Sunday, December 16, 2018

For Gaudete Sunday: An Advent Rumination

Gaudete, gaudete!
Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine

[Read the rest here, as I’m indisposed to transcribe it all.]

     Christians will be aware that today, the third Sunday of Advent, is Gaudete (“Rejoice!”) Sunday, when the Mass celebrant lights the pink candle. Gaudete Sunday has always struck me as oddly placed, as it comes before the Feast of the Nativity – that’s Christmas Day, for all you folks playing at home – but there it is, an exhortation to rejoice about an event that hasn’t happened yet.

     Of course I’m being unreasonably literal here. There are plenty of reasons to rejoice, including this one: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was born about two thousand years ago. Christmas is a commemoration, not some sort of don’t-miss-it Opening Day Sale. We already have His Gospels; we already have His promise of eternal life; we already have His Crucifixion and Resurrection by which to know that He was indeed the Son of God. So by all means rejoice. These things are ours in perpetuity. They cannot be taken away from us.

     You may have noticed that as usual at this time of year, the militant atheists are out and about, doing what they can – not much, really – to spoil the celebration. They spend money. They put up placards and billboards. They buttonhole us types with “an imaginary friend” and lecture us about how “irrational’ we’re being. And to what effect? Approximately nothing good; mostly just a lot of acrimony.

     Note that they do nothing of the sort to Muslims at Eid al-Adha. But that’s a separate subject.

     I’m reminded of a brief line from the unfairly derided movie – probably mostly by militant atheists; they can’t seem to leave anything Christian alone – God’s Not Dead 2. Protagonist Grace Wesley, played by Melissa Joan Hart, is chatting with her father Walter, played by Pat Boone, about a student of hers who’s agonized by her atheist parents’ seeming indifference to the death of her brother, an embryonic Christian. Dad says, most pithily, that “That’s the thing about atheism. It doesn’t take away the pain; it just takes away the hope.”

     Yes, some Christians are aggressively evangelistic. This is a mistake. It’s always a mistake to be aggressive about a belief that can neither be proved nor disproved. But it’s a mistake that far fewer of us make today than in previous eras. The aggressively evangelistic atheists make that point for me.

     I’ve known a fair number of reasonably intelligent people in my sixty-six years. Many of them were atheists. But they were no happier than the theists around them. In many cases they were less happy. One complained to me privately about the sense that his life was meaningless. As bright as he was – IQ around 145, by my informal estimate – he hadn’t grasped that meaning requires an interpreter. (At least he wasn’t evangelistic about his atheism.)

     Please don’t mistake me: it’s possible that the atheists are correct, that there is no supernatural realm, no eternal life, and no Supreme Being. But it’s just as possible that they’re wrong – and what do the militant ones have to offer the targets of their evangelism? Their approval? A secret handshake? A complimentary one year subscription to Free Thought magazine?

     Political evangelists are bad enough. Leave us Christians alone, please. We’re not stupid, not irrational, and not interested in your supercilious disapproval. We know what we like.

     It has always taken courage to stand against the disapproval of a noisy crowd. Time was, it took courage to be an acknowledged atheist. That’s no longer the case. Today the sneers and denunciations come from the atheists. Today it takes courage to be openly religious.

     I’m a cerebral type. Things have to make sense to me. I’m a Christian – Catholic variety – for the reasons G. K. Chesterton once cited: I find life to be sensible and workable with this scheme of belief, but senseless and unworkable without it. Were Christian doctrine overall to strike me as irremediably contradictory to Man’s accumulated knowledge, I would reject it. But the more I’ve learned, the more harmonious it has come to appear.

     It was in reaching the conclusions that:

  • The two Great Commandments and the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue are indispensable guides toward the living of a good life in a good society;
  • The evidence that Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught, worked, died, and was resurrected is trustworthy if not utterly conclusive;
  • The Gospels themselves are wholesome and contain nothing that violates the nature, drives, and social character of Man;

     ...that I became capable of rejoicing as a Christian should. But I don’t rejoice merely for the coming of the Christmas commemoration; no sincere Christian does. I rejoice for all His gifts, including existence itself. For if God exists, it follows that all else flows from His will, including our lives in a universe with fixed natural laws we can learn, and from which we can prosper. Were He to say “I’m tired of the universe, expanding all the time, who needs it?” that would be the end of all things except Him.

     His gifts to us are literally immeasurable. That’s material enough for a lifetime of rejoicing.

     May God bless and keep you all!

1 comment:

Mark.V. said...

Gaudete is a great song by the English folk rock group Steeleye Span.