Sunday Sermon for December 16, 2012, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

In the Gospel reading today the people come to St. John the Baptist and ask the question “What should we do?” For each group that asks the question the Baptist gives a pointed answer. In essence, he tells the people to be honest, to be charitable, to be humble and to be at peace within. This interior peace is not just a matter of passive resignation; rather, it is the fruit of actively choosing to serve the Lord.

St. Paul tells us that when we are praying, giving thanks and making our requests known to God, then the peace of Christ will guard our minds and hearts. Beyond this, St. Paul tells us that we are to rejoice, be kind and have no anxiety. It must be noted, however, that he says we are to rejoice always, not just when things are going well for us, but in all things. So the peace comes as a result of striving to know and do the will of God.

The ability to rejoice always and to be at peace comes from prayer, not saying prayers, but praying deeply in one’s heart. From this kind of prayer growth in virtue will also follow naturally. In this way we will be doing exactly what St. John the Baptist and St. Paul instruct us to do.

Moreover, when we are living virtuous lives and seeking union with God, then the prophecy from the first reading will be fulfilled. Not only the prophecy that foretells the fact of the Savior being in our midst, but what I consider to be one of the most astonishing passages in Scripture: that God will rejoice over us with gladness and sing joyfully because of us.

We must be clear that there is nothing that we can do to increase the happiness of God; in fact God gains absolutely nothing from any of our prayers, good works, acts of virtue or anything else that we can do. Instead, we are the ones who benefit from doing the will of God because we are not only fulfilling what is best for us, but we become more and more the people God created us to be.

This being the case, we would be left wondering why God would be rejoicing over us. Since He is not rejoicing about what we give to Him, then He must be rejoicing in our good. When we pray and strive for union with God He rejoices that we are growing in holiness. We must understand, our growth in holiness does not make God any more happy than what He was already, but it opens our hearts to be able share in the joy of the Lord.

Any parents who love their children understand how you can rejoice in your children even when they are not living according to what they have been taught. While the parents do not rejoice in the choices and actions of their children in these cases, they still love and rejoice in the persons of their children. God is not only a Father Who loves us, He is our Creator Who loves us infinitely. So He loves us and is joyful in the persons He created us to be, even if we have rejected Him.

Children understand that when their parents disapprove of their actions there is a distance between them and their parents. They still love their parents and they know their parents still love them, but they are not able to fully receive the love and the joy their parents have for them, not because the love and joy of the parents is less, but because the children have distanced themselves from their parents. The greater the distance, or put another way, the weaker the union between the children and the parents, the less the children will be able to receive from their parents.

When the union grows stronger between the parents and the children, the parents do not love more, but the children are able to receive more of what the parents are giving to them. So it is with God and us. He loves us, even when we are deep in sin, but since we have removed ourselves from Him we are not able to receive the love and the grace He offers us.

If we are in the State of Grace, we are ale to receive the Lord’s gifts, but only to the degree of holiness we have attained. The one who loves God more is the one who is able to receive more of God’s love because his heart is more fully open to receive. God loves us all infinitely, so there is nothing lacking on His part. Therefore, it is only to our benefit take seriously the spiritual life, seek union with God, and share in the joy of our Lord.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit