The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Mass opening the Doors of Mercy of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015:
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent which is called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice.” So today is the Sunday of joy. Saint Paul invites the Philippians to rejoice. He writes: Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” And he gives them the reason why: because the Lord is near. We rejoice on this Third Sunday of Advent because Christmas is near. The joy of Christmas is a special joy, yet we should not forget that joy isn’t just for a day. As Pope Francis says, it is for the entire life of a Christian. It is a serene and tranquil joy, a joy that forever accompanies the Christian. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from the Lord.
We began this liturgy with the opening of the Holy Doors of our cathedral: the Doors of Mercy. There is a profound relationship between mercy and joy. This Jubilee Year of Mercy is an invitation to joy. We rejoice because the Lord is near. He is near with His mercy. Jesus reveals to us the mercy of the Father. It is in and through that mercy that we find joy in our lives, that we find peace in our souls. When we encounter the mercy of the Lord, we are filled with joy and peace.
Forty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote an apostolic exhortation entitled Gaudete in Domino, Rejoice in the Lord. In that exhortation that begins with the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians that we hear on this Third Sunday of Advent, Pope Paul VI said that No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. He wrote that the great joy announced by the angel on Christmas night is truly for all the people. That is because God’s mercy is offered to all. God became man to save us all. When I opened the Holy Doors, the Doors of Mercy, I prayed that all who enter those doors during this Jubilee Year will feel that they are welcome here, that the Church is their home. I pray that all those who are saddened by sin will receive the joy of the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is by receiving the Lord’s mercy that we can experience anew the joy that He so desires for us.
True joy is linked to our relationship with God. It’s much more than having a good time. We can sometimes pursue all kinds of pleasure in our lives, but we’re never truly satisfied by material and earthly pleasures. Such happiness is superficial; it doesn’t endure. Or we seek happiness by achieving success, by accomplishing things. But that happiness doesn’t last either. True joy is deeper. Think about Saint Augustine, who for many years sought happiness in various ways, sometimes in sinful behavior. Like so many people in our society today, he was searching for happiness and peace, but he couldn’t find it. Finally, by the grace of God, he realized why he was unhappy and unfulfilled. He said those famous words: our heart is restless until it rests in God. He only found true peace and joy when he encountered Christ and opened his heart to the mercy of the Father.
There’s a lot of anxiety in the world today. There’s fear of terrorism that has even hardened people’s hearts to the suffering of refugees. There’s a lot of discouragement about the future, a certain pessimism that afflicts even the young. There is a spiritual aridity in some people’s lives that leads them to constantly complain about things — their negativity can be demoralizing to others. We see this also within our communities in the Church. I think of Pope Francis words about “sourpusses.” We must say no to a “sterile pessimism,” the Pope says. Such pessimism, or defeatism, “stifles boldness and zeal.” The Holy Father calls it “an evil spirit.” I think it pleases Satan when Christians are without joy, when we succumb to this sterile pessimism, when we wallow in negativity and complain all the time. Where is the Holy Spirit in this? He’s not there. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of joy. One who is moved by the Spirit is a person of hope and a witness of joy. It’s all about trust, trust in God’s mercy, trust in the victory of grace over sin, of life over death. It is trust in Jesus Christ, that He is the Savior. The good news of the Gospel is precisely that, good news. It is the Gospel of salvation, the Gospel of mercy.
We all encounter difficulties in our lives. We face trials. We have crosses to carry. We can be tempted to pessimism and adopt a defeatist attitude, or we can embrace the sufferings of life with courage and hope. Isn’t this what our faith teaches us? The greatness of God’s mercy and the knowledge that the Lord is always with us gives us the strength to go forward. He is close to us always. He loves us and forgives us. We can only overcome sadness by trusting in the Lord. Even amid trials and sufferings, we can have joy, not a superficial joy, but the joy that penetrates deep in our hearts and minds when we entrust ourselves to the Lord.
Pope Francis says that the Church is not a haven for sad people, the Church is a joyful home! And those who are sad find joy in her, they find in her true joy! It is of great importance that all people, especially those hurting as a result of sin, feel welcome in the Church, that they know that the doors of every Catholic church are doors of mercy. I pray that all those who are sad may find joy in the Church, not some superficial joy, but true joy: the joy that comes from listening to God’s word and the joy of the sacraments, the joy of worshipping God, the joy that comes from prayer and conversion. But also that they find joy through our witness of love and mercy, our welcoming spirit. May no one feel excluded from the joy brought by the Lord! I pray that when people enter our churches, they will not find embittered faces, sourpusses, self-righteous modern-day Pharisees, but will find faces which radiate the love of Jesus and the joy of the Gospel.
My brothers and sisters, on this Gaudete Sunday, the Church rejoices because the Lord is near. Christmas is near. We will soon be gazing at the manger where we are able to savor the true joy of Christmas, contemplating in the face of the newborn Jesus the merciful face of God. As we have opened the holy doors of this cathedral, let us open the doors of our hearts to the God who became flesh and dwells among us. May all of us experience in our lives the deep joy of His salvation and bear witness to that joy in our lives!