In mid-Advent, with the solemn purple on the altars and the days darkening early, the Church suddenly dons rose vestments and admits flowers. Saint John says, when the Light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overpower it. In the eighteenth century, when philosophy had lost its moorings in the Scholastic tradition of the Catholic saints and turned inward in a pessimistic way, a friend told Samuel Johnson that he had wanted to be a philosopher, but cheerfulness kept breaking through. Dr. Johnson was a man meant for Gaudete Sunday as, in fact, all of us are. For we are meant for Heaven, and it is Heaven’s gentle joy that breaks through in these days. With all of the comforts of our generation, this world is sad in many ways. Of course, there are the unspeakable sufferings of Christians in many places, and injustice in violent forms, and corruption and stupidity in high places, but there is also a subtle melancholy born of an insensibility to eternal joy.
Christ is the way to Heaven and said so himself. He was prophesied by the voice of his own cousin, John the Baptist, in fulfillment of the words of a prophet almost as great as John: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
When I was a student in Rome, I frequently got lost in the streets that were anything but straight: they were astonishingly winding and crooked in the ancient quarter where I lived, and more than once did I walk into a blind alley. Yet when one asked a local Roman for directions, the answer was invariably: “Va sempre diritto.” (Keep going straight ahead.) I must say it was not very helpful. But that is what Our Lord says each day of our lives. The difference is that he does not point the way, he IS the way. He does not point a finger saying, “Keep going straight ahead.” He says to you and me, as he said to the apostles, “Follow me.”
No one ever gets lost by following Jesus. That is an incontestable fact, and the saints prove it. The greatest of saints, the Mother of Jesus, is the cause of our joy,Causae Nostrae Laetitiae, because she directs us to the One who shows the way to Heaven: “Do whatever my son tells you to do” (John 2:5). He leads us up no blind alleys.
In 1336, Pope Benedict XII declared in the constitution Benedictus Deus:
We define that . . . since the passion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the souls in Heaven have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive and even face-to-face vision, without interposition of any creature in the function of the object seen. Rather, the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them plainly, clearly, openly.