As commands go, it is a pretty tough one to make someone do it: Rejoice!
You can command a well-trained dog to bark, but beyond that, good luck. Try it on one of your kids, or on your staff if you have one. If you are a commander or a president, a CEO or a supervisor, I doubt your results would be any better than the rest of us. You just can’t order somebody to rejoice.
Especially these days, when everything is so demonstrably bad. Everybody’s talking about it: this president, the climate, Europe, Brexit, Russia, China, trade and terrorism; we are running out of everything we need, destroying everything we have, and behaving badly at the same time. Families barely exist anymore; nobody looks up from his phone, even long enough to drive; opioids are claiming great swaths of our society. Disease is stronger than ever before, as infections get more resistant to medication, and that’s if you are lucky enough to have an insurer who will approve the treatment. Whatever you like best probably gives you cancer. Almost everything has become rather like air travel: a fiendishly ingenious combination of humiliating, painful, and unavoidable. What a rotten time to be alive, right? Rejoice? You can’t make me!
Even the Church herself even undermines her own command to rejoice; she has squandered so much of her authority to tell anybody what to do. She is wracked by sin; her ministers are revealed to be selfish frauds at best, abusers and tyrants at worst. Rejoice, you say? Physician, heal thyself!
But here it is; the name of this Sunday is Gaudete, which is Latin for Rejoice (y’all)!
Right in the midst Advent, a four-week season in which we focus on our need for a Savior, is one day dedicated to reminding us not only to rejoice, by whywe rejoice.
Rejoice, but not because there is no evil in the world. Rejoice, but not because of all the good things in your life. Rejoice, but not because of how small you got your carbon footprint or because of how you have everything ready for Christmas. Rejoice, but not because you’re smart enough or lucky enough to be Catholic, or because you’re independent enough not to depend on such a faulty Church. Rejoice, but definitely not because of how faithful you have been to the Lord and His law of love.
Rejoice, because God has already saved us. Rejoice, because His Christ has already won the victory. Rejoice, because even from our place in the midst of every struggle, we know how the struggle ends. Rejoice, because our long, sad exile is already ended, and even now we stand in the presence of God. Rejoice, because so little of it depends upon you, or on me.
If ever there was an Advent that revealed the mystery that solitary pink candle, it is this one. Where everyone is crying Darkness!, a single voice announces the light. Let him who ears to hear, hearken.
Rejoice; I say it again, rejoice. Raise your heads and stand erect; lift your feet and move toward the light. Let your every breath be rejoicing. Our God hascome to save us; and the son of Mary, Jesus Christ, is Lord.