"You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as Faith gives me strength I will always be joyful. Sadness ought to be banished from Catholic souls... the purpose for which we have been created shows us the path; even if strewn with many thorns, it is not a sad path. It is joyful even in the face of sorrow." Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Third Sunday of Advent A
If my nephew finds out that I’ve told you what I’m about to share, I’m going to be in trouble…
You see, when Nathan was little, we noticed a cute habit of his: when he gets excited—say, opening presents on Christmas or his birthday, especially if he’s getting something he’s long wanted—he flutters. Let me demonstrate… [flapping lower arms really fast] It was adorable in a toddler, and as we’d all laugh, I’m sure he could only assume that we were sharing in the joy he simply couldn’t contain.
But now Nathan is a 5th grader, and he’s all boy: playing football, racing snowmobiles, fishing, and hunting. Last month, Nathan bagged his first buck—a six pointer. When I saw my sister on Thanksgiving, I had to ask, “So, did he flutter?” “Oh yes,” his mother said, “there was a whole lot of fluttering going on…” Of course, we had this conversation out of earshot of Nathan, because fluttering isn’t exactly cool for a boy becoming a young man.
This Sunday, the Church flutters. At the halfway point of Advent, she’s bursting at the seems with joy—not so much that Christmas is close, but that God has come so very close to us. Unable to keep it in, the Church sheds the somber shades of purple and clothes herself in brighter, rosy hue.
Such joyfulness should be the normal, natural disposition of Christians. But it isn’t, is it? No, we grow up…and we tend to forget to flutter.
One reason is that we think joy is reserved for those times when everything is going right: when life is perfect, free from all challenge and struggle. But if that’s the case, there will be no joy in the world. Consider our first reading, when we hear the prophet Isaiah fluttering. His joy is overflowing at the thought of when the Savior will come. He says that the land itself will rejoice and bloom with abundant flowers. But notice that Isaiah doesn’t foresee flowers in gardens, arising from earth that is fertile and well-watered. No, it’s the desert that’s going to bud. Likewise, we hear John the Baptist fluttering. He hears reports of all that Jesus is doing—the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk—and he delights in the thought, “Is he the one? Could he be the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?” But where is John the Baptist that he must send others out to ask? He’s being held in prison, sitting in the dark and damp beneath Herod’s palace. Desert and dungeon! A truly Christian joy isn’t experienced apart from all the hardships of life, but springs up right in the midst of the most adverse circumstances.
Another reason we grownups don’t flutter so much is that we’ve lost touch with our true desires. Nathan doesn’t flutter for just anything, but only on attaining those things for which he’s waited most eagerly. In the gospel, Jesus asks his own question of the crowds: “What did you go out to see?” Were you disappointed by John the Baptist? Is he something other than what you expected? What exactly are you looking for? The truth is, most of us don’t really know! We’re too busy to ponder such a fundamental question. We’ve lost touch with the deepest, most authentic longings of the human heart—the ones planted there by God himself: our desire to be in intimate, personal relationship with God; our longing to love and be loved. But these holy yearnings have been thrown off track by sin. And if we can’t see that we stand in need of saving, then we won’t be rejoicing too much to receive a Savior.
When was the last time you fluttered? Oh, maybe you don’t flap your arms…but you might giggle, or grin from ear to ear, or your hearts skip a beat, or you get a spring in your step. Most of us feel we’re too old for all that. And I worry about that for Nathan. I’m sure that he’s concerned that fluttering is childish and ought to be left behind. Actually, I’d say that fluttering isn’t childish, but childlike (an crucial distinction), and did not our Lord himself say that unless we become like children, then we cannot enter the kingdom of God? Heaven is joy in the fulfillment of our real desires, in being near to God. Don’t we want to be in good practice?
Here are two things that ought to make you flutter.
You should flutter tomorrow. The “light will be on for you” all day, with confessions available from 6:00am until 10:00pm. What more joyful preparation for Christmas could there be than one which brings to bear the very reason Jesus was born: God so love the world that he gave his only Son to pay our ransom and free us from our sins.
You should also flutter in just a few minutes, as we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion. God did not only come close to us once in Bethlehem; he remains close to us, most especially in the Eucharist. Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood—not only God-with-us, but God within us. The thought of it ought to have us skipping down the aisle! Sure, it’s a sacred, solemn moment, but we must never let it get so serious that it robs us of our joy.
I don’t know if I’ll see Nathan flutter this Christmas. I also don’t know what he’ll have to say when he hears about this homily! But I pray that your heart and mind will relearn how to flutter in these last days of Advent. Rejoice! The Lord is very near.