By Father Sean Kilcawley, director, Family Life Office
This coming Sunday we will celebrate Gaudete Sunday. That name comes from the entrance antiphon for the mass—Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete. "Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again rejoice."
In the third week of Advent the gospel reading focuses us on the proximate coming of Christ and the immediate preparation for his coming which was manifest in the ministry of John the Baptist. The rose-colored vestment reminds us that there is cause for great joy as we anticipate the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Two questions for us to ponder this week are ‘Do I have joy? and ‘Where does joy come from?’ The Catechism teaches in paragraph 1765 that, “The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed.” If we apply these words to this Advent season in which we are waiting for the coming of Christ, we can identify with the idea of an absent good. All of creation was waiting for the good that is God to enter into the world, and when He finally came there was cause for great rejoicing.
In our spiritual lives, we have a need and a holy desire to possess God. We have a desire to have Him dwell within us. Last week we reflected on that first coming of Christ into our hearts—the first time we possessed Him. In the order of grace, we must also reflect on the fact that we are possessed by Him. That He has claimed us. He has called us. We are sons and daughters of the Father.
True joy wells up within our hearts when we come to a deeper knowledge that we belong to Him (Psalm 100). In fact, the significance of the Incarnation is that God became like us in all things but sin. He made himself known to us and He knows us completely. Only in Christ can we be sure of the fact that we are completely and unconditionally loved. He has called us to a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship. As our awareness of this reality grows through prayer and reflection, our sense of joy grows as well.
Last week, I had the opportunity to witness this dynamic in my 3-year-old niece, Brigid. I only see her a couple of times per year, so when I arrived at my brother’s house and greeted her, she basically ignored me.
My sister-in-law asked her, “Do you want to say ‘hi’ to your uncle Sean?” She quickly responded, “No.” So for a couple of days, I worked on knowing her. We made a lot of eye contact. I imitated her facial expressions to communicate to her that I noticed her. Once in a while she experimented with throwing toys at me. She was trying to figure out if I was a safe person, if I was interested in her, and if I understood her life (as much as a 3-year-old tries to figure these things out).
On the last day of my visit, she was leading me around the room, laughing constantly, and showing great protest that I was leaving to return home. There was joy in coming to know one another. My niece had a conversion from not knowing me, to knowing me and the result of that conversion was joy.
This is what Christ wants for each of us: for each of us to come to know Him and to be known by him. John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ by calling people to repentance. Countless men and women went to him to confess their sins and be baptized. In this confession of their sins, they were, in effect, making themselves known, and therefore preparing themselves to receive mercy.
The same happens with us when we go to sacramental reconciliation. We make ourselves known to the Lord, so that we might experience his love and mercy for us. Jesus doesn’t love the perfect version of us, or the façade we put on for others. He sees and loves what is in the heart. He came to seek and save what was lost. True joy comes when we rid ourselves of secrets and shame and allow Christ to rule of every aspect of our lives.
Secrets are an obstacle to joy because they prevent us from being known and loved by God and others. In addition to harming our spiritual lives, secrets and shame can do terrible damage to marriages and families. In our own time, technology has made keeping secrets more and more accessible, and we must be vigilant in safeguarding our hearts, and our families, from this occasion of secrecy.
Recent studies have even linked divorce with social media use. In 2011, Facebook was implicated in one-third of divorce cases, evidencing the damage that internet secrecy does to intimacy, love, and joy. For this reason, I recommend that all couples use joint social media accounts. Nobody’s ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend reaches out to “BobandSue Facebook” when they are lonely.
This week’s step to safeguarding your family is to consider installing internet accountability software on all of your family’s devices. Our diocese has partnered with Covenant Eyes, which is a program that will monitor each of your family member’s devices and send a report weekly to an accountability partner. Mom might get Dad’s report, Dad gets Mom’s, and Mom and Dad get each of their kids’ reports.
Accountability software is not only for people with pornography problems. It is just a good way to be online and safeguard ourselves and our families from secretive internet habits. It allows us to be known by another. Accountability software also reminds us that we are never alone when we are online, and everyone should have at least one person in their life who is allowed to know what they do on the internet.
Each week two of my friends get my report, and they don’t hesitate to call if I Netflix binge on my day off, and I’m grateful for that because I am trying to curb that behavior right now. Every wife should be able to know how much time her husband spends on espn.com, and every husband should be able to know how much time his wife spends on Pinterest (though he really may not want to know!).
Most especially, parents should know what their children do when online. The report won’t simply reveal if there was any exposure to inappropriate content. The report will help you to see the good content your child is consuming online. It will help you to know what they are interested in and maybe even provide topics for ongoing conversations that help them to feel more known and loved by you. Most of all, I pray that it will create even more space for Jesus in your family, and that His presence will bring you great joy.
For more information on Covenant Eyes visit www.cmgparent.org and the diocesan website www.lincolndiocese.org/protectmykids. Use the coupon code LINCOLN to try Covenant Eyes free for 30 days, and 20% of all subscription payments to Covenant Eyes are shared back to the Diocese of Lincoln. The money is used to fund chastity education programs and the Freedom from Pornography Apostolate.
Related item: Advent column for Week 2
Related item: Advent column for Week 1