Christmas tree during the Angelus of Pope Francis Photo: Vatican Media

John the Baptist’s Crisis: Pope’s Meditation for the Third Week of Advent

The Holy Father’s address during the Angelus on Sunday, December 11, in Saint Peter’s Square.

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 11.12.2022).- Pope Francis prayed the Angelus on Sunday, December 11, before 25,000 pilgrims, gathered in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The reason for the special affluence of people on the Third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete Sunday, is that hundreds of children bring their “Baby Jesus” images for the Pope to bless, image which eventually they will place in the Crib in their homes. 

Here is the English translation of the Pontiff’s message, which focused on “John the Baptist’s crisis.” 

* * *

The Gospel of this third Sunday of Advent speaks to us about John the Baptist who, while in prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:4). Indeed, John, hearing of Jesus’ works, is seized with doubt as to whether He is really the Messiah or not. In fact, he imagined a stern Messiah who would come and do justice with power by chastising sinners. Now, on the contrary, Jesus has words and gestures of compassion towards all; at the centre of His action is the mercy that forgives, whereby “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (v. 6). It does us good, however, to look more closely at this crisis of John the Baptist, as it can tell us something important too.

The text emphasizes that John is in prison, and this, as well as being a physical place, makes us think of the inner situation he is experiencing: in prison there is darkness, there is no possibility of seeing clearly and seeing beyond it. In effect, the Baptist is no longer able to recognize Jesus as the awaited Messiah. He is assailed by doubt, and he sends the disciples to check: “Go and see if he is the Messiah or not”. It surprises us that this should happen to John, the one who had baptized Jesus in the Jordan and had indicated Him to his disciples as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29). But this means that even the greatest believer goes through the tunnel of doubt. And this is not a bad thing; on the contrary, sometimes it is essential for spiritual growth: it helps us understand that God is always greater than we imagine Him to be. His works are surprising compared to our calculations; His actions are different, always, they exceed our needs and expectations; and therefore, we must never stop seeking Him and converting to His true face. A great theologian used to say that God “needs to be rediscovered in stages… sometimes believing that we are losing Him” (H. de Lubac, Sur les chemins de Dieu). This is what the Baptist does: in doubt, he still seeks Him, questions Him, “argues” with Him and finally rediscovers Him. John, defined by Jesus as the greatest among those born of women (cf. Matthew 11:11), teaches us, in short, not to close God within our own mindsets. This is always the danger, the temptation: to make ourselves a God to our measure, a God to use. And God is something else.

Brothers and sisters, we too at times find ourselves in his situation, in an inner jail, unable to recognize the newness of the Lord, whom we perhaps hold captive in the presumption that we already know everything about Him. Dear brothers and sisters, one never knows everything about God, never! Perhaps we have in mind a powerful God who does what He wants, instead of the God of humble meekness, the God of mercy and love, who always intervenes respecting our freedom and our choices. Perhaps we even find ourselves saying to Him: “Are you really you, so humble, the God who is coming to save us?” And something similar can happen to us with our brothers and sisters too: we have our ideas, our prejudices and we attach rigid labels to others, especially those we feel are different from us. 

Advent, then is a time for overturning our perspectives, for letting ourselves be surprised by God’s mercy. Astonishment: God always astonishes. (We saw, not long ago, in the television programme “A Sua Immagine” [in His image], they were talking about wonder). God is always the One who stirs wonder in you. A time — Advent — in which, preparing the Nativity display for the Infant Jesus, we learn again who our Lord is; a time to leave behind certain preconceptions and prejudices about God and our brothers and sisters. Advent is a time in which, instead of thinking about gifts for ourselves, we can give words and gestures of consolation to those who are wounded, as Jesus did with the blind, the deaf and the lame.

May Our Lady take us by the hand, like a mother, may She take us by the hand in these days of preparation for Christmas, and help us recognize in the smallness of the Infant the greatness of God who is coming.


(Translation of the Italian original by the Holy See)

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