Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,
 Washington, D.C.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5). With these words, today’s liturgy invites us to rejoice, giving us the reason to be joyful: Our Lord is near. The expectation of Jesus’ arrival creates an atmosphere of joy. The certainty that he will come conquers all the obstacles that prevent us from rejoicing.

“Be glad and exult with all your heart […]! The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies” (Zep 3:14-15). The reading says that the “judgment against us” is the enemy who prevents us from being glad. In fact, we are terrible judges of ourselves. Many times we judge ourselves in a merciless way. We do not accept who we are or what we have done. There is a pathological sense of guilt that does not come from God. In addition, we tend to give too much importance to what others think about us. Behind all of this is hidden pride, the first of the deadly sins and the archenemy of joy.

God wants to liberate us from those enemies who prevent us from feeling joyful: “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior” (Zep 3:16-17). God’s judgment liberates us from anxiety, while our judgment enslaves us. God is near and his presence releases us from fear and sadness. Joy wells up in us when we are surprised by the gift of his presence. We rejoice when we receive God’s grace. We feel joy when Our Lord visits our soul. We rejoice when we recognize Jesus’ gentle and sweet presence that fulfills our hearts’ desire. In the second reading, Saint Paul says: “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

Today’s Gospel tells us about the greatness of Saint John the Baptist’s humility. He was very successful. His preaching was attracting crowds to the desert. There were long lines of people waiting for their turn to be baptized by the Precursor. Many people started thinking that he could be the Messiah. The Gospel says: “[…] all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ” (Lk 3:15). However, John did not permit any misunderstanding. He made clear that he was not the one. He declared: “[…] one mightier than I is coming” (Lk 3:16); “I am not the Messiah, […] I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:28-30). While Saint John the Baptist was still in his mother’s womb, he rejoiced in the presence of the Lord.  Saint Elizabeth said to Mary: “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44). Saint John the Baptist shows us that humility is a joyful virtue. As pride is the greatest enemy of joy, humility is its best friend.

Persistent prayer is a source of joy. We cannot rejoice without praying. We need to return to the source of all gladness, as today’s responsorial psalm says: “With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Is 12:3). In the second reading, Saint Paul encourages us to increase our prayer: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phil 4:6). During Advent we should tirelessly repeat: Come Lord Jesus!

We call Mary the Cause of Our Joy because of her cooperation in the incarnation of the Word. She brings God’s presence to us. Our Lady’s humility filled the world with joy and gladness. Let us pray for Our Blessed Mother’s powerful intercession. May her Immaculate and joyful Heart fill our empty hearts with gladness. May Mary show us that “indeed, the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5).  Amen.

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