Gaudete Sunday: How can sacrifice be a cause for joy?
A Reflection for the Sunday of the Third Week of Advent
“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11).
Gaudete—rejoice! True to form, the first reading from Zephaniah and the responsorial psalm, taken from Isaiah, make the joyful theme of Gaudete Sunday quite clear.
But what about the Gospel passage from Luke? On first read, it seems like a downer, as John the Baptist—the greatest of all the prophets—exhorts everyone within earshot to take up a life of sacrifice and asceticism. The concept of sacrifice scarcely ever has happy connotations for us, especially when John puts it into concrete terms: giving away one cloak if we have two, not taking more money than we are owed.
For a long time, I used the historical anchors of the Gospel—cloaks, tax collectors, Roman soldiers—as excuses for not living up to its demands. How could I be expected to give a cloak away if all I had was a winter jacket? Of course, God is a little too smart to fall for that kind of elementary school logic. We are not meant to focus too heavily on these physical artifacts so much as on the overriding moral message.
The concept of sacrifice scarcely ever has happy connotations for us, especially when John puts it into concrete terms.
More important than just taking in the message, we need to put it into action. For instance, do we possess several winter jackets (or any piece of clothing) when we really need just one or two? Do we pay our employees enough to live a dignified life, even if it cuts into the bottom line?
It is easy to water down the Gospel’s teachings, to tell ourselves that Jesus, or in this case John the Baptist, did not really mean exactly what he said with his harsh words. I am as guilty of this as anyone—frankly, what the Lord asks of us is hard, and it requires us to dramatically alter the way we live. Rather than beating ourselves up over our shortcomings, though, today’s Gospel is an opportunity for you and me to take stock of the work we still need to do to live out the good news authentically.
But that still does not answer the question: Why are we reading this passage on a day that is supposed to be joyful? In order to perceive the joy of sacrifice, we need to stop seeing as the world sees it, and instead endeavor to see as God does (cf. 1 Sam 16:7).
This Advent, in addition to the virtue of hope, may God also grant us ever more faith to trust in his promises.
By detaching ourselves from material possessions and giving to those who need them more, we are removing distractions and hindrances that keep us from fully knowing Jesus. At the end of the day, it is only by approaching God that we can find true happiness. John says that if we act righteously, we will be gathered into God’s “barn” like sheaths of wheat.
I know from experience how trite and even difficult it can be at times to hear that loving God will make me happy. But sometimes faith means just going along for the ride, even when it seems to make little sense. And so, this Advent, in addition to the virtue of hope, may God also grant us ever more faith to trust in his promises.
Get to know Doug Girardot, Joseph A. O’Hare Postgraduate Fellow
1. Favorite Christmas Song
“Noël,” by Charles Gounod
2. Favorite Christmas Tradition
From the Polish side of my family, we’ve inherited the practice of exchanging oplatki, which is a rectangular wafer made from flour and water (basically, the same thing as a Communion wafer but unconsecrated). Each of us gets our own wafer, and then we take turns breaking off a piece from someone else’s and expressing our wishes to them for the new year.
3. Favorite Christmas Recipe
Cheddar potato pierogies (dough: sour cream, flour, eggs, and water; potato filling: potatoes, grated onion, sharp cheddar cheese)
4. Favorite Article You Wrote This Year
5. Favorite Christmas Photo
This was taken a year or two after my family moved to New Milford, Conn. We moved there from just outside Atlanta, which (partially) explains the Coca-Cola ornament.