11 December 2021

Homily - The Third Sunday of Advent - 12 December 2021

 The Third Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, Mother Church takes up these words of the Apostle Saint Paul and makes them her own: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)! We might well wonder why it is that we ought to rejoice this day.

The celebration of the Lord’s Birth is now just two weeks away. These days ought, then, to be filled with a certain childlike joy, the giddiness of anticipation. At least they would have been so filled twenty years ago. They certainly were when I worked in the toy store. They were fun days to be out and about, with people humming their favorite carols and holiday tunes, jingling bells and wearing strange hats, wishing one and all a “Merry Christmas,” and sharing cookies and hot chocolate.

It may be that I have not gone to the right places just yet this year, but I have not noticed much at all this year that helps make up what we generally mean by the “Christmas spirit.” Whatever we mean by that phrase, it seems largely to be absent this year, even from most Christians. What is wrong? Why are we not rejoicing? If I may say so, it is because we as a society – and perhaps even as individuals – have lost sight of what the celebration of Christmas is all about. Does it feel like the most wonderful time of the year?

This past Friday the Christmas tree and Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square were dedicated. When Pope Francis received a delegation from Peru and from Italy who helped put everything together this year, he encouraged them not to let their celebrations of Christmas “be polluted by consumerism and indifference.”[1] Is this not what has happened in our context? Have we not allowed – and perhaps even encouraged - consumerism and indifference to pollute our celebrations of Christmas?

In his great concern that we honor the Birth of the Savior properly, the Holy Father gave this exhortation:

Let’s not live a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas. Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate, which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs, and traditions bring into the heart.[2]

One of the ways that a priest allows himself to be wrapped up in the closeness of God is through the sacred vestments he wears for the celebration of the Sacraments. These vestments become part of the art of the Church, part of the tradition of the Church’s festivities, and serve – for those who know how to read them – as aids to enter fully into the sacred mysteries and as a help for others to be filled with the joy born of the love of God.

William Durandus, the thirteenth century Bishop of the French Diocese of Mende, spoke movingly on the chasuble, the outermost vestment a priest wears when offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The word “chasuble” comes the Latin casula, meaning a “little house.” But Bishop William noted that, in Greek, the chasuble is called the planetes, the from which we get our word “planet,” a word that means “wanderer.” Why would a piece of clothing be called a wanderer?

Durandus’ thought about this – which was surely not only his – is because the border of the vestment, “wanders wide as it is raised over the arms, signifying charity [love].” Just as charity covers a multitude of sins, according to Saint Peter, so the chasuble, the garment of love, “wanders over all and encloses and contains all other vestments within itself” (I Peter 4:8).[3] Consisting as it does of the front and back, the chasuble “signifies the two arms of charity,” namely the love of God and the love of neighbor, without which “the Priest may never discharge his office.”[4] The Bishop even goes so far as to say that “the wideness of the chasuble is a figure of the breath of charity.”[5]

What are we to say then of the colors of the chasuble? The virtue of charity, of love, has many different aspects, each of which produces a certain joy. The various colors of the chasuble, if you will, represent these aspects of love as though it were refracted through a prism.

White is worn on the holiest of Christian feasts. It is the color of light and so we wear it at Christmas as we celebrate the Birth of Christ Jesus, who is the “light [that] shines in the darkness;” at Easter, we celebrate his Resurrection from the dead, proof that “the darkness has not overcome” his light (John 1:5). White is also worn for the memorials of the Saints, those who let their light “shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). White, then, betokens the purity of joy, a joy that comes only from the pure love of God for us.

Red is worn on Good Friday in honor of the Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus poured out upon us from the Cross. It is also worn on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us. Likewise, red is worn on the memorials of the martyrs who poured out their blood for love for God. Red, then, symbolizes the joy of sacrifice, a necessary component of love, and the selflessness of love that covers the beloved and brings joy to the heart.

Green is worn throughout the year when we are not celebrating a particular moment in the life of Jesus or preparing to do so. Green is the color of life and growth and so it shows the joy that comes from growth in the Christian life, motivated by love, until, as Saint Paul says, we “attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Violet is worn as we prepare to celebrate the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. The color of mourning and sadness, violet reveals the repentance of sin and the conversion of heart each of us should have as we prepare to welcome Christ when he comes. Violet then shows the joy born of a reconciling love.

Today, though, we wear rose, a color worn, at most, only twice throughout the year. Why acquire a chasuble that will be worn so infrequently? Rose is a mixture of violet – the color of sorrow – and of blue. In iconography, blue is associated with the heavens and, consequently, with divinity. The Blessed Virgin Mary is often depicted with a blue inner garment and a red outer garment, red being the color of the earth and of blood. Her garments show how she carried divinity within her humanity when she conceived Jesus in her womb. Rose, then, even as it recognizes our need for conversion, shows, in a particular way, the joy of the closeness of God and thus is the color of expectation.

The joy to which the Church summons us today is not born of some mere momentary pleasure, of a quick shot of dopamine or serotonin in the brain. No, the joy to which the Church summons us today is born of the expectation of the closeness of God. It belongs to us to bring this joy of the closeness of God – the joy that is Christmas – into the public square. We receive this joy here at the altar when we hear the Word of God and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, but we cannot leave this joy here, nor can we keep it to ourselves; we must take this Christian joy with us as we exit the doors of this house of God and share it with each person we encounter by inviting him or her to this same closeness of God. Let us say to those we meet, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice” because the Lord is near! Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, in Hannah Brockhaus, “Pope Francis: Avoid ‘fake Christmas’ of commercialism by reflecting on God’s closeness,” Catholic News Agency, 10 December 2021. Accessed 10 December 2021. Available at https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/249845/pope-francis-avoid-fake-christmas-of-commercialism-by-reflecting-on-god-s-closeness.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, III.VII.1.

[4] Ibid., III.VII.2.

[5] Ibid.

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