3 SUNDAY ADVENT C 2012
Don’t worry; be happy. So we’ve always been advised on the third Sunday of Advent. Crank up the celebration. Rejoice. Cheer up. What if you don’t feel like it? What if you feel besieged, overworked, overwrought, tired, cramped, and alone?
Fr. Ron Rolheiser shares this insight into human nature: “It's hard to celebrate properly. We want to, but we don't know how.” An article that he wrote spoke to me and so I hope also to you.
He says “Mostly we celebrate badly because our idea of celebration is to overdo things. We try to celebrate by taking ordinary things (eating, drinking, singing, telling stories, playing) to excess. Celebration, for many of us, means over-eating, over-drinking, loud socializing, drunken singing, and staying at parties into the wee hours of morning, all in the hope that somehow in all that excess we will achieve celebration (whatever that means). But, for all our frenzied effort, there is precious little genuine enjoyment.”
This “Gaudete Sunday” is an opportunity to reflect on what it is to truly celebrate and what attitudes are necessary to accomplish this goal.
True celebrations lead to good memories not hangovers. So what is the goal of celebrations? “When we do succeed and genuinely celebrate, we feel ourselves more deeply joined to others, made more aware, made more playful, and sense more deeply the love and joy that lie at the heart of life. But that rarely happens and it never happens when we are in frenzy. Too often our celebrations are followed by a hangover (of one kind or another). Why?”
I think the key seems to be in the “always”. “Rejoice always”
Perhaps the primary reason why we find it so difficult to genuinely celebrate is that we seem to lack the capacity to simply enjoy things, to take life, pleasure, love, and enjoyment as a gift from God, pure and simple. It's not that we lack the capacity for to do this, it's more that this capacity in us is generally buried under a mound of guilt. What this means is that often we cannot enjoy legitimate pleasure because somehow, however unconsciously, we sense that in enjoying pleasure we are somehow stealing something from God.
Fr. Ron says, “We tend to blame religion for this, but this neurosis is universal, as much outside of religious circles as inside of them. Somehow, in the name of the divine, most everyone feels guilt in pleasure. And because of this, we tend to alternate between rebellious enjoyment ("pleasure we steal from God") and joyless duty (a dutiful life, but without genuine pleasure and enjoyment). We never seem to be able to genuinely celebrate. I say genuinely because, paradoxically, our incapacity to enjoy is the very thing that pushes us into pseudo-celebration, hedonism, and an unhealthy pursuit of pleasure. Simply put, because we struggle to enjoy ourselves simply we pursue enjoyment too much and substitute excess for enjoyment.
And this often leads to a dangerous confusion wherein we substitute self-gratification for enjoyment and excess for ecstasy. What is it with soaking athletes celebrating a major victory with champagne? Or the mindless frenzy of a Mardi gras? But excess isn't enjoyment. They are weak, unsatisfying substitutes.”
So once again the goal of celebration is “to heighten and intensify the meaning of something (a birthday, a wedding, a major achievement, a victory, a graduation, the birth of a child, the beginning or ending of a year). “To celebrate an occasion is to heighten it, share it, savor it, enlarge it. We also celebrate in order to link ourselves more fully to others, to be playful, to intensify a feeling, to bring ourselves to ecstasy, and, more commonly, just to rest and unwind.”
But how can we rejoice always?Precisely because the most ordinary and most surprising way of all that the Lord comes to us is in the reality of the Present Moment. It is thus possible to bless the Lord at all times because every moment without exception is a grace of divine, self-giving love to us. The Lord is with us even in those tragic moments beyond understanding that seem to be without meaning. Life either has no meaning at all, or has total meaning because the Lord is present in all its moments. But because of our incapacity to enjoy something simply we often try to create that enjoyment through excess.
Small wonder we often trudge home with a hangover, emptier, more tired, more alone. A hangover is an infallible sign that somewhere we missed a signpost.
But we must continue to try. Christ came and declared a wedding, a feast, a celebration, at the heart of life. He shocked people as much by the way he enjoyed his life as by the way he gave it up. In the end, he was rejected more for his message of enjoyment then for his message of taking up the cross.
Did you ever wonder why John the Baptist never became a follower of Jesus — at least as far as we know? Why did he not fold up his ministry and move with his disciples into the Jesus camp? Their concept of the kingdom, their different emphases, kept them apart. John held the view that God would come as judge: God would punish evildoers. Jesus, on the other hand, thought that God would come in mercy and forgiveness, with the clear emphasis was that God would come to save, not condemn. Even in prison, John remained puzzled. That is clear from the messengers he sent to ask Jesus if he really was God’s anointed. John simply could not imagine God not punishing evildoers, let alone dining and drinking with blatant sinners. That is still true today. We tend to read the gospels selectively so as to ignore Jesus' positive challenge to enjoy without guilt.
And in that lies our problem: Because we are never challenged religiously and in the name of Jesus, to enjoy, deeply and without guilt, the very human pleasures of our lives, our healthy, God-given, need for pleasure and enjoyment tends to go underground. We still seek pleasure and enjoyment, but now we split them off from what is religious and holy and in an unhealthy way "steal them from God" rather than enjoy them simply and religiously. That is one of the main reasons why we substitute excess for enjoyment.
God has given us permission to enjoy life and its pleasures. That truth too needs to be a central part of our religious teaching.
Pleasure is God's gift, not the forbidden fruit.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice!”