The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is all about joy which is why it is my favorite.
In our first reading, Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us and we are sent to bring glad tidings to the poor. But we aren’t just sharing our joy. We are also called upon to be generous. We are called to heal and help those who are imprisoned. Some we encounter may have basic needs for food or shelter. Many of us make donations to help the poor at this time of year in response to this call for generosity.
My parish, St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis, MO, has a large Christmas program where the parish hall is transformed into a grocery store and hundreds of families come and select groceries and gifts to last them until after the New Year. As the families come, we accompany them respectfully, we hear their stories, share stories of our own families, and begin a relationship that may touch both of our hearts.
Because just giving a can of corn, or some laundry detergent or a jar of spaghetti sauce isn’t what sparks the joy that is a part of this anticipatory journey toward the celebration of the Incarnation. What sparks our joy is sharing in a relationship with others in our community, whether it is with our fellow volunteers or with those who come to shop. What sparks our joy are the smiles and the laughter.
As Isaiah says, God is the joy of my soul, and that joy is what we are truly called to share.
Our faith and the presence of God within us takes our joy to another level, and also requires another level of generosity. It is not enough to make donations and give material gifts at this time of year. It is also not enough to plan the perfect holiday with the most exquisite decor. In today’s Gospel we are called to share the light.
The light of God is within each of us, and we share that light when we are in relationship with others. Recently, I was at a gathering and as I was preparing to leave, a man I didn’t know asked me to come with him to talk with an older gentleman whom I hadn’t seen for many years. This gentleman had serious health issues and was using a walker. His life’s work had been helping the unhoused at an overnight shelter.
I don’t really want to talk with him because I was tired, and in all honesty I just didn’t feel like doing it. But I couldn’t think of an excuse, and so I went over to his table where his friend left me to get his car. I experienced a bit of panic as I realized that I was stuck at this tale until his friend returned.
After a few minutes of conversation, I realized how wrong I had been. His face lit up when I approached, and as I listened to him talk about all of his volunteer work with the unhoused in his retirement, and as he shared memories of the times we had been together, I was humbled by how much joy he found in our relationship. I started to experience joy as well in our shared memories and the time flew by until his friend returned to drive him home. In that moment of rekindled relationship, God was truly present, and the conversation was a gift to both of us. Because the most important gift is the gift of being present to one another.
This Advent, it is not enough to experience the joy of the Season embodied in Christmas trees and holiday lights. True joy comes from taking time with those whom we love, with those who are lonely, and with those who are in need.
And so, as John the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord in today’s Gospel, we too are preparing the way, as we encounter the generosity of spirit that occurs when we are truly present to one another on our advent journey.
Bridget McDermott Flood
Bridget McDermott Flood
Bridget McDermott Flood has been the executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation since its inception in 1998. Her passion is bringing the Sisters' Incarnational Spirituality to the Foundation's work in neighborhoods and community. She is the author of Blue Hole Wisdom: My Journey with the Sisters. Current Incarnate Word Foundation initiatives include STL Youth Jobs, a summer youth employment program; Art Place STL, a housing initiative for low-income artists; and St. Louis Survivors Legal Services, a project to provide legal assistance to domestic violence victims.
Bridget graduated from St. Louis University with a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs. Under the Obama administration, she served on the White House Task Force to Reform the Neighborhood and Faith-Based Office. Bridget has also served on national review panels for HHS, the Dept. of Justice and the Department of Education. She also serves on the Board of Headwaters, a nature sanctuary in San Antonio sponsored by the Incarnate Word Sisters, and on the Board of Saint Joseph Housing Initiative and Notre Dame High School in St. Louis. Prior to serving at the Foundation, Bridget led the Today and Tomorrow Foundation of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and she also worked at the Catholic Health Association.
She is a life-long South St. Louisan and also a ceramic artist at Carondelet Pottery, her studio in South St. Louis, as well as a beekeeper and quilter.
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