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Fr. Steve: God Rejoices Over You

Written by Stephen Sundborg, S.J.
December 14, 2009

 God Rejoices Over You

 -  3rd Sunday of Advent

-  December 13, 2009

-  Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.

In the middle of this beautiful season of Advent we have “Gaudete Sunday”, which means “Rejoice Sunday”, and we light the rose colored Advent candle.  The purple of the season lightens to a more joyful rose.  It is a Sunday all about rejoicing, being glad.  Listen again to the scriptures:

-           The earth rejoices in the hope of the Savior’s coming.

-           Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel!

-           The Lord your God will rejoice over you with gladness; he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.

-           Cry out with joy and gladness, for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

-           Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again, rejoice!

-           The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.

-           Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.  John said, “One mightier than I is coming…  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”  Exhorting them in many other ways, (John) preached good news to the people.

It is very hard to miss the point, isn’t it, that we are called to rejoice, to be glad, to join the earth in singing for joy, to cry out with joy because our Savior comes.  Not hard to get the point and perhaps easy enough to rejoice in this way.  But I want to ask us to do something much harder, that is to let “God rejoice over us”, to allow God to “sing because of us”.  It is far easier for us to be happy than to know that God is happy because of us.  Try it today; believe it; let yourself do it; let Him do it!  I invite you either now in this Alumni and Friends Advent Mass or later when you have a reflective moment, to go back over your year and to let God rejoice over you and the events of your life, sing for joy over your year.  When I do that, by way of example for you, here’s what comes to mind for me.  As I do this, ask yourself what comes to mind for you.

-           God rejoiced in February when I was privileged to celebrate the funeral Mass for my Dad having faithfully fulfilled our family’s care for our two beloved and aged parents.

-           God rejoiced exceedingly when 100 of us stepped into the most beautiful sacred space in the world, built to praise God, the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, with its mammoth sanctuary wall of the 99 names of God, etched in gold, sparkling with light cast from a kaleidoscopic bejeweled chandelier.

-           God rejoiced on June 13 over the proud parents who through tears pinned bars on ten Seattle U. ROTC students commissioned as officers in the US Army willing to risk their lives to protect us and other peoples.  He especially rejoiced over two of them who were not only commissioned together early that morning but in the afternoon married one another!

-           God rejoiced over two dozen students on July 13th doing an Italian study-abroad program, when Fr. Cobb brought them to the very room in Rome where our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, lived for 15 years and where he died.  There, where it all began 469 years ago, that room was filled with God’s joy as I celebrated Mass with those wide-eyed SU students.

-           God rejoiced in August over twenty or so Carmelite nuns in a monastery in England—my former executive secretary, now fully professed, Sister Lesley Lockwood among them—where I was privileged to park myself and to preach on 28 mornings.  God rejoiced over their prayerful, silent, surrendering, sometimes dark, praising center and heart of our church and Mystical Body.  God rejoiced over how they anchor all of us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

-           God rejoiced at the fulfillment of the 118 year-long dream and prayers of Seattle College and Seattle University when 2,126 new students came streaming to us this fall for the privilege of our kind of Jesuit education as the children of Jerusalem were predicted to come streaming to that holy city.

-           In the middle of a Noah-dimensions downpour on a November afternoon God rejoiced when we topped off the new McGoldrick Learning Commons with a steel beam on which God saw the late Harold Daubenspeck’s name, who honored his beloved professor and friend of 1932‑1936, Fr. McGoldrick, by making the gift that named the new building for him at the center of our campus.

-           God rejoiced over a group of Native American students who sat around a table, 13 of us in all, two weeks ago and exclaimed they had never seen so many of their own kind, college students, in one place, succeeding, overcoming loneliness, cultural dislocation, and discrimination, to make it in higher education, at Seattle U.  God rejoiced and laughed to look over this miraculous group after sending American Indians four times to St. Louis to drag the Jesuits out here to the Northwest in the first place in 1841.

-           God rejoiced over a 17 year old shy Ethiopian girl named Tsehay Adebe in my office coming to me because she needs more help beyond her Presidential Scholarship, the brightest girl I’ve ever met, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, who came all the way to us from her family in Ethiopia, the girl against odds to go to college rather than her brothers, to do pre‑med and become a doctor and to go back to help her people.  God will provide for Tsehay because God takes joy in her brilliance, her undaunted will, and in her people.

-           God rejoiced over me and had a very good laugh at my expense when a sophomore, Katie Wieliczkjewicz, came to tell me all about the Residence Hall Association, of which she is president, with their residence hall councils.  Katie stole my heart because she too is from Alaska, from Wasilla, and wants to go into politics (and perhaps can see Russia from her backyard!).  God had a good laugh when I set myself up by saying if ever there was any event Katie would like me to attend, I’d be glad to, and when Katie replied, “Great, Fr. Steve, because tomorrow, Saturday, we are having the competition between residence halls we call ‘the Hallympics’, with tug-a-war, frisbee throwing, and a pie-eating contest… and we’d love you to be in the pie-eating contest!”  Presidential pause.  “Well, Katie, what time will that be?”  Katie, excitedly, “4:30.”  Then I thought:  the perfect presidential response.   “Well, Katie, I’d really love to but I’ve got something else I have to do at that time.”  No pause.  Katie of Wasilla looking me in the eye and I think with a twinkle in hers, at least I hope so:  “Fr. Steve, I’d say you can say you’ve got an appointment to do something else at 4:30 on Saturday only if at 5:00 you’ve got an appointment to go to confession!”  God so rejoiced over Katie W. the Catholic of Wasilla getting my number that he nearly tumbled out of heaven and got into the pie-eating contest himself.

-           And just last weekend God rejoiced over the 100-student-strong Seattle University Choir summing up all the ways God has loved them in this fall quarter, filling St. Joseph’s Church with the sound of the angels glorifying God and proclaiming peace on earth and peace for the holidays.

Now how about you on this “Gaudete Sunday”,   this “Rejoice-Because-He-Is-Coming Sunday”?  If you were to write one of those Christmas letters not so much to your friends, but to God, telling less about all that you’ve done this year, but more about how God has rejoiced over you, in what you’ve experienced, what would you write?  What births, what lives fulfilled, what final peace through deaths, what children helped, what poor, homeless, abused protected and honored, what daily prayer and weekly worship, what human shabbiness loved, what good news preached by how you live, what heart—your own—surrendered and given to God?  Try it and see if you can do a very hard thing—especially for Catholics—letting God rejoice fully over you.

In the end far more beautiful than any mosque or monastery or church filled with glorious music or this chapel is the exquisite temple of your heart.  That is where God who loves you rejoices in you as at a festival, is glad because of you, and prepares a joyful place for receiving the Savior who comes.

Click here to read more homilies and speeches by Fr. Sundborg.