Saturday, December 12, 2009
Dec. 13, 2009: 3rd Sunday Advent (C)
Early this week, I spent an hour during lunch sandwiched between three 3 yr. old children. As most of you parents know, 3 yr. olds can be demanding. The boy on my right was ready to rip anything on the table. So to show him how we can be civil, I took the paper away from him and began to fold it into an airplane. His twin sister on my left then chimed in. "Make me two of those!" Meanwhile their aunt put in two small plates some fries, but only one catchup bowl. The boy on my right was dipping his fries into the catchup when his sister on my left was crying out, "I need catchup!" I became the catchup waiter to both 3 yr. olds, taking the bowl between the two as each cried out, "I need catchup!" Their uncle after seeing this spectacle said, "Father, welcome to our world!"
Now why was I there in the first place? We were in the cafeteria of the Women's Hospital after seeing their new brother. They had quite a good time seeing their new brother. When I got to their room it was only 30 minutes after the birth, so the nurses were cleaning him up. The 3 yr. olds were in their grand parents' arms trying to see what they were doing. One of them cried out, "Eewwwwwww!" Her new brother pooped for the first time outside of his mom's womb. There was joy in that room, the joy of welcoming a new child into their lives. A photographer was present to capture this joy, taking photos of the new baby being cleaned up and the new baby being held in the arms of family members.
Let's shift gears and talk about Advent. The season of Advent originated as a fast of 40 days in preparation for the birth of Christ, just as the season of Lent is a fast of 40 days in preparation for the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. When we say days of fasting, it sounds like days of gloom, that there should not be trace of joy during these 40 days. But the Third Sunday of Advent reminds us that these 40 days of penitential preparation is really joyful. What is to be joyful about fasting? We recall that we are fasting from one thing so that we can feast on another thing. We fast from the worldly temptations so that we can feast on the True Joy, the arrival of the long-awaited Jesus Christ. Hence the Church traditionally calls the Third Sunday of Advent, "Gaudete Sunday"; the word 'gaudete' means in Latin, 'rejoice.' For this Sunday we wear the rose-colored vestment which represents 'joy' instead of purple vestment which represents 'penance.'
In our Second Reading, St. Paul tells us, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" Why does he say rejoice? What is there to rejoice about? He says because, "The Lord is near." Why should the nearness of the Lord make us rejoice? Prophet Zephaniah says in our First Reading, "The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you." Our faith teaches us that our ultimate happiness is to behold our living God who created us and loved us from the very beginning. Yet isn't it our life experience that we know in our head that God is with us, but the felt, reality seems to suggest that God is not with us. If He is with us, why are we sad? Why do we suffer? This is why we have the season of Advent and Lent, to give us a time of fasting and prayer to clear our fogged up glasses to recognize that, 'Wow, God was with me today! I should rejoice!'
Let me go back to my experience with the 3 yr. olds and their new baby brother. I mentioned that in the hospital room was a photographer. He was with a non-profit photographers' organization called, "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." This organization dispatches a volunteer photographer to capture photos of a new-born baby and his family. This organization focuses on families whose babies are about to die or are still-born. As the families try to overcome the sadness, sorrow, fear, and uncertainty of losing their baby, photos taken by this organization help families honor and cherish their babies and help in their healing process.
So why was this photographer there in the room? The parents of this baby learned early in pregnancy that their new baby had what's called Trisomy 18, an abnormality in the Chromosome 18. They were told that most babies with this abnormality die before or shortly after death. Doctors recommended abortion. They argued that child was not viable and it would cause deeper pain and suffering than necessary. The parents chose to carry the child to term. In the room that day when I entered there was a mix of joy and sadness. They were overjoyed to be able to hold a child who was still breathing, a baby who mesmerized his 3 yr. old brother and two sisters. The sadness that hung in the air in that room was the uncertainty of how many more seconds or minutes this child was going to be with them. The parents were so grateful to God for allowing them to see the child and to say good bye. As I left that room to go down to the cafeteria to be sandwiched between three 3 yr. olds, I saw the photographer taking a photo of the entire family, smiling, with their new child in the arms of his mom. Why were they smiling? Because they have seen God and His gift to the family, and they rejoiced in the midst of sadness. Do you find yourself unable to smile, unable to rejoice because you cannot see God in your cloud of sadness and uncertain future? Take St. Paul's advice:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
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.
Posted by Fr Paul Yi at 12:00 PM