John whose outfit and diet combined with the repetitive call to repentance (metanoia) appears a somber persona but the Church has been very observant in having given us this apparently somber prophet as a joy figure. Are you skeptical about that? Let’s go back to the time when Mary visited John’s mother Elizabeth who feeling the movements of her baby said: “When the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” John’s joy as he detected the presence of the Messiah in the Virgin Mary was evident. Even before he was born he knew joy. That joy couldn’t be taken from him. When later in his ministry his disciples complained that Jesus was attracting more people, John didn’t share their jealousy. On the contrary he was in a celebration mood seeing his popularity fading and Jesus’ star rising as he said: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.” Can you hear that? His joy was full. I am convinced that John the Baptist deserves to be a patron saint of joy. Even today, as we meet him in prison John doesn’t misses the opportunity to point to the source of joy, the promised Messiah when he sends his disciples with a profound question: “Are you the one who is to come or have we got to wait for someone else?” The Baptist who spoke a lot about the coming Redeemer, in his final effort “passes the microphone” to Jesus so that the Lord himself could make a self-revelation. Like that one from the Book of Exodus when God spoke from the burning bush: “I am the God of you father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” What was the answer of Jesus? Those who are ignorant of the Scriptures get nothing from what Jesus told John’s disciples, but those who treasure and contemplate prophesies of old will see their fulfilment in Jesus. I presume that the Church thought that some of us could struggle to make a connection that’s why the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm come to our aid. Prophet Isaiah wrote: “Your God is coming, he is coming to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a dear and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy. The Lord sent me to bring the Good News to the poor.” Similar things about the performance of the coming Messiah were recorded in the Psalm 145. That’s why Jesus said: Look at what I am doing. Does it remind you of anything? Of course, it does Lord, we say, from what you are doing we learn that you are the One who was to come and we rejoice.
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! A few weeks ago we completed the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was an extraordinary Jubilee as ordinary jubilees occur every 25 years. We had one in 2000 and the next will be in 2025. However let me recall the Jubilee Year 1975. Blessed Pope Paul VI in the middle of that year captivated by the enthusiasm of many pilgrims coming to the Eternal City wrote a letter to all Catholics on Christian Joy (Gaudete in Domino). In the Letter he made, I believe, a brilliant observation which all of us should take to heart and bear witness to in the midst of our own society. The Holy Father wrote: “There is also needed a patient effort to teach people, or to teach them once more, how to savor in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path: the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy of satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice.” When I read those words of wisdom I couldn’t help thinking that they capture the figure of joy from today’s Gospel, John the Baptist. They are also prophetic words for us.
Let me finish with a prayer which I would like to make through the intersession of the Prophet from the Jordan: “May the joy of being Christian, of being united with the Church, of being “in Christ,” and in the state of grace with God, truly fill the human heart.” St John the Baptist, Pray for us.