Third Sunday of Advent 2019

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. — Epistle — Philippians 4:4-7. 

These four are the closing verses of St. Paul’s short, beautiful, and most affectionate Letter to the faithful of the Church of Philippi, the principal city of Macedonia. These words of the Apostle need no explanation, but they contain practical lessons of the utmost importance, which should pique your interest. 

San Paolo Apostolo in PrigioneRejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” St. Paul wrote this Letter at Rome, as is clear from the greetings at the close of this letter, to the faithful at Philippi; during his first imprisonment, approximately 60 A.D. 

This apostle was certainly a most marvellous person. He was subjected to every manner of hardships, pain and suffering and on this subject he has left us an account both in the Gospels and many other of his Letters. From Jerusalem he was brought in chains to Rome and there cast into prison under Nero Claudius Caesar; he saw death staring him in the face; he had been forsaken by many, even his own disciples had added to his grief in prison (see Philippians 1:15-16), and yet filled with a holy enthusiasm, an enthusiasm inspired by faith and charity, he writes to his beloved children and calls upon them to “Rejoice.” He goes further, adding: “Always rejoice” and once more he reiterates: “Again, I say rejoice.” But how can anyone rejoice whilst in the depths of fears and terrors during a persecution, with shackled hands, and only a few steps away from Nero, that monster of cruelty? The Apostle lifts his eyes to the heavens and fixes them in faith on God, and in Him, and in Him alone he finds the comfort and that joy which he wishes to decant into the hearts of his beloved children. 

There are two kinds types of joy, one of heaven, the other of earth; one comes from humanity, the other from God; one gives bodily gratification, the other floods the soul, excites it, and is participated in also by the body. There is the joy of the greedy person who looks with jubilation upon their well-filled strongboxes; there is a joy of the proud and vain person, who delights in praise, and is intoxicated with the incense of a sycophantic crowd; there is a joy of the glutton who find their happiness in eating and drinking; there is the joy of the lecherous human being whose whole being revels in promiscuousness; these are shallow, vulgar joys, not worthy of the human race and ineffectual in making them happy, because they are fleeting and pass rapidly away, and if for a moment they satisfy our baser passions and the body, which perishes at death, they leave the soul desolate, miserable, and scorched, as though a scorching gust had passed over it.

Ask the favoured of the world, who have walked all of the paths of pleasure; who have pulled out every flower that they saw on their way; who have amassed their millions; who have reached the height of their ambition and look down upon the great number of people below; who have never denied any of their cravings for food or drink, no matter what the cost; who have had everything that a heart could desire or their passions craved, ask them: “Are you happy?” I’m sure they will reply with one voice: “Ive had enough of life. Life is a strain for me. My heart is empty. I have no one to love” Such is the joy of this world.

There is a joy of the humble person, who has no illusions about himself; of the poor person who is uncomplaining and satisfied with his lot; of the person who is master of their passions and keeps them under control; there is a joy of the person who is chaste and fair and charitable, a tranquil joy, always the same, which flood the soul, stimulating its every fibre, which endures in the depths of all the pains and hardships of this life, which is as a breath of heaven, bringing God close to us and making us practically feel His real presence. This is the joy of the Lord of which St. Paul wrote. “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:15-17.) Therefore we should only seek the joy of God. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” This joy of virtue, this pure and holy joy sweetens the sorrows that are never away from us on this planet, it fills the soul with a miraculous strength and hastens our journey on the way to the City of God. 

francis-and-leoSt. Francis of Assisi sang whilst lying on his scant bed of straw in pain and St. Louis Gonzaga exclaimed: “Joyful we go forward.” St. Francis de Sales, St. Vincent do Paul, and St. Philip Neri were always in good humour and joyful and happy amid the toils, the cares, and the hardships of this life. “O Bonitas!” which has been called “the alleluia of the desert” was often exclaimed by St. Bruno the Carthusian, one who had sought God for God, he was given a taste how dignified and affable the Lord is. The happiness and peace with which Saint Bruno was filled made joy constantly beam on his face: “He always had a face as if he were in a feast  These saints were endowed with the joy of the children of God, that which St. Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The Saints shows us the joy that can be attained from following and obeying God and His son Jesus; This is a joy which equips us to endure all suffering and all persecution.

Let your benignity be known to all men.” The Greek word used by St. Paul and which I have translated benignity, is a word of flexible meaning and may signify modesty, gracious manners, affability, kindness, tolerance. The meaning of St. Paul here is that in our outer behaviour, in word and actions and attitude, the way in which we conduct ourselves toward everyone should be exemplary, agreeable to all and offensive to no one. And all this is the result and the visible expression of charity, which induce us when possible to refrain from what would displease our neighbour and instead be pleasant and pleasing. According to St. Paul a Christian should be pleasant, friendly, and decent to their neighbours and with those they lives, because whatever the   christian does they should acts under the inducement of the charity of Jesus Christ. 

And why should we use this kindness and tolerance toward everyone? “Because,” answers St. Paul, “the Lord is near.” The Lord is near: does this mean, as some claim, that the final judgment day is close? No, Jesus Christ has not revealed when this day will come, and the Apostle Peter in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians tells them “not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. (2 Thessalonians 2:2) The Lord is near, because the day of our death, and therefore the day when each of us will go before the judgment seat, is closer every day, no matter how long we live, because life passes like a cloud; the Lord is near, because in Him we live, and move, and have our existence; because He sees everything! us in all places, our thoughts and affections. We should therefore always be on our guard, for as St. Paul says, “we are always in His presence.” Something many people forget these days and that I was taught as a child at catechism is that God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent; in other words He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present capable of being everywhere at the same time. What better motive than this could we have to live our lives holily?

Here follows a verse in which St. Paul gives us a practical rule by which to balance our lives as Christians: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Philippians 4:6.) In the midst of our activities, trials, and hardship, even when we have plenty of this world’s goods, we are easily anxious and we upset those with whom we live. We are filled with hopes and fears and anxious desires and we keep ourselves in a never-ending turmoil, and consequently all peace is banished from our heart. 

When St. Paul says: “Have no anxiety at all,” he does not mean that we should neglect our work and duties or that we should live inconsiderately, taking no notice of tomorrow, ignorantly stating that we have taken every care in accordance with divine Providence. If this were in fact the case, St. Paul would have preached carelessness, ingrained laziness, spoken in condemnation of his entire life, and given as a command to tempt Providence. He means that we must discharge all of our duty and then commit ourselves to the providence of God, perfectly submissive to His holy will and perfectly at peace, knowing that He will arrange all matters for our benefit.

And what really happens? Unfortunately, in our conduct we frequently fall into two opposites. Now we rely wholly upon our strength, upon our talent, and our ability, forgetting that if God is not with us everything will fail; again, we expect God to do everything, as if we ourselves do not need to do a thing as if God puts a surcharge on idleness and sloth. The truth is, my friends, that the aid of God and our own efforts must always work together in unison with whatever we do, and if either is lacking it would be illogical to hope that the endeavour will be successful. Can the light of the sun reach our eyes if we continue to wear a blindfold? Will the fields grow with grain if at first we do not sown them with seeds and water them? Can our lungs breathe in a vacuum? WE must always remember that while God has created us without ourselves, He will not save us without ourselves. We must work and do our duty without being fearful, assured that if we do what we can God will not fail to do His part, and the union of the two forces, the divine and the human, will successfully accomplish whatever we do.

What can we do to banish the anxiety which frequently unsettles our hearts? St. Paul tells us: “… but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God…” (Philippians 4:6) When we are fearful that our activities are taking a turn for the worse and our soul weathers the storms of trouble and anxiety and is in confusion and is upset, lift up your thoughts to Him who sees all and is all-powerful, to Him who is always near us, and who tenderly loves us; and, as children would to a loving father, let us open our souls in prayer to Him; and if the tempest of the soul is not calmed, let us continue to pray even greater intensity, and our prayer will then become a supplication. Here the difference between prayer and supplication is brought out. Supplication is prayer with urging and fervour; when the need is more desperate our prayer should also become more urgent and thus pass into a supplication. 

If God hears us we should thank Him for the indulgence we received; if in His wisdom He does not answer our petition and leaves us to continue battling with the storm, we must thank Him all the same, because He strengthens and comforts us, because He is acting for our greater good, and because His divine volition will always be our sacrosanct law. My Sisters and brothers, let us never forget this valuable lesson from the Apostle, that in all things we must have recourse to God, that prayer is the medicine of a sick soul and are the cornerstone of our salvation.

The Apostle closes the portion of the Epistle I have read for you with this wish and which could not be a more touching one: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7.) There is no sound sweeter to the ear than peace, nothing more fervently desired, or more jealously guarded than peace. Everyone seek peace, everyone yearns for peace, everyone welcomes peace as the greatest good that can be had here on earth.

What is peace? It was defined by St. Augustine as “tranquillity of order”. When we perceive order, that is, when we perceive justice, the we will have peace. We all have obligations toward ourselves, toward our neighbours, and especially toward God. We have a moral obligation to watch over our thoughts and relationships, to subdue our chaotic passions, our pride, our uncontrolled bond to material possessions, our passions and overindulgences, our envy, anger, and all other passions that arise out of our rebelliousness. Would we have peace with ourselves? Well, then, let us re-establish order within our soul, conquer our rebellious passions and reduce them to compliance, let us set up a new era of virtue making faith the norm and prerequisite of all of our actions. 

Once more, we have duties toward our neighbours and the many. There are fathers and mothers and children, leaders and followers, wealthy and deprived; each must do their duty, on all occasions and unwavering; and in doing their duty let them be persistently watchful so as not to encroach upon the duties of others, for each individual is responsible and accountable for their own duties towards God, family and neighbours. Let us have a vast compassion toward our fellow human beings and a real and unselfish love toward all living things and our planet; let us strive for the interest of others as we would our own, and then you will realise that we have establish order, peace and harmony between our neighbour and ourselves.

Lastly, we have duties toward God, these are our primary duties and the bedrock of all others. We must keep His commandments, dread His judgment, love Him as a father, never carry out anything that can give Him offence, and then we will have order and peace with God.

Peace! How can those who lives in sin have it when they know they are an enemy of God? A person who knows that they have committed a crime and is deserving of the greatest penalty, knowing that the agents of the law are on their trail to apprehend them, will not have a single moment of peace. Every sound, the rustling of the leaves, the sight of someone approaching them — everything will trouble them, unnerve them, fill them with suspicion and dread. Now imagine someone who has offended our omnipotent God, from whom there is absolutely no hiding place, no escape, the God who waits patiently and into whose hands they will eventually fall; can this person ever have true peace? Its impossible. Only those who master their own passions, who love their neighbours as themselves, who flees sin, and who lives in God’s amity alone will have true peace, the peace of God, the peace that comes from God. Happy person! This peace, of all the treasures in this world, is the most inestimable, will guard their mind and heart and here on earth allow them to taste how sweet and good the Lord is to those who love Him and follow His commandments.

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