Saturday, December 10, 2011
Help Your Neighbor Rejoice: Go To Mass
This morning, I offered the Funeral Mass for Ginny, a 95 year old parishioner. Her husband (who died a few years ago) and she met on a Friday Night Novena in our parish church. They were married here some 70 years ago. Her parents were married here thirty years before that. Although small in stature, she was a pillar of the parish. Perhaps in previous years, she was more active in the parish. But in the years since I've been here, her witness was simply attending Mass on Sundays. Hers is the type of presence to which you wouldn't give too much consideration. You would just know she'd be at Mass and you would know where she sat. But there's a certain comfort to that. We don't realize it at the time, but those quiet witnesses give us a lot of strength.
This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. Taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Phillipians, the Introit for Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near."
Why did St. Paul have to repeat himself? Doesn't rejoicing just come naturally? When something goes our way, don't we naturally rejoice? Why does St. Paul have to instruct people to rejoice? And, why does he have to repeat himself? St. Paul teaches us something about Christian rejoicing. It is not based upon circumstances. He himself was writing from prison.
Christian joy is born from a confidence in Christ's nearness to us. This nearness is not always indicated by the circumstances. In fact, Isaiah the prophet says that this nearness is specifically meant to bring glad tidings to the poor and to the brokenhearted. Suffering and sin always bring with them a temptation to feel isolated. St. Paul teaches us that even the sinner and the infirm can rejoice because the Lord is particularly near to them. He is bringing his salvation to them.
The Church bears faithful witness to Christ's nearness. When Catholics gather each Sunday at Mass, they remind each other that we have good reason to rejoice. If we are unemployed, suffering illness, experiencing marital difficulties, worried about wayward children, burdened by past sins, suffering from addiction, or in a spiritual malaise, we should rejoice. What? Yes, I say it again: Rejoice. Why? The Lord is near.
Among the many reasons (and certainly not the most important reason) that we should be faithful to the Sunday Mass is because our faithful witness--even if it seems anonymous and insignificant--might just be a quiet confirmation for somebody else who is suffering that the Lord is truly near.
I doubt that Ginny ever thought she was bearing witness to anybody by attending Mass every Sunday. She was there to fulfill her obligation before God--as well she should. But, during her 95 years of life, she became a sign to others. Her steadfast presence somehow made us more aware of the Lord's nearness.
Our fidelity to the Mass on Sundays helps those who are suffering in some way or another--physically, emotionally, or spiritually--to know the Lord's nearness. And this nearness gives them cause to rejoice.
Every Sunday for almost a century, a great lady came to the same church and took up her seat. And as I think about her quiet witness, I rejoice because I realize anew, the Lord is near.