By Francesco Follo

Roman Rite
Third Sunday of Advent – Year A – “Gaudete” Sunday, December 15, 2019
Is 35.1-6.8.10;Ps 146; Jas 5: 7-10; Mt 11.2-11
The Sunday of Joy


Ambrosian Rite
5th Sunday of Advent
Mi 5.1. Ml 3.1-5a.6-7b; Gal 3.23-28; Jn 1.6-8.15-18
John the Baptist, the Witness of Truth and Love.

1) The joy of a near meeting.

On this third Sunday, also called Sunday of Joy and hope for the imminent coming of the Redeemer, the liturgy invites us to rejoice because the prophecies are coming true: the Messiah who is about to be born is truly the announced Son of God. Christmas is near and Christ, source of love and joy, is born to save us and make us live in truth, love, and peace.

The “gospel”, that is “good and happy news”, is an announcement of joy for all the people. The Church is not a refuge for sad people, the Church is the house of joy because it is the house of charity. Even those who are sad find in it joy, true joy, the joy of being loved.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: ” 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 loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life”.

Of course, that of the Gospel is not just any joy. The joy of the gospel finds its reason in knowing that we are welcomed and loved by God. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us today, God is the one who comes to save us and gives help especially to those who are wounded of heart. His coming among us strengthens, gives courage, makes exult and flourish the desert and the steppe that is our life when it becomes arid. This true joy also remains during trials because it is not a superficial joy but descends into the depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and trusts in Him. True joy does not come from things, from having, no! It is born from the encounter and the relationship with others; it is born from feeling accepted, understood and loved and from accepting, understanding and loving. This not for the sake of a moment, but because the other is a person. “Joy comes from the gratuitousness of an encounter” (Pope Francis)

2)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) and must be done with” joy” because the coming of the God of Everlasting Joy is imminent.

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 done 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 our history, comes to our home carrying peace and becomes a 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 understand Christmas: Christmas is hope and joy. Imitate our children who 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 for created things, but for God. This spiritual joy comes not from us, but from the Holy Spirit. This level of joy is a supernatural one, deep and lasting. Spiritual joy depends on God’s love and divine charity. This kind of joy is not fragile like human joy, but it is strong, sure, always reliable and steadfast.

The liturgy of the 3rd Sunday of Advent in the Roman Rite offers us the possibility to experiment with 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 a bridegroom 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 eternity.

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

3) Precursor and martyr of Joy

True joy, the one of the heart, and 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 Him 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 says 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 and the sick people 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 in 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 will bear fruit when the time comes. 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 had reserved a space for novelty and freedom that John did not know; in fact, the Messiah was not precisely as John was expecting. That is why John asks, “Are you the one who is coming, or should we wait 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.

Those who start their journey in search of God are in for some surprise: God will never be as they expect him to be. This is the reason why God can be met only in the humility of faith, letting us be guided by Him along roads that we cannot imagine. This was for John and 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 like the one of the Precursors who knew how to become small 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 donates all in joy. With spousal attitude, they remain caste beside Christ and with him, they live the passion to attract to the truth their brothers and sisters in humanity.

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 amount 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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