The reason to rejoice: The mercy of God

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Third Sunday of Advent at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Over and over, one theme is being proclaimed; one invitation is being repeated, one song as it were, is being sung: joy, rejoicing! Even the name in Latin traditionally given to this third Sunday of Advent says it all: Gaudete, "Rejoice"! "Shout for joy …! Sing Joyfully …!" "Be glad and exalt with all your heart …!": So says the Prophet Zephaniah in today's first reading. Then, the Psalm refrain confirms the same sentiment: "Cry out with joy and gladness …!"

Why this insistence on joy and rejoicing? The Prophet Zephaniah gives the reason: "Fear not, … be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst." Again, the Psalm refrain confirms this reason: "for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel." Saint Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, urged them - and now us: "Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again, rejoice." Yes, the reason for rejoicing, the source of our joy is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, sent by God His Father to save us from the permanence of evil, sin, suffering and death, and to lead us to eternal life.

The Season of Advent reminds us of the coming of the Promised Savior and Lord: His First Coming at Bethlehem, which we relive in liturgy, in prayer and in the Nativity scene each Christmas; His final Coming at the end of the world and of each of our lives; and His repeated comings to us each day in prayer, in the sacraments, in those we encounter and in charitable outreach. Yes, there is real cause for rejoicing this day!

Yet, we are surrounded in these days with circumstances and situations which seem to dim our joy, our rejoicing. Can we really be glad and rejoice? Yes, because in our midst is the Lord Jesus Christ. He conquered evil, sin, suffering and death, not by avoiding them, but by encountering them with the power of His death on the Cross! His Rising to new life proves that victory! He will share that victory with us. We need to cling to Him, to put away all that keeps us from drawing closer to Him - sin in all its forms, so that we may be sustained and strengthened to walk securely with Him in hope. That is why John the Baptist echoes his messages of repentance and conversion in our midst through the Gospel account.

So, despite the sobering situation of world events, despite our own struggles to put away anything sinful, despite anxiety or fear, we can be joyful. In fact, we must be, because in our midst is the Lord Jesus Christ. "Rejoice in the Lord always!"

Moreover, as we gather today in this Cathedral, we have added reasons for rejoicing! A short time ago, the Holy Door of Mercy was opened. This door is a sign and symbol of Christ Jesus and of the Father's Mercy. Jesus says of Himself, "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (cf. Jn 10:9). And Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father's Mercy," as Pope Francis so beautifully reminds us (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, n.1). For the entire Year of Jubilee, which began on December 8 and will conclude next November 20, we are being invited and, even more, strongly encouraged to reflect on the Mercy of God towards us: His Compassion, His forgiveness, His never-ending love!

Earlier today, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in Rome's Cathedral: the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Our Holy Father spoke these words during his homily: "We have opened the Holy Door, here and in all the cathedrals of the world. Even this simple sign is an invitation to joy. It begins a time of the great forgiveness. It is the Jubilee of Mercy. It is time to rediscover the presence of God and his fatherly tenderness. God does not love rigidity. He is Father; He is tender; everything done with the tenderness of the Father. We too, like the crowds asked John, "What do we do? (Lk 3:10). The response of the Baptist was immediate. He invites us to act justly and to look after the needs of those in need. What John demands of his representatives, however, it is what is reflected in the law. We, however, are prompted toward a more radical commitment. Before the Holy Door we are called to cross, we are asked to be instruments of mercy, knowing that we will be judged on this. He who is baptized knows he has a greater commitment. Faith in Christ leads to a journey that lasts for a lifetime: to be merciful, like the Father. The joy of crossing through the Door of Mercy is accompanied by a commitment to welcome and witness to a love that goes beyond justice, a love that knows no boundaries" (cf. Homily, Basilica of Saint John Lateran, December 13, 2015).

Every time we pass through the Holy Door, let us open our hearts to allow God's mercy to enfold us and embrace us, so that, in turn, we may be convincing heralds of God's mercy to everyone we encounter.

The other reason for our rejoicing this day here is the re-opening of our beautifully renovated cathedral. This renovation makes more evident that this is the dwelling place of God, the place where Mercy Incarnate abides in the Tabernacle, the place where the greatest act of mercy is repeated over and over: the Renewal of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross and of His Resurrection in each Mass, the place where Divine Mercy is experienced in the Sacrament of Penance. We thank God for His Mercy and ask Him to bless abundantly all who have had a part in this renovation, especially Father Robert Rippy, our Rector for his vision and leadership; all the priests and staff of the Cathedral; the many donors; the architects, those who worked so diligently in every area of renovation; the staff of our diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities; Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York, whose graciousness enabled us to acquire the beautiful Stations of the Cross; to each and to all: may the Lord in His great mercy bless you!

Yes, rejoice, be glad, the Lord is in our midst, inviting us to experience His mercy today and every day, for His Mercy endures forever! Amen, Alleluia!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015