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Joy is the flag

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“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” Today’s entrance antiphon sets the tone of the Third Sunday of Advent, which is joy. In fact, this Sunday is traditionally called Gaudete (a Latin word, meaning rejoice) Sunday. For this reason, the priest uses the lighter color of rose for vestment instead of the usual grave and penitential purple. Likewise, the third advent wreath candle takes on the same festive color. And the reason for such joy is because “the Lord is near.”

This reminds me of the story of the teenage saint, Dominic Savio. Inspired by Don Bosco’s moving sermon on God’s will for everyone to become a saint, Dominic responded promptly. He changed radically from a vivacious and sociable kid to a serious and glum recluse. He started to fast from food and to practice bodily mortification. Soon, his health deteriorated, and he became ill. Don Bosco intervened and arrested Dominic’s misguided formula and rush for holiness. “To be a saint is to be happy,” Don Bosco told Dominic.

Seeing that Dominic was not fully convinced, the priest explained, “To be a saint is to live in God’s grace, to have God in your heart. Now, if you possess God, aren’t you greater than the richest of men? Indeed, you are the happiest man in the world.” He further taught the boy that the best sacrifice was not in physical mortification but in doing his ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Finally, Don Bosco told him that the crowning of holiness is his love for Jesus manifested by his participation in his mission of bringing souls to God.

Today, St. Paul tells us to “rejoice always… for the Lord is near.” Don Bosco pushes farther in telling Dominic to “be happy” for the Lord is not just near, but already here.

In his powerful letter to young people, Christus Vivit, Pope Francis writes, “Christ is alive! We need to keep reminding ourselves of this, because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago… Alive, he can be present to your life at every moment, to fill it with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude. Even if all others depart, he will remain, as he promised, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age.’ He fills your life with his unseen presence; wherever you go, he will be waiting there for you.” (CV, 24-25)

In the gospel, John the Baptist tells the emissaries from Jerusalem, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

John talks of the unseen presence of one who is coming but is already there among them. This is the paradox and irony of the presence of the Omnipresent One that is absent in the awareness of many. Much like the proverbial elephant in the room, God is often the obvious reality that is missed by the majority.

Yet, Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of “the world [as] charged with the grandeur of God,” while the psalmist sings of “the heavens [proclaiming] the glory of God, and the firmament [showing] forth the work of his hands… No speech, no word, no voice is heard, yet their span extends through all the earth, their words to the utmost bounds of the world.” (Ps 19:2-5) Indeed, God’s presence permeates everywhere, and his tracks and traces are all over.

The wonderful message of Laetare Sunday is to be aware of God’s presence in our heart and to proclaim it by the joy of our life. This call is best captured by a kiddie praise song, Joy is the Flag. (They say that one can tell whether the king is in the palace just by checking the royal flag. If it flies above the tower, one is certain that the king is present; otherwise, he is not.)

“Joy is the flag flown high
From the castle of my heart
From the castle of my heart
From the castle of my heart
Joy is the flag flown high
From the castle of my heart
When the King is in residence there
(So) let it fly in the sky
Let the whole world know
Let the whole world know
Let the whole world know
(So) let it fly in the sky
Let the whole world know
That the King is in residence there.”*

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