Gaudete Sunday and the Journey of Advent: St. Paul’s 5-Point Plan for Mental Health

User’s Guide to Sunday, Dec. 12

We rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent.
We rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent. (photo: Shutterstock / Shutterstock)

Sunday, Dec. 12, is the Third Sunday of Advent. Mass Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6, Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18. 

In today’s second reading, St. Paul gives us a kind of “five-point plan for better mental health.” 

Rejoice in the Presence of the Lord: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your moderateness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Of supreme importance in the Christian life is requesting and cultivating the gift of the Lord’s presence. The Lord is near! To become more consciously and constantly aware of his presence is to be filled with joy and peace. The text also speaks of moderateness. The Greek word used is Epieíkeia, which means to be gentle, forbearing or moderate. Such an attitude is more common when one is joyful and unafraid. There are, of course, times when one should not easily give way, but often there is room for some leeway.

Rely on the Power of the Lord: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition … present your requests to God.” There are very few things as destructive to our mental health as worry. St. Paul is not simply saying, “Don’t worry.” He has already laid groundwork for the diminishment of worry by telling us to cultivate a sense of the presence of God. When I was a young boy, my father left for the Vietnam War. During the year he was away, I spent many anxious nights worrying. As soon as my father returned, my fears went away. Daddy was home, and everything was all right. St. Paul also speaks of confident prayer that is rooted in a memory of God’s goodness and tied to the next point.

Remember the Provision of the Lord: “… with thanksgiving …” Thanksgiving is a way of disciplining the mind to count our blessings. Every day billions of things go right while only a handful go wrong, but we tend to focus on the few things that go wrong. But gratitude disciplines our mind to count our blessings. As we do this, we begin to become men and women of hope and confidence because we remember how God blesses us and know he will continue to do so. 

Rest in the Peace of the Lord: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Gradually, serenity becomes a deeper and more stable reality for us. The text says that this serenity will “guard” our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, as this serenity grows, it screens out the negativity of this world and the demons of discouragement. Having this peace allows us to have serenity and rest. 

Reflect on the Plan of the Lord: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me — put it into practice.” Beware of a steady diet of the 24/7 news cycle. The mainstream media tend to focus on the bad news, on what is controversial and/or adversarial. Too much exposure to that negativity, and you’re unsettled before you know it. Limit your portions of this and focus on the greater, better and lasting things of God. Ponder his plan, his truth, his glory and his priorities. Do you want peace? Reflect on the Lord’s plan for you.

Editor’s Note: These faith-focused tips are most helpful, but please keep in mind that achieving good mental health may include seeking professional help in certain circumstances.

Christmas shoppers walk along the Via Condotti luxury shopping street in central Rome on Dec. 5.

Msgr. Pope on Mental Health and the Holidays, Andrea Picciotti Bayer on Religious Discrimination

Advent is more than half past and the frenzy of the holiday season is in high gear. How do we stay focused on the reason for Christmas? Msgr. Charles Pope brings us St. Paul’s 5-part plan for mental health. Then we turn back to the Supreme Court where oral argument was heard this week on the question: Can local governments discriminate based on religion in school choice programs? EWTN News’ legal analyst Andrea Picciotti Bayer has the story.