Some words from Pope Francis – his message at today’s Angelus – that might be very helpful for us all as we prepare for Wednesday’s Advent Penance service….
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!In today’s Gospel, there is a question posed three times: “What should we do?” (Lk 3,10.12.14). Three categories of people raise it to John the Baptist: first, the crowd in general; second, the publicans, or tax collectors; and, third, some soldiers. Each of these groups questions the prophet on what must be done to implement the conversion that he is preaching. John’s reply to the question of the crowd is sharing essential goods. He told the first group, the crowd, to share basic necessities, and therefore says: “Whoever has two cloaks, should share with the person who has none, and whoever has food should do likewise” (v. 11 ). Then, he says to the second group, the tax collectors, stop collecting more than is prescribed. What does this mean? No ‘kickbacks,’ John the Baptist is clear. And to the third group, the soldiers, he says do not exhort anyone for anything, and be content with your pay (v. 14). There are the three answers to the three questions of these groups. Three answers to an identical path of conversion, which is manifested in concrete commitments to justice and solidarity. And ‘the road that Jesus shows in all his preaching: the active path of love for the neighbor.From these warnings of John the Baptist, we understand what were the general trends of those who at that time held the power, in various forms. Things have not changed much. However, no group of people is excluded from the path of conversion for salvation, not even the tax collectors, considered sinners by definition: not even they are excluded from salvation. God does not exclude anyone from the chance to save themselves. He is – as it were – anxious to show mercy, to use it all, and welcome everyone into the tender embrace of reconciliation and forgiveness.This question – ‘What should we do?’ – We feel to be even ours. Today’s liturgy tells us, in the words of John, that is necessary to repent, we must change direction and take the path of justice, solidarity, sobriety: these are the essential values of a life fully human and genuinely Christian. Repent! It sums up the message of John the Baptist. And the Liturgy of this Third Sunday of Advent helps us to rediscover a special dimension of conversion: joy. Whoever converts and approaches the Lord, feels joy. The prophet Zephaniah tells us today: “Rejoice, daughter of Zion!” Turned to Jerusalem (Zeph 3:14); and the apostle Paul exhorted Christians in Philippi: “Rejoice always in the Lord” (Phil 4,4). Today, it takes courage to speak of joy, which, above all, requires faith! The world is beset by many problems, the future weighed down by uncertainties and fears. Yet, the Christian is a joyful person, and his joy is not something superficial and ephemeral, but deep and stable, because it is a gift from God that fills life. Our joy comes from knowing that “the Lord is near” (Phil 4.5), is close with His tenderness, His mercy, His forgiveness and His love.May the Virgin Mary help us to strengthen our faith, because we welcome the God of joy, the God of mercy, who always wants to live in the midst of her children. And our Mother teaches us to share tears with those who weep, but also to be able to share a smile.