We are called to share Jesus’ love with joy and confidence
At our Masses this weekend, we light the third candle on the Advent wreath, the rose-colored one. The rose color is a sign of joyful anticipation, and joy is the dominant theme in our liturgy. In our First Scripture Reading, the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for He has clothed me with a robe of salvation…”
In the Responsorial Psalm, we pray the canticle sung by Mary when she visited her cousin Elizabeth: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
In our Second Scripture Reading, St. Paul urges us: “Brothers and sisters, rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.”
In the Gospel, John the Baptist joyfully proclaims who he is, who he is not, and what his mission is.
The theme of joy so dominant in this weekend’s Masses reminds me of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, released in November 2013, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Pope Francis begins with these words: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and lowliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation, I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
Blessed Julian of Norwich testified well to the importance of joy in our lives: “The greatest honor you can give to Almighty God is to live gladly, joyfully because of the knowledge of His love.”
St. Paul lived with such joy despite his many beatings, stonings, and imprisonments, and he urged his converts to do the same in spite of their own sufferings. St. Paul testified to the foundation of his joy which was his deep experience of God loving him and Christ’s constant presence to him. “I live now not just I, but Christ lives in me.”
At the Last Supper, just before Jesus left the Upper Room to suffer His agony in the garden, Jesus’ parting words to His apostles were: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis invites all Christians to a renewed and deeper personal relationship with Jesus since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” Pope Francis reminds us that whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Even after we have sinned, Jesus waits for us with a tenderness which never disappoints. He is always anxious to restore our joy and make it possible for us to lift up our heads to start anew.
Pope Francis shares this encouraging text from the prophet Zephaniah (3:17): “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives you the victory; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will renew you in His love; He will exalt over you with loud singing, as on the day of festival.”
Pope Francis reminds us that being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but rather it rests primarily in our deep loving relationship with Jesus who frees us from sin, our narrowness, and self-absorption. In Jesus, we become fully human as we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. We come to experience that life grows by being given away and it weakens in isolation and reliance on material comforts.
Like St. John the Baptist in our Gospel reading, Pope Francis points us in the direction of Jesus and urges us to submerge ourselves in His love. However, Pope Francis goes further. He reminds us that we are baptized for mission, that is, to share the love of Jesus with others. He tells us to do so with joy and confidence: “No one can receive the good news from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient, or anxious…Beware of Christians whose lives seem like Lent rather than Easter.” Pope Francis urges us to welcome people to the life and energy of the Gospel as an antidote to the despair and cynicism of the world.
As we begin the second half of Advent, let us listen to the words the Lord speaks to us through the readings at Mass and to the encouragement Pope Francis gives us to deepen our loving relationship with Jesus and to share the love of Jesus with others in a genuine spirit of joy.