The joy of our souls

By: By Msgr. Stuart Swetland

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14

Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11; (Psalm) Luke 1:46-48,49-50,53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

Who are you? This question is often asked. In our modern world our identity can be our most guarded possession. We are asked to offer proof of identity all the time: traveling, shopping, on the phone, on the computer, etc., etc. According to many sources, identity theft is the fastest growing crime. Its consequences are severe. People have testified to years of difficulty because someone was able to “steal their identity.”

Today’s Gospel speaks of the identity of John the Baptist. From the beginning of his life the question of his name and his vocation had been raised. The only child of Elizabeth and Zechariah, conceived in their old age, the naming of John brought much confusion to those gathered for his circumcision. When his father insisted upon the name that had been given to him by an angelic vision, all were filled with wonder. They asked: “What will become of this child?” (Luke 1:66).

Even after John grew and began his vocation as the forerunner to the Messiah, people were asking, “Who are you?” It is important to note that John, whose name means “God has shown favor,” knows who and why he is. He knows who he is in the sense that he is not the Messiah. He also knows who he is in reference to his vocation in life: he is the one who is to prepare the way of the Messiah. He knows in all humility that he only prepares the way and when the Messiah comes John will say of himself to his disciples: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John knows who and why he is because he knows that he is a person created for a relationship with God. Through this relationship he discovers his calling in life. He was to be “the voice crying in the wilderness.” This prophetic role defined how John lived out his relationship with God and others. His vocation inevitably brought him into conflict and difficulties. But it also brought him joy. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul . . .” (Isaiah 61:10a).

In today’s second reading, St. Paul teaches the young church in Thessalonica that God is faithful and that he will fulfill all his promises to them. Thus, St. Paul tells them they should “rejoice always.” Authentic joy is a certain sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We can (and must!) rejoice if we know who and why we are. As the redeemed children of God, we share in the anointing of Jesus. As baptized Christians we share in his Spirit. We have been “anointed . . . to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord . . .” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

We are indeed God’s children, anointed with the spirit, created for a vocation that, in some unique way, reveals God’s merciful love to the world. This knowledge brings us great joy. We know who and why we are.

The challenge now is to live it out faithfully each day. As Father Alfred Delp, SJ, priest and martyr, wrote: “We are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent, touched at its deepest center by God himself.”

No matter what one’s circumstances, to be touched by God always leads to joy and peace.

A priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Msgr. Stuart Swetland is vice president for Catholic identity and mission at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

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