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Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice in the Desert!

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means Rejoice!  If you have an advent wreath, you’ll notice that while the other three Sundays of Advent have purple candles, today’s candle is rose pink.  This is the color of joy!  Of Rejoicing!

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Today’s first reading tells why we should rejoice.  We begin in the desert.  I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the desert of Southern California in July 2009.  As the picture reflects, it is barren.  The plant life is sparse and looks nearly dead.  And the desert is full of hazards.  Be carefully lifting anything.  There might be a snake hiding underneath!  Or black widows!

When I was there, it got up to 119°! It was HOT with no shade.  But I understand that, on the very rare times when it does rain, the desert just explodes with blossoms!  Like here!

Judean Desert in bloom

This is the promise of the first reading from Isaiah:

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.

Today, you may feel like you’re in a desert.  Like everything around you is dying and the sun itself is beating down on you, draining you of energy.  Rejoice!  God promises better!  This desert will bloom with abundant flowers!

When I was in the desert of California, I learned of one of its denizens, the desert tortoise.  The desert tortoise is a protected species.  We had to be sure to stay on the marked roads and not drive into the desert for fear of driving over one of their burrows and killing them or destroying their nests.  In fact, if we saw one on the road, we were to leave it alone.  I am told that if you sneak up on one and startle it, the desert tortoise will evacuate its bladder.  This is a deadly condition for the tortoise because they recycle their urine.  They go months or years between drinks of water.  Because of this, they have to conserve what fluids they have.

This is an example of how the life in the desert has adapted to the harsh environment.

Although most of us do not live in a desert, many of us experience a spiritual dryness.  Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta describes the spiritual desert she experienced throughout her life.  These were times when Mother Theresa didn’t feel God’s presence.  She couldn’t sense Him.  And I know that there are times when I sometimes don’t feel the fruits of praying, when it doesn’t seem to pay off.

What did Mother Theresa do in those times?  She continued to pray.  She continued to love.  She continued to serve.  She persevered.

This desert often appears in my personal life and my relationship.  Sometimes I don’t feel like being nice to people who snap at me.  I don’t feel the spiritual strength to smile, or help.

Mother Theresa had a wonderful saying that addresses those times when you might not feel the presence of God, when you might not feel like being nice, or helpful.  It goes like this:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

So when you find yourself in a spiritual desert, think of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.  If you don’t feel like praying, just do it.

Also, remember the desert tortoise, who stores its water because it never knows when it will take its next drink.  Like the tortoise, store up memories of when God’s love was obvious to you, when things went well, when you recognized your blessings.

And finally, remember God’s promise.  While your soul may feel dry as the parched desert, God promises that it will “bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”

Think pink.  Think rejoice!


Final Sale

My lips are dry; a sun-parched waste
Long forgotten; longing for the life-giving kiss of clouds.
The Breath of life, a sand blast
Scathing; gouging deep long scars of pink.

The cracks; etched patches whipped
By moans and screeches, robbing healing fluids.
Screaming silence stripping moisture barren sand;
A rugged figure, struggling in the glare;
He stands, glancing at the molten-dripping Sun.

He drops; and struggles, reaching toward a vision:
A hand stretched, a beautiful brunette—the Ice Queen;
An evil laugh; a promise; Roar! the sound of Water
Falling, tumbling, spilling forth to disappear at his feet.

Thoughts of water, struggling through his mind;
A drop, a gift to bribe; his hand, it reaches
Ever to his wallet; he opens it, pulls out one piece of paper,
Crying, he hands it to the woman.

“My soul,” he blurts, and grabs a glass of Water,
And turns to flee, leaving behind all memory of God;
But, miles away he turns for one last glance, and spies
A figure, gliding toward him, dashing in the sand:
The woman, calling him to stop.

She grins at him, reaching out her hand,
A piece of paper, illegible print, she forces into his.
She smiles, a wry smile; bellows forth a laugh;
Curtly, “Your receipt, sir.”

First published in Labyrinth, vol. IX no. 2 (USNA, 1984) under the pseudonym Samson Flanders.

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