On Gaudete Sunday, we are reminded to ‘rejoice ... always’

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

This fourth verse from the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians has long been one of my favorites. The words are such a clear reminder of our mission as Catholics: to follow the Lord willingly and with a joyful spirit.

On this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the Church is deeply focused on rejoicing. This week’s Newsweekly, too, is filled with opportunities to grow in joy and love of the Lord.

In particular, in her In Focus on Christmas joy (Pages 9-12), Emily Stimpson gives us five reasons we should be rejoicing this time of year, as well as five tips on how to make Christmas joy last throughout the year. My personal favorite is to “give more gifts” — not just of “sweaters and toys” but “of yourself.”

“Give the gift of your life, your attention and your love,” she writes. “Lavish affection more freely, offer praise more liberally. Strive to do the little things that let people know you care ... .”

The In Focus package wraps up with an interview with author and professor Edward Sri, who speaks on how living virtuous lives leads to deep, abiding spiritual joy. Our Blessed Mother, of course, is our model in this, as she is in so many things. The words she proclaimed while visiting her cousin Elizabeth beautifully dictate our call: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

I would be remiss when talking about joy to also not mention Pope Francis’ recently published apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium  (“The Joy of the Gospel”). A spirit of joy leaps off the page, and he mentions the word in some form 110 times (not including the title). In fact, he mentions it six times on the first page alone.

“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” Pope Francis writes. “The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.”

This document embodies Pope Francis’ vision for evangelization in the Church. And evangelization cannot be done effectively without — you guessed it — a joyful spirit.

“An evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always,” the pope writes. “It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving” (No. 24).

This week, as we find ourselves past the halfway mark that is this penitential season of Advent, the priest wears rose-colored vestments and the pink candle is lit. In those simple symbols we are reminded of Paul’s pleas and the Lord’s due. Rejoice! The Lord is near!