THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
(Isaiah 61: 1-2.10-11; I Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8.19-28)
There is a macabre history of San Lorenzo. He was a third century Roman martyr. His executioners were burning him alive. In the middle of the process, San Lorenzo joked: "I’m done on this side, you can turn me over and eat." How can a martyr go to his death with a joke on his lips? It is because he has the joy of knowing that he is close to eternal life. For the same reason St. Paul in the second reading advises the Thessalonians: "Rejoice always."
The prophet in the first reading also rejoices even though he has been charged with many tasks. He must announce the good news, heal broken hearts, proclaim forgiveness, and declare grace. However, he is overjoyed that God has covered him with justice. It's how the class valedictorian feels. Although she faces a great challenge, she has joy in his heart.
Everybody wants happiness. The human person is created with this longing within his soul. Unfortunately, many confuse happiness with pleasure. They say they are happy when they are watching their soccer team with beers and chips. It is not necessarily bad to drink beer, but it is not true happiness either. Because we are entering the time of year with the most pleasures, it is worth examining these two values at their roots.
Pleasure has to do with the bodily senses. It's a nice feeling. It comes from contact with some external good: the taste of chocolate, the touch of the lover, the sound of the violin, and so on. Pleasure does not last but diminishes as soon as contact with the good is lost. Pleasure is opposed to pain. The two cannot exist at the same time. You can't enjoy ice cream if you burnt your tongue. Also, pleasure is always an individual experience. If you try to share the pleasure, it diminishes. For example, many have taken pleasure in smoking cigars. If the person shares her cigarette with another person, she will get only half the pleasure.
Happiness is taking joy in the truth. To know what happiness is, we must first understand joy. Joy has to do with the spirit, not the senses. It is the satisfaction we have when we do something good. Joy is not the opposite of pain. Rather, it is born of pain accepted with courage and love. It is the awe a woman has after giving birth to a baby. It is the exuberance that the athlete has after completing a marathon. Joy does not diminish when it is shared but it grows. In the Gospel, John doubles his joy when he announces to others the greatness of him who is coming.
We are about to enter the Christmas season. It is time to enjoy food delicacies, liquors, and days of rest. As good as these pleasures are, they don't compare to the joy of having struggled for the good of our families. If we have kept everyone together and safe during the pandemic, we have a happy spirit. Even if someone has contracted the virus, if they feel our love for them, we feel joyful. If we go to Mass on the twenty-fourth to give due reverence to the Savior, we will eat the turkey on the twenty-fifth happily.
A wise man suggests three ways to feel Christmas joy during this pandemic year. First, even if we cannot go to the customary Christmas mass, we can pray with the family. It would be good after reading the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke’s gospel that we pray for the travelers and the poor. Second, we can imitate the Virgin, a leading figure of Advent. Particularly her humility gives due testimony to our God who became human. Finally, even if we cannot come together with all members of the family, we can still practice unity. Asking forgiveness for having offended one another, we can emerge from confinement more whole than ever. In these ways we will realize the true meaning of having the Savior in our presence.