“REJOICE always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ.” St. Paul admonishes us with these words in his Letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:16-17). They are words that fit our celebration on this Third week of Advent, which the Church calls “Gaudete Sunday.”
Yes, despite the depressing firestorms in California, the Church reminds us to rejoice, not with an attitude of indifference to the sad situation of our brothers and sisters who lost their homes, but in the spirit of prayer and hope that God will take care of them.
For ages, Christians and Jews alike have responded to this exhortation by keeping in the mind the words of Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to all prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.” Even Jesus Christ referred to these words of Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18)
We can also sense this attitude of joy in the ministry of John the Baptist, as we heard in this Sunday’s Gospel. All throughout the Reading, John the Baptist exudes excitement and joy at giving testimony to the coming of the Light, the long-awaited Messiah. John is “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”
Today, God calls each one of us to uplift each other’s spirit, encouraging and affirming one another through our faith in Jesus Christ. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis reminds us of this task: “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and how he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’”
I kept this truth in mind as I went to different churches this past week to help in administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I told penitents to believe in God who loves each of us so dearly, who forgives us from our sins and wishes us all a life of peace and joy. We may not be rich in material things, we may be suffering from physical or emotional pain, but the truth remains that there is a God who loves us that he sent his only Son to save us.
Our mission is to believe in God’s promise, not to despair but to keep on hoping, to be like John the Baptist in giving testimony to our faith, to rejoice always, to give thanks to God in all circumstances, and to pray unceasingly.
Our mission is to be instruments of joy in others through our generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness, especially during this Christmas season.
May Jesus Christ enkindle in our hearts this inner joy of believing in God’s eternal love for all of us!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.