“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” We heard these words two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent. Since then, this response used for the Responsorial Psalm has been coming up over and over in my mind and heart, and when a passage sticks around like that, it is good to pay attention to it.
On the one hand, from the historical context, these words express the joy of the Jewish people as they journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where God dwelt. To be in that place was a source of great joy, the anticipation of which would serve to motivate pilgrims on the often-difficult journey to arrive at that destination. On the other hand, this response also indicates the joy we have as pilgrims on the way to House of the Lord, which is of our final home in Heaven. When on a journey, the thought of home brings us joy, and it serves as a motivator to keep moving forward, knowing of the peace that we will find when we finally rest at home.
A third and more immediate way of understanding these words is the joy that we should have as Catholics to come to the House of the Lord which is our church. For each Catholic church or chapel is the New Temple of God, more important because God dwells there, truly and substantially in the Eucharist, Jesus’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. How much more joy should there be in our hearts when we have the privilege of coming to church?
Perhaps this can be a good point of examination for us on this Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday in which we are instructed, rather commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4) for He is near. Not just is He near in the coming celebration of Christmas in two weeks, but He is near to us in each tabernacle, inviting us to come to Him and to be in His presence. When we are getting ready for Mass each Sunday, is there a joyful anticipation in our hearts that we are going to see our King? As we drive to church, is there joy in our hearts? Or, do we find that we have a sense of reluctance and resignation about having to go to Mass? While at Mass, are we thinking about other things we want to do, other places we would rather be, as opposed to rejoicing in being in the House of the Lord?
In these final two weeks before Christmas, let us spend some time reflecting on the joy (or lack thereof) we should have when coming to and being in the House of the Lord. Doing so will prepare us to really look forward to coming to Mass on Christmas, seeing it not just as something to get done, but truly as the highlight to which we look forward, joyful that we will get to meet the newborn King and receive His life in the greatest gift possible, the Eucharist.
I would also like to issue a little Advent challenge, if you are willing to accept it! Since our culture pushes to celebrate Christmas before December 25, we as Catholics have to work hard to maintain a sense of peace and eager expectation for the coming of the Lord. In the midst of all of the noise, we need silence. Why not come to the House of the Lord, our church, to find that silence, to be with Christ Himself, who is “the reason for the season.” Make an effort to make a visit to Jesus in the tabernacle a few times before Christmas apart from coming to Mass. As we come to Him and make time for Him, even if for just a few minutes, He will give us the gift of His peace and an increase of joy in His love for us, a joy that will prepare our hearts to receive Him not only when we celebrate Christmas, but each time we come to the House of the Lord.