Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: The Witness of Joy

With the wish to experience God as the source of true joy and to share the joy of his presence among us.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Roman Rite

3rd Sunday of Advent – Year B – December 13, 2020 – Gaudete Sunday

Is 61, 1-2.10-11; Ps Lk1:46-48, 49-50,53-54; 1Th 5.16 to 24; Jn 1, 6-8.19-28

Ambrosian Rite

5th Sunday of Advent – The Precursor

Is 11.1 to 10; Ps 97; Heb 7.14 to 17. 22. 25; Jn 1,19-27a. 15c. 27b-28



This third Sunday of Advent emphasizes the joy of waiting and it is called » Gaudete Sunday» taking its cue from the Entrance Antiphon, which in Latin begins with the verb «Gaudete» and continues: «Always rejoice in the Lord: I repeat to you, rejoice, the Lord is near”.

Then the liturgy of the Word proposes:

«I fully rejoice in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God,» (First reading).

«My soul rejoices in my God» (Responsorial Psalm).

“Brothers, always be joyful, pray uninterruptedly, in everything give thanks” (Second reading).

«Now my joy is complete» (Gospel: Jn 3:29).

These are phrases that we could summarize as follows: to the joy for a new beginning (first reading), to the one that must be communicated (psalm) and to the one that must be complete (second reading), it is added the joy of the mission accomplished (Gospel).

By proposing the figure of Saint John, the Baptist, the Gospel reminds us that full adherence to the Christian vocation, the response to God’s call, is the source of joy and allows us to arrive at the evening of life by living – like the Precursor of the Messiah – as true witnesses of Christ.

The witness can also be a fanatic; it depends on what he testifies, and it depends on the object of the testimony. If he testifies to freedom, fraternity, and mercy, he should not be a fanatic, otherwise, he is not a witness to what he says because the witness is the one who lives what he says.

There are the witnesses of truth and there are also the false witnesses of truth, that is, those who testify in a wrong way, in a fanatic way, what in self is not the object of fanaticism. Then there are also the witnesses of falsehood, those who are champions of lies, violence, domination and who use the Word precisely to dominate and not to serve truth, justice, and freedom. Among other things, in the introduction, the trinomial truth, justice, and freedom must be taken together because if truth is taken away there is no freedom and there is no justice. It is like cutting off the head of a man.

There is no man except in truth. So, if you take away justice, it is like taking away the heart; justice means love for one’s neighbor, for one’s brothers and sisters. If you take away freedom, it is like taking your breath away, the lungs, the place where truth has room, where freedom and justice have room. Therefore, they must always be taken together.  When one takes only one of the three, it is something empty, it means that one is lying, and it is precisely about the truest things that one can lie. These three words are more necessary than bread, that is, man lives on these words. The witness is the one who lives them and testifies them to others as St. John the Baptist did. 

 1) The joy for the coming Christmas.

The Birth of Jesus has a special fascination for everyone and for the entire world. I have seen the word «Noel, Christmas, Navidad, Natale” written also in countries and towns where Christians are a small minority. It may be an excuse to increase spending, however, a charm and a longing for peace and joy remain. It is as if, remembering the birth of Jesus, the God with us, we enter a life of hope almost predicting that the song of the Angels over the stable of Bethlehem, «Peace on earth to those whom he loves», can really revive hope in our time in need of feeding on consolation, security, and a true, deep, and rediscovered joy.

In the proximity of Christmas, today the Church gives us a taste of the great joy that God has given us with Jesus. In his letter to the Thessalonians (second reading of the Roman Rite), the Apostle Paul invites us to become brothers and sisters always happy once again, to pray continuously, and give thanks for everything because this is God’s will for us. The Apostle continues with the wish: «May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (1 Thessalonians 5.16 to 24).

Of course, there is the risk of trying to stifle the need for the joy of Christ and of his Christmas. Unfortunately, this risk has become a reality that has turned everything into a noisy and fleeting moment of superficial joy that leaves emptiness of the heart. It is a big risk, and it is difficult to escape because strong is the attraction of ‘something fashionable ‘.

To counteract this fashion, it would be enough to fill the heart with the feelings of the prophet Isaiah, who thus expressed his joy «The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me, he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release the prisoners, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God. I will rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in the mantle of justice like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels «(Is 61: 1-11 – the first reading of the Roman Rite).

The words of Isaiah are indeed words of deep joy. The prophet, at the thought of seeing God coming, exclaims: «I will rejoice heartily in the Lord.» Christian joy comes not from a simple emotion, but from an encounter. An encounter that has transformed our lives.

 2) The encounter with the Witness and Precursor.

This encounter can and should happen again and again especially at the coming Christmas. John the Baptist, the Witness, and Precursor, with his example and with the intercession can help us to renew this encounter.

«John preceded Christ both in birth and in the announcement, but he preceded him as a humble obedient servant without getting above him» (St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 66.19). He is the voice of the Word of joy, he is the torch that indicates the Light of love, he is the Witness of Jesus, he baptizes waiting for His Baptism, and he is completely tied to Him. Without Jesus, the Baptist cannot live because without Christ his life would make no sense, namely, it would be without meaning nor purpose.

John came as a witness, sent by God to bear witness to the Light. He does not bear witness to the greatness, the majesty, the power of God, but to the Light of Love, to the light of a Presence.

John testifies that the world is based on a principle of light so that it is much more worthy to light a lamp than to curse the night a thousand times.

We too, even in our weakness and smallness, are called to testify that history is a way of the Cross which becomes the way of Light when we have the strength to fix the gaze on the dawning light of the child Christ. Apparently, Christ, whom in a few days we will contemplate in the crib of Bethlehem, is small, fragile, and helpless, yet he is a winner, and from the City of Bread (= Bethlehem) he will move the first steps of goodness and justice that he will realize in the City of Peace (= Jerusalem).

To each one of us is given the prophetic ministry of the Baptist, to be announcer not of the degradation and the collapse of sin which beset the world, but of the light that illuminates the world and saves it. We must be -like St. John- witnesses of hope and future, of a God who is Light, a God of love and so near that is among us, healer of our life and of that of all the brothers and sisters in humanity.

We must be witnesses because we asked that He covers us with his mantle and makes us germinate a Spring of Justice, a Spring that without him is impossible.

By the intercession of St. John, we could imitate him who is the image of a true man who knows his limits and is open to the novelty of the encounter. Like the Precursor we must be aware of being flesh, but we must also live of the desire of God imprinted on him from the creative Word and the promise made to Israel. We will be disciples saved by the Redeemer because like him (St. John) we search, we encounter, we recognize and we accept Jesus as the Son of God, bearing witness to others by saying «Behold the Lamb of God.» We too are the poor voice of a Word that creates and elevates gently. «Then the Lord will make a gift of his sweetness and our land will yield its fruit» (St. Augustine, En. in Psalmos, 84,15).

 3) The Witness of a Presence.

The Gospel of John says: «There was a man sent from God» (Jn 1, 6). Each one of us is a person sent by God, called to be a witness to the light.

The strength of John is not to shine for himself, but to spend his life so that the light can be seen. And God is the light that enlightens even the greatest darkness. John shouts to proclaim the Gospel and proclaims it pointing to Christ Jesus. He does not draw attention to himself following a leading role overbearing and normal. His voice indicates someone who is already «among you» (Jn 1, 26), «one who is coming after me, to which I am not worthy to untie the thong sandals» (Jn 1, 27).

The greatness of John is that he had been able to recognize God in Jesus and therefore showed the presence of God among humanity.

The Baptist does not attract the attention on an absent Messiah who will come, but on a Messiah already among us and that we do not know: «There is one among you whom you do not recognize «. (Jn 1:26). John is the witness of a God already here. His presence is already among us, but it is to be discovered and not everyone sees it; therefore, there must be a prophet that points it out.

It is now up to us, as a person and as a Christian community, to imitate the Baptist showing to the world a Christ already present in the world.

A particular way to show Christ is one of the Virgins consecrated in the world. The total offering of themselves to Christ the Bridegroom indicates that He deserves everything. To be vigilant in prayer indicates that Advent is the waiting for the Beloved clinging to Him who is already present in their heart entrusted completely to Him in total abandonment, loving trust, and joy. In this world they, and we with them, experience that «when the Lord calls us to be saints, He is not calling us to something burdensome and sad. It is an invitation to share his joy, to live and to offer with joy every moment of our lives, making it at the same time a gift of love for the people around us «(Pope Francis, Catechesis at the Audience general, November 19, 2014).

We, ordinary people, are called to make known to many the One who is among us. Weak, we are strong; sad, we are happy because the Lord comes and germinates the earth making it again a garden where freedom, fraternity, and mercy are not only announced, but practiced, lived, and shared.

Patristic Reading

St. Augustine of Hippo

Sermo 293, 3: PL 1328-1329

John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning, Christ is the Word who lives forever.

Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.

Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.

Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him”.

What does prepare the way mean, if not “pray well”? What does prepare the way mean, if not “be humble in your thoughts”? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

If he had said, “I am the Christ”, you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

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

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation