessarily a jump up and down, sing and dance kind of joy, but rather the deep inner joy that comes to us at sorrowful times like this when we realize that in spite of the insane, irrational evil that there is a merciful and loving God who never abandons us in these moments.  People of all faiths in that grief-stricken community realized that.  That is why their instincts called for those vigils and for the comfort of clergy.  That is truly a cause for joy as is the realization that in God's plan evil may have its day, but it never has the last word.

    My brother is now at home and facing a long recovery.  As the days have gone on there has been news of the kind of love and good that conquers evil in the persons of teachers and first responders whose actions saved even more children from being killed, some of them by laying down their own lives. 

   After spending a night in northern NJ I traveled on to Boston and had to drive along I-84, right through Sandy Hook.  I said a prayer. Another wave of sadness passed through me. I saw some small children and their parents when I stopped for coffee.  I wanted to give all of them a hug. I prayed for them.  When I arrived in Boston I knew then that there is cause for true joy, not celebratory joy, but the deep joy of knowing what a blessing is life and what a blessing is our faith, the hopeful joy of knowing that evil can never conquer love and faith.

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