We began the Jubilee Year of Mercy on Tuesday of last week, with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis chose the great feast of Our Lady because she is the Mother of Mercy, the Mater Misericordiae, as we say in the Hail Holy Queen prayer at the end of the rosary. “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our Life, our sweetness, and our hope….” And on Saturday we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to Juan Diego in the traditional image of the Immaculate Conception. Our current Pope is dedicated to the mercy of God, because he is dedicated to the Mother of God. In fact, the first public act he did after becoming Pope was to pray at Our Lady’s Church in Rome, St. Mary Major.
This Sunday, which follows such beautiful feasts of Our Lady, is called Gaudete, from the first words of the Introit: Gaudete in Domino, “rejoice in the Lord….” So our 3rd Sunday in Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, focuses on Christian joy. Pope Francis began his letter establishing our Year of Mercy with these words: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy….” A man who is kind and merciful, who is patient and understanding, is filled with joy. He realizes what God has given him overflows with zeal to share that joy. Confessing God’s mercy, and practicing kindness in our turn, is the “wellspring” of all true joy. We are witnesses to joy; we insist that, despite what the evening news tells us night after night, we live under friendly skies. We are in God’s hands, and he is a loving father.
The Prophet commands us in the first reading, “shout for joy, O Daughter Zion; sing joyfully, O Israel.” How can the most persecuted of nations be expected to sing joyfully, and yet they do. Have you ever heard an Israeli folk song, such as Advent hymn The King of Glory Comes, the Nation rejoices? Singing a Jewish folksong sets your toes tapping—see with what joy Jewish people dance! It is because they are witnessing to God’s mercy as the Chosen People. “Fear not, Jerusalem, the Lord your God is in your midst….” How much more joy for us Christians, who know the fullness of Emmanuel, who have the Church and the Sacraments and the plenitude of God’s word! One of the first Christians, St. Paul, also commands us to be joyful in the second reading: “Brethren, rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Did you know that Paul wrote those words to the Philippians from prison? He goes on: “your kindness should be known to all.” And I say, this is what brings true joy: mercy, kindness, thoughtfulness, self-giving brings joy. Giving brings joy, which is why the season of giving, Christmas, is the most joyful time of the year.
John the Baptist: Basic Mercy
John the Baptist in the Gospel commands the people to make straight the path for Jesus. And they ask him what they must do. He says: be kind. Practice basic mercy. Government officials should not abuse their power. Even soldiers be kind to those who are weaker than them. Whoever has two cloaks should share one with the needy. A few months ago a homeless man came to the rectory door, asking for food and clothing. He needed a coat, and at first I was just going to give him some money. But then I thought: I have six or seven coats in my closet. I like them all, but why not give him something of my own? So I did, and what joy it brought to both of us. That’s all St. John is asking us to do. Nothing too heroic, but simply basic mercy.
Mother of Mercy
Which brings us back to Our Lady. From whom can we learn kindness more than from her? From whom can we learn thoughtfulness more than from her who noticed the wedding party had run out of wine? From whom can we learn forgiveness more than from her who did not blame those who crucified her son? From whom can we learn generosity more than from her who gave her son to the magi and the shepherds?
Our Holy Mother of Guadalupe said these words to Juan Diego in 1531: "Listen, and keep in your heart, my youngest son, that there is nothing for you to fear. Let not your face nor your heart be worried. Am I not here, I who am your mother? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?” And so she showed Juan Diego, and his entire nation, all the loving kindness within her power. She is the Cause of our Joy, and so we go to Jesus with her to learn true mercy and true joy.