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The Power of Words

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Third Sunday of Advent)

The early morning was covered in darkness. I was unlocking the church from the back door. It is a very large Church. Going through the vestibule, I walked into the nave. No lights were on yet. Immediately my attention was drawn to one of the Avent candles in the sanctuary that had not been blown out the night before. The flame was tiny, the light brilliant. My reflection turned to how a flame so small, only about an inch high, could give off such great light and draw all my attention.

“Light” is used as an image for Christ. Jesus himself says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) The evangelist, in his prologue to the Fourth Gospel, uses the image serval times. He writes concerning Jesus, the Word of God, “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5). Several verses from the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy follow. The evangelist speaks of John the Baptist as giving witness to the Jesus in these words. He (John the Baptist) came “to testify to the light so that all might believe through him.”

Light, life, and faith are all connected. Jesus is the Light who gives life. He draws us to Himself like the candle shining in the darkened Church. He invites us to place our faith in Him, to believe, so as to be drawn into His light and have a share in His life.

Today is referred to as “Gaudete Sunday.” The name comes from the opening antiphon for the Mass – “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice!” which is taken from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:4-6) The color changes from purple to rose, from dark to light. We’ve been focusing our attention during the Season of Advent on vigilance and preparation for the Lord’s return. Today we are reminded that while we wait, we rejoice for the Lord is near. He loves us, saves us, and leads us to life.

Isaiah prepared for His coming centuries before His arrival. In the first reading He speaks of the dawn of salvation as a “year of favor” and a “day of vindication.” His proclamation brings him great joy – “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation.” Today we are reminded that Jesus has saved us and comes now to deliver us.

So many people are burdened with worry and anxiety. The reasons are many and varied. From worries about the situation of the world and our country to concerns about family, children parents, work, and the economy. When fear, disquiet, and apprehension well up in us, it is as if the darkness is invading our space, trying to rob us of light. Yet if we keep our focus on the light, on Jesus, then the darkness will not be able to win.

Perhaps the opening words from the passage of Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (second reading), can help us keep the focus, to keep our eyes on the light. He writes, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.”

Rejoice always. Remember the blessing God gives us everyday. We are alive and that is good. He loves us into life and that love never fades, it is complete. He saved us from ourselves through the greatest give, His Son. We can think of particular blessings we receive each day which can lift our spirits and dispel the darkness.

Pray without ceasing. Just as God’s love never ceases, it is always present, so too is the One who loves. When we call Him to mind, we pray. In everyday terms the prayers can be simple. In the middle of work, one might quietly say, “Come Lord Jesus.” Parents offer the prayer, quite frequently it seems, “God give me patience.” I have a friend who I often hear say, “Lord, have mercy” – in good times and in difficult ones. Short simple prayers through out the day, in the midst of our regular routines, help remind us that we live in the Light.

Give thanks. Rejoicing and prayer leads to thanksgiving. We recognize the Giver of all gifts and offer Him our praise. The act of thanksgiving is our act of love. And in loving Him who loves us, our focus is drawn to that Light which shines in the darkness.

Advent is short this year. Next Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, is also Christmas eve. The time is now to open our hearts to recognize the Light who is Christ. Allow Him to dispel the darkness, whatever it may be and, in the words of Saint Paul, “Rejoice always, I say it again, rejoice.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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