Pastoral Letter: Third Sunday of Advent
posted on 12 December 2003
'something precious that we can offer to our society today is the gift of joy, of happiness in the Lord'
The following is the text of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Westminster which will be read at Masses on the Third Sunday of Advent.
“My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
' This third Sunday of Advent is often known as ‘Gaudete’ Sunday. The word ‘gaudete’ means ‘rejoice’ or ‘be happy’ and it comes from the text of our second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians. Paul is writing to the community of Christians from prison and it is clear that he loves this group very much indeed. His heart is speaking to their hearts. So he says in this passage: 'I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness'. Quite simply, Paul is saying, as I do to you, that we should rejoice and be happy because we are united with Christ, we live in Him and through the gift of His grace we rejoice.
' I was reminded of this when ten thousand or so of us met at Wembley Arena in September for the launch of At Your Word, Lord. It was clear at that great celebration that we were Christians, Catholics together, rejoicing in the Lord. We were glad. Sometimes I think we don’t rejoice or be happy as much as we can or ought to be. Of course, Paul knows that this is easier said than done, but it is very important, and so he says, 'Again, I repeat, be happy. What I want is your happiness'.
' Paul goes on to say, 'Let your tolerance be known to everyone', and by ‘tolerance’ I think he means ‘gentleness’. Others should be able to observe our goodness, our kindness, our inner peace. Others may not realise that these are especially Christian qualities, but that is neither here nor there. Other people must be able to notice that -you are considerate, helpful, kind and loving; this must be something every one can see.
' It is strange that in the midst of these exhortations, Paul says something that is not an exhortation at all. He says 'The Lord is very near'. He thinks of the Lord Jesus as someone near-by, and not just as someone who once lived among us and has simply gone away to heaven. He thinks of Jesus the Lord as the one who abides with us in His Spirit, in His Word, in His brother and His sister. He thinks of Jesus as the One who wants to penetrate ever further into our lives.
' How glad I am when I hear of the very many people who have, through the At Your Word, Lord process, allowed the Word of God, which is Jesus, to penetrate more deeply into their lives. Through prayer, through meeting each other, through seeing Him in other people, and especially in the needy - we bear witness to the truth that the Lord is near to us. He is close to each one of us. Paul urges us to be comforted by this nearness of the Lord. We should not be worried about anything. What he means is that we should not have the kind of anxiety that non-believers have. We should be able to cheerfully face each day.
' The Lord is close to us; I suppose the question posed by St Paul is, ‘Are we close to the Lord?’ Paul knows, as I know, that everyone has worries and that the pressure and the stress of life can sometimes be very painful to us. But at the same time, Paul wants to reassure us, In everything, everything that worries or distresses or pains us, let your requests be known to God with thanksgiving. He urges us to give thanks to God in our prayer, and he concludes by telling us, 'the peace of God, which is much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Jesus Christ'
' I say all this because I think that something precious that we can offer to our society today is the gift of joy, of happiness in the Lord. In the Early Church, they used to say, 'These Christians, how they love one another.' Many, many people became Christians because they saw the joy and the happiness and the peace of the Christian communities. Surely that should be ours too today.
' There are two things I’d like to emphasise. Two months ago, together with my fellow-bishops in England and Wales, I went to Rome on our five-yearly visit to present the Report on our Diocese. It was good to be able to present to Pope John Paul the efforts that we are making to take initiatives to deepen the life of Jesus Christ within each one of us and to make Him known. Pope John Paul did much to encourage us, urging us to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ and to help and nourish the desire for holiness amongst all our people. That is, indeed, my greatest desire. It is, perhaps, the most important part of my task as Shepherd of the People of God in our Diocese.
' Lastly, I want to encourage you. The Lord is near. In a special way He comes near to us this Christmastide, not in the noise of the secular celebrations but in the silence and the depths of our hearts where the Holy Spirit dwells within us. I want you all to take courage and to continue to deepen your faith in Jesus Christ and to show Him to others by the way you live. The Lord is very near. I thank Him for His goodness and His mercy as I wish you all the happiness and the joy of the coming season of Christmas.'