World Youth Day Madrid
3rd Sunday of Advent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Dec 17, 2017
In the summer of 2011, I found myself helping lead a group of 40 something youths on a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid. The Pope was going to Spain and our intention was to meet him there, together with millions of youth from all over the world. We had spent months planning. We fundraised, organised transportation, and even learned a bit of Spanish. We ended up arriving a few days before the Holy Father. During these days our group would spend the mornings traveling to a nearby town for catechesis talks given by a bishop.
All was going well, until one morning as our train arrived at the town for catechesis, we learned that one boy was missing. We went into a panic and franticly made phone calls, and thought of all the possibilities of where this boy could be. We sent someone back on the train to see if they could find him while the rest of us continued to the church for catechesis.
When we arrived at the church already disapointed by the loss of one of our youth, we learned that the talk was already more than half over. Our delay over the lost youth had made us late and now there was no point in attending the event for which we traveled her in the first place. From where we stood it would have been better if we had just stayed home that morning. The morale of the 40 youth and their leaders was running pretty low.
To try and salvage something out of our day, we decided to take a bus to the city centre to do some sightseeing. The first few kilometres on the bus went well. But then we turned onto the expressway. Instantly we were stopped, not by traffic, but by a line of police cars. The highway had been blockaded and no one was allowed past. For the third time that day our hearts sank. We lost a kid, we missed our catechesis, and now we were stick on a bus in the Spanish sun for God knows how long. Some of us began to wonder why we went on this pilgrimage in the first place.
However, to our surprise, the police car in front of us moved, creating a path for our bus to pass through. We drove on past the blockade and continued on down the highway. However, something was off, as we looked around us, we realized that we were the only vehicle the police had let through. There was a four lane highway with only us on it. It was kind of eerie. Also we noticed that every overpass was packed with people looking down as we drove underneath them. What was going on?
That’s when we came to another police blockade, only this time we were the only ones they were blocking. After we stopped, an officer came on the bus and asked us kindly to get off. A little concerned, we demanded to know what was going on, and the police officer with a smirk on his face said, “You haven’t heard? The Pope’s plane just landed and that onramp there comes directly from the airport, don’t you want to be the first ones to see him?”
Instantly the mood in that bus went from confusion, fear, and disappointment, to complete and utter joy. The youth started shouting in excitement as they ran from the bus to the guard rail of that highway onramp. We waited a few minutes before we saw the first sign of the Holy Father’s arrival.
Two police motorcycles came screaming down the onramp, and then some SUVs with tinted windows, that must be the security. After them were black limousines with little Spanish and Vatican flags fastened on the front hood. Those must be the diplomats. And finally, we saw him. A little man in white, siting in the glass dome of his Popemobile. He was seated high up for all to see. As he came down the ramp, we were the only ones there. He looked at as, smiled and waved with both his hands. We waved back as he continued down the highway.
You could not describe a more joyful scene than those 40 youth standing on the roadside waving at the man they traveled 7000 km to see. What was just a few minutes before a total disaster of a day was now the highlight of the pilgrimage. That morning we were reminded why it was that we came.
Why do I tell you this story? Because I think it illiterates what we celebrate in the Church today. Today is Gaudete Sunday. The word “Gaudete” is Latin for “Rejoice”. The Church in her wisdom knows that advent can be the most busy and stressful time of the year. We began two weeks ago to plan how we were going to celebrate the coming of Our Lord at Christmas.
We have been buying presents, planning great feasts, visiting relatives, and helping the poor. We have been preparing ourselves spiritually, through prayer, confession, and Mass. But in the midst of this preparation, we can become so focused on all that we have to do that we forget the reason why we are doing it. Just as all the bad things that happened that morning in Madrid made us forget why we were there, so too all the business before Christmas can make us forget what we are preparing for.
So to help us, the Church this Sunday asks us to stop what we are doing, and think of why we are doing it. The Church wants us to lift our heads from the worktable and look towards one week from now. What we see is a child lying in a manger. What we see is Christ at his first coming. What we see is Christmas.
That is why today the Church tells us to “Rejoice.” Almost everything in Mass today speaks of rejoicing. We light the rose coloured candle on the advent wreath, and the priest wears rose vestments because rose is a colour of joy. The readings speak of rejoicing. The first reading from Isaiah, says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord.” Mary in today’s Psalm says, “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour” and St Paul in the second reading commands us “My brothers and sisters, rejoice always”.
The Virgin Mary, St. Paul, and the prophet Isaiah, had all seen Christ. Isaiah saw him coming in the future, for he was a prophet. Mary saw him when he came, for she was his mother. And St. Paul saw him after he returned to heaven, for he was a convert. All had seen Christ in their own way, but for each the result was the same, “Joy”. They cannot help but rejoice after meeting their Lord. And they can’t help but speak to us about it.
We are no different from them. You and I are planning to meet Our Lord in a week from now when he comes at Christmas. Not only that, you and I are planning to meet Our Lord in a few minutes from now when he comes in the Eucharist. If we truly understand who it is we are meeting, then we can do nothing but Rejoice. Our Lord is coming, our saviour is coming, our God is coming, so we must rejoice.
That summer morning on our pilgrimage in Madrid our entire group had become frustrated, discouraged, and questioned why were even there. When we looked up to see the Pope waving at us we remembered. If today you feel tired and frazzled from all your preparation for Christmas than today look up and see what you are preparing for. And if you keep your eyes fixed on that point then all your work, all your preparation, will no longer be tiresome but a joy.