Those in the Church tasked with proclaiming Christ to others must have John the Baptist as their model, but they can do so only by detaching themselves from themselves and from worldliness, i.e. “by not attracting people to themselves but directing them toward Jesus.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Before today’s Angelus, Pope Francis offered his reflection on Christian joy, speaking about “Laetare” or being happy to a few thousand people present in Saint Peter’s Square during this period of Advent.
In his address, the pontiff said that Christians are full of joy also in moments of trial because they know that Jesus is close to them and for this reason their witness is directed towards Jesus.
This principle applies particularly to those in the Church who are tasked with proclaiming Christ to others. Their model is John the Baptist who can inspire them to detach themselves “from themselves and from worldliness,” and not attract “people to themselves but directing them toward Jesus.”
At present, “the expectation we experience is joyful, somewhat like when we await the visit of a person we love a great deal, for example, a great friend whom we have not seen for a long time.” Such a “dimension of joy emerges particularly today, the Third Sunday, which opens with Saint Paul's exhortation: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Entrance Antiphon; cf. Phil 4:4, 5). And what is the reason? That ‘the Lord is at hand’ (v. 5).”
“The closer the Lord is to us, the more joy we feel; the farther away he is, the more sadness we feel. This is a rule for Christians” who should never have sad faces.
Speaking about the Baptist, who is at the centre of today’s Gospel, Francis said: “There was a man sent from God. [. . .] He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light (vv. 6-7). The Baptist was the first witness of Jesus, with the word and with the gift of his life. All the Gospels agree in showing that he fulfilled his mission by indicating Jesus as the Christ, the Messenger of God, promised by the Prophets.
“John was a leader in his time. His renown had spread throughout Judea and beyond, to Galilee. But he did not surrender even for an instant to the temptation of drawing attention to himself: he always directed himself toward the One who was to come. He used to say: ‘he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie’ (v. 27). Always indicating the Lord, like Our Lady.”
“This is the first condition of Christian joy: to decentre from oneself and place Jesus at the centre. This is not alienation, because Jesus is effectively the centre; he is the light that gives full meaning to the life of every man and woman who comes into this world. It is the same dynamism of love, which leads me to come out of myself not to lose myself but to find myself again, while I give myself, while I seek the good of others.”
“John the Baptist undertook a long journey to come to bear witness to Jesus. The journey of joy is not a walk in the park. He left everything, in his youth, to put God in first place, to listen to His Word with all his heart and all his strength.
“He withdrew into the desert, stripping himself of all superfluous things in order to be freer to follow the wind of the Holy Spirit. Of course, some of his personality traits are unique; they cannot be recommended for everyone. But his witness is paradigmatic for whoever wishes to seek the meaning of his or her life and find true joy. In particular, the Baptist is a model for those in the Church who are called to proclaim Christ to others.”
The pontiff ended saying, “Joy is as follows: directing [others] towards Jesus and joy must be the hallmark of our faith. Joy is as follows. Joy must be the hallmark of our faith, even in days of darkness. Knowing that the Lord is with me. The Lord, the Lord is at the centre.” Let us ask ourselves: Am I always like those who are sad, those who seem to be at a wake?
After the Marian prayer, Francis greeted those present, in particular a small group of children from the Roman oratories. The latter were few in numbers because of anti-pandemic regulations. The Pope noted that the situation also broke with the joyful tradition of carrying the “Bambinelli” of the Nativity Scene to be blessed by the Pope in St Peter's Square.
Nevertheless, Francis said that many children and young people met in parishes or at home, waiting for the blessing, which he imparted urging everyone to “let themselves to be drawn, in the silence of prayer in front of the Nativity Scene, by the tenderness of Jesus, who was born poor and fragile to give us his love.”