Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete comes from our entrance antiphon and is the command to rejoice. Traditionally, this is the Sunday where the priest wears rose-coloured vestments. The rose colour is seen as a softening of the purple of the penitential season. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the centrality of fasting for the spiritual life. Perhaps this Sunday might be seen as a snack in the car on the way. And we see something similar in our gospel.
St John the Baptist is starving. Yes, he takes fasting seriously. But more than that, he is spiritually starving. He has hungered for justice his all life. Most importantly in this hunger for justice, he has hungered for God’s people to turn back to God. He is desperate for Israel to realise the urgency of God’s Word. He is desperate for them to realise that now is the right time. He has proclaimed a message of repentance and baptised people into this message of hunger and spiritual urgency.
And we know that his hunger was contagious. At the time of Christ, it is thought that St John the Baptist had more followers than Jesus. There was obviously something about him. His desert life, his complete disregard for the nice things of life: all of this communicated his profound spiritual feeling.
Our gospel today comes after St John the Baptist had been arrested. With his knowledge of God’s ways, with his deep knowledge of the Scriptures, I doubt that St John the Baptist did not know his time was near. He knew the fate of prophets. He knew what the truth costs in this world. I suspect he knew that his death was round the corner.
And so his hunger for truth, his hunger for justice, his hunger for the kingdom of God has probably reached fever pitch in our gospel today. I wonder whether this episode wasn’t St John the Baptist’s Gaudete Sunday. He is wondering whether the car will ever arrive and so Jesus gives him something to eat. Jesus gives him something to hold him over until the end.
It might be worth us reflecting on this. What do we hunger for? I think I have mentioned this before, but perhaps one of the most telling questions these days is: what do you want? This question is a bit of a live grenade. One has to be very cautious in using it. For people without faith, it can open up a yawning abyss. It can destroy fake answers, fake lives, poor substitutes for real joy. Again, though, while it can easily destroy bad approaches, very few people without faith are ready for this question, or indeed have the resources to construct a real answer. And therefore the darkness that such a question can open up can sometimes be overwhelming.
I think it can be overwhelming because many people fundamentally believe that their hunger cannot be fed. They believe that hunger is the default, but the default without end. Fasting is all there is. And so they cover up their hunger with denial or over-indulgence. They behave hopelessly because they believe that there is no end to the pilgrimage and therefore no halfway house. So many therefore do not believe in the reality of the Eucharist.
And the Eucharist is our perpetual Gaudete Sunday. It is the foretaste of heaven. Like St John the Baptist, we come to Mass starving. But also like St John the Baptist, we turn to Christ, believing that he can answer our questions. We believe that he can quench our thirst. We believe this so much that we are prepared for God to make us even hungrier. Prepared for God to reveal more and more of the world’s suffering. Prepared for God to entrust us with more and more of the work of proclamation, the work of liberation, and entrust the serious work of rejoicing to us.
We believe that yes Christ is crucified, that yes he knows our hunger. But we also know him to be risen, that our hunger is satisfied. And so as our faith grows, so does our hunger. But as our hunger grows, so does our hope. And hope is the truth of Gaudete Sunday. We rejoice ahead of time, assured that the truth of time, God’s Kingdom of love and peace, is already coming. Is already among us. Is already blossoming.
Let’s pray then to know our hunger but without fear. Let’s pray then to be in communion with those who suffer but without despair. Let’s pray then to continue on the way of the Cross but rejoicing. For he comes, he comes to set us free. And he is always faithful.