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Gaudete Sunday, which takes its name from the Latin gaudete, “to rejoice,” is a reminder during our weeks of Advent anticipation that the arrival of the One we await is certain, that our hope is not in vain.
The reading from Isaiah announces “liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners” (61:1). For those
who work in prison ministry, such a line is fraught with tension. How do we proclaim “release” to prisoners who are serving lengthy or even life sentences? How is this not the cruelest of jokes? Because we’re not proclaiming a single date on the calendar, we’re proclaiming the arrival of a Person, who, as Pope Benedict memorably noted in his first encyclical, “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Advent is a privileged time in which we can discover the difference between waiting and awaiting. Waiting pertains to time; awaiting pertains to desire. We wait for a train to arrive; we await the arrival of a loved one. Our confusion over this perhaps explains the odd sadness we often feel even before Christmas Day has ended. We mistakenly reduce Christmas to a date on the calendar instead of what it is: the arrival of a loved One who loved us first and Who remains with us throughout our days, accompanying us through the concrete circumstances of our lives.
The above reflection was written by Joshua Stancil. After completing an 18-year prison sentence in North Carolina, Joshua earned a BA in English from Arizona State University; launched a marketing and publishing company, Deep River Media; and just last year founded Living With Convictions, a 501c3 nonprofit that provides transitional housing to men and women starting over after prison. His writings have appeared in numerous Catholic publications, including Magnificat and Convivium. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Shakedowns, Shanks, and Shackles: A Writer’s Guide to Prison Life.