Sunday, December 13, 2009

Great Expectations of God: You Need Them If You Want to be Able to Rejoice Always!

(Third Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 13, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 10-18)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Advent 2009]
We usually expect too much from other people. Deep down inside we know we shouldn’t, but we do anyway. Children, for example, expect their parents to be perfect, but there are no perfect parents on the planet.
A man expects his wife to fulfill his life in every way—a woman expects the same of her husband—but it doesn’t happen (indeed, it cannot happen!).
We expect professional athletes like Tiger Woods to be great role models for children, but, as we’ve discovered in recent days, that’s a very unrealistic expectation.
We expect to be understood by the people we love, but that doesn’t always happen.
We expect to be forgiven by friends and family members and coworkers when we tell them that we’re sorry for hurting them, but sometimes they withhold their forgiveness.
This phenomenon, of course, is not peculiar to our era of human history. People have always expected too much from others. Just look at today’s gospel story from Luke 3. John the Baptist preaches, teaches and baptizes the crowds at the Jordan River, and they begin to think that he’s something he isn’t; they begin to think that he’s SOMEONE he isn’t!
The text reads, “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”
Obviously they had an unrealistic expectation for John, in thinking he was the Messiah. John immediately recognized this and addressed the problem head-on. He said, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In other words, “Don’t expect me to be the Christ, because you’ll be greatly disappointed. The real Messiah is coming, and he’s far greater than I am. In fact, I’m not worthy to take care of his footgear!”
Now here’s the real—and extremely sad—irony. As I’ve just made clear, we flawed human beings usually expect too much from other people. And yet, at the very same time, we expect too little—much too little—from Almighty God!
Perhaps that’s the reason why some of us don’t rejoice—at this or at any other time of the year.
Perhaps that’s the reason why some of us can’t rejoice.
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. It’s the Sunday on which the pink candle of our Advent wreath is lit, signifying that we’re in the second half of Advent and that the joy of Christmas is fast approaching.
Gaudete in Latin means “Rejoice!” It’s a command which comes from the Scripture text we heard in our second reading today from Philippians 4, where St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
But, you see, you can’t rejoice in the Lord—always or even for a little while—unless you have great expectations of God. Neither will you be able to rejoice if you have a lot of unrealistic expectations of God, but that’s another story.
First of all, a distinction needs to be made here between feeling joy and rejoicing. The two are easily and often confused. Feeling joy is an emotional response to something that pleases us; rejoicing, on the other hand, is an act of the will. It’s a decision made on the basis of things that we know to be true.
I don’t feel joy at every moment of my life. I have crosses just like everybody else, and sometimes those crosses cause me to feel distress and sadness. And I’m sure I am not unusual in this. For most people on the planet, that’s life!
But regardless of how I’m feeling at any given moment, I can still make the decision to rejoice. That is always a possibility. I don’t have to rejoice, that’s true—and to be perfectly honest, sometimes I don’t in difficult circumstances—but I do have the capability to do it if I choose to.
Now, as I said earlier, choosing to rejoice needs to be based on what we know is true; it needs to be based on the realistic and great expectations we have of God, expectations which are rooted in our Catholic faith.
For example, regardless of how I may be feeling on a given day, I can still rejoice . . .
· That Jesus does love me and will continue to love me, even if I sin seriously.
· That Jesus will forgive me whenever I sincerely repent, and especially when I bring my sins to him in the sacrament of Confession.
· That Jesus will always hear my prayer and respond to it.
· That Jesus is always there for me in the Holy Eucharist.
Those are some of the things I can rejoice about—even on my worst days. That’s because I have great expectations of God: I expect him to always love me; I expect him to forgive me when I repent—that’s why he sent his Son to die for me; I expect him to supply my needs when I ask him to in prayer (not my wants, but my needs); and I expect Jesus to be there for me every time I receive him in the Eucharist, based on his promises to me in Sacred Scripture.
And here’s some really good news: Sometimes when you’re not feeling so great but you make the decision to rejoice in the Lord anyway, you end up feeling at least a little bit better!
When our great expectations of God motivate us to rejoice, sometimes our emotions follow.
That’s an added bonus when it happens—an added bonus for which we should thank God and another reason for which we can--and should--rejoice!