The Joy and Its Prophet

Lectio Divina: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

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1)     The joy of the gift of charity

     The aim of Advent is to prepare the Christians for Christmas because Jesus comes where He is waited, desired and loved.

     This waiting that must be lived with ”vigilance” and ”discernment” (see the previous Sundays of Advent) ,must be done with ”joy” because the coming of the God of Everlasting Joy never ends.

      With Christmas approaching this Sunday’s liturgy invites us to joy: the images and the descriptions of the first reading engage all (and us as well) in the waiting for something beautiful by the Lord who is the leading character and intervenes in history to become the Way that his people can and must follow to return home.

       God never leaves us alone, delivers us from fear, anxiety and doubts, enters into our history, comes to our home carrying peace and becomes safe journey for our steps. Men’s life is healed by Him: the blinds see, the mutes speak, the desert blooms and the road will be called holy (see the first reading is 35:8).

     In this we find the key to understanding Christmas: Christmas is hope and joy. Take example from our children that wait for the gifts with joyful hope. They are the symbol of the waiting that is satisfied and fills with joy: it is the joy that comes from the knowledge to be loved because Christ is given to us.

    This gift allows us to understand that joy is not just human and terrestrial, it is a spiritual one as we are remembered by the antiphony of the Introit of today’s liturgy: Gaudete in Domino ( let’s rejoice in the Lord). If we rejoice in the Lord we’ll find true joy. There is a spiritual joy that has as object the love not of created things, but of God. This spiritual joy comes not from us, but from the Holy Spirit. This level of joy is a supernatural one, deep and lasting. The spiritual joy depends on God’s love and divine charity. This kind of joy is not fragile like the human joy but it is strong, sure, always reliable and steadfast.

     The liturgy of the 3rdSunday of Advent in the Roman Rite offers us the possibility to experiment supernatural joy. How? Saint Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord because the Lord is near.” As we experiment joy when we are with the loved one, we can rejoice now because in two week’s time the “beloved of my heart” will come, as the spouse in the Song of Songs proclaims. He will exit as spouse from the thalamus, the bridal chamber, and will come to live among us.

     There is another reason for spiritual joy: our participation to divine goodness. No participation would be possible if God did not take the initiative building a bridge to fill the abyss that separates man from God.  In the Incarnation, the Son of God took upon our human nature to allow us to participate in his life of divine charity now and forever.  This is the reason for the greatest joy: the Beloved of our heart is near; he comes to live with us and allows us to be with him now and for the eternity.

      It is beautiful indeed when there is human joy but sometimes it is accompanied by sadness too. The Lord’s joy lasts forever.

2)     Precursor and martyr of Joy

     True joy, the one of the heart, the one which lasts forever is the encounter with the Lord. John the Baptist has come to the complete and everlasting encounter with the Lord through the great love of martyrdom. For this reason the liturgy of the 3rd Sunday of Advent proposes the figure and the example of the Precursor of Love.

     When Jesus went on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized, this man who had voluntarily exiled himself to the desert where he could hear the Voice of the Word, recognized Christ and said: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” He was full of joy because his Friend had arrived. In prison, the involuntary desert where he has been confined, John wants to know if Jesus is the long awaited Friend and asks his disciple to enquire by Christ: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
And the Baptist, the one that in his mother’s womb had jumped with joy for the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, the one who went ahead (Precursor) of Christ to prepare the road for the Way, didn’t take offense at Him, accepted martyrdom and became the first martyr(= the first witness) of the charity of the Redeemer. As in the reading from Isaiah, Jesus tells about something that is happening or has already happened: the blinds that see, the mutes that speak, the sick persons that are healed are the sign that the kingdom of God is already among us and not something that has still to come. It is a fact that is present. In the darkness of a prison John the Baptist saw the Light and his death was the dramatic crevice through which he could come into Light.

     We are called to participate to this event with the perseverance that comforts the heart. In the second reading taken from Saint James’ letter, we found the invitation to be of the same mood as the farmer that doesn’t look at what he is doing but why he does it. The farmer is confident that the seed that has been buried and looked after with perseverance, when the time comes, will bear fruit. We too must wait for the right time and take care with the perspective of a good greater but not immediate, and get ready for it.

      In his prison John the Baptist got a proof of faith that purified him and took him closer to God’s heart. Inspired by God he had announced the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah had indeed come into the world. However God as always had reserved a space for novelty and freedom that John did not know: actually the Messiah was not precisely as John was expecting. For this reason John asks, “Are you the one who is coming or should we waiting for someone else?” Jesus’ answer creates a new space for John’s faith: “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them and blessed be the one who takes no offense at me.” John did not take offense at him but bent his head, gave it up because God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” Isaiah 55:8), and believed.

     The one who starts his journey in search of God is in for some surprise: God will never be as we expect him to be. This is why God can be met only in the humility of faith, letting us to be guided by Him along roads that we cannot imagine. This was for John, this is for us. He was a martyr who lived in joy because he was sure of the presence of the Redeemer in his and his people’s life.

     The consecrated Virgins – through their vocation to virginity – are called to a martyrdom (testimony)  that is similar to the one of the Precursor who knew how to become little to let Christ grow (see Jh 3; 30). Their complete belonging to Christ through undivided love testifies that life is happy and fecund (see Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins) when all our being, body and soul, is at the service of the love that nothing wants for him and that all donates in joy. With spousal attitude they remain caste beside Christ and with him they live the passion to attract to truth their brothers and sisters in humanity.

Roman Rite 3rdSunday of Advent – Year A – “Gaudete” Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Is 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

Sunday of Joy

Ambrosian Rite

5thSunday of Advent

Mi 5:1; Ml3,1-5a.6-7b; Gal 3:23-28; Jh 1:
6-8 15-18

John the Baptist, the witness of Truth and Love

                                                                    Spiritual Reading

                                                             Saint Thomas of Aquinas

                                               Summa Theologica  part  II-II Question # 28

                                             Whether joy is effected in us by charity?

Ojection 1: It would seem that joy is not effected in us by charity. For the absence of

what we love causes sorrow rather than joy. But God, Whom we love by charity, is absent

from us, so long as we are in this state of life, since «while we are in the body, we are absent

from the Lord» (2 Cor. 5:6). Therefore charity causes sorrow in us rather than joy.

Objection 2: Further, it is chiefly through charity that we merit happiness. Now

mourning, which pertains to sorrow, is reckoned among those things whereby we merit

happiness, according to Mat. 5:5: «Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.»

Therefore sorrow, rather than joy, is an effect of charity.

Objection 3: Further, charity is a virtue distinct from hope, as shown

Now joy is the effect of hope, according to Rom. 12:12: «Rejoicing in hope.» Therefore

it is not the effect of charity.

On the contrary, It is written (Rom. 5:5): «The charity of God is poured forth in our

hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us.» But joy is caused in us by the Holy Ghost

according to Rom. 14:17: «The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but justice and peace,

and joy in the Holy Ghost.» Therefore charity is a cause of joy.

I answer that, As stated above , when we were treating of the

passions, joy and sorrow proceed from love, but in contrary ways. For joy is caused by love,

either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved

exists and endures in it; and the latter is the case chiefly in the love of benevolence, whereby

a man rejoices in the well-being of his friend, though he be absent. On the other hand sorrow

arises from love, either through the absence of the thing loved, or because the loved object

to which we wish well, is deprived of its good or afflicted with some evil. Now charity is love

of God, Whose good is unchangeable, since He is His goodness, and from the very fact that

He is loved, He is in those who love Him by His most excellent effect, according to 1 Jn.

4:16: «He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.» Therefore spiritual joy,

which is about God, is caused by charity.

Reply to Objection 1: So long as we are in the body, we are said to be «absent from the

Lord,» in comparison with that presence whereby He is present to some by the vision of

«sight»; wherefore the Apostle goes on to say (2 Cor. 5:6): «For we walk by faith and not by

sight.» Nevertheless, even in this life, He is present to those who love Him, by the indwelling

of His grace.

Reply to Objection 2: The mourning that merits happiness, is about those things that

are contrary to happiness. Wherefore it amounts to the same that charity causes this

mourning, and this spiritual joy about God, since to rejoice in a certain good amounts to

the same as to grieve for things that are contrary to it.

Reply to Objection 3: There can be spiritual joy about God in two ways. First, when

we rejoice in the Divine good considered in itself; secondly, when we rejoice in the Divine

good as participated by us. The former joy is the better, and proceeds from charity chiefly:

while the latter joy proceeds from hope also, whereby we look forward to enjoy the Divine

good, although this enjoyment itself, whether perfect or imperfect, is obtained according

to the measure of one’s charity.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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