PREACHING WITHOUT SPEAKING
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
3rd Sunday of Advent - Cycle B
A whole lot of joy pervades the Liturgy today. Traditionally, the Church has, for so long, set aside this third Sunday of Advent as a reflection on, an exhortation to, and as a paean to joy. Thus, the reason for its being known as Gaudete Sunday, from the word used by St. Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians in today’s second reading, right from the first sentence of the passage.
This, we all know by now. We have heard this so often, year after year. But perhaps, what we have not heard as often is what should be behind all that joy; what should go together with that joy, and what one who is joyful ought to be doing, or in fact, really does in effect.
If we are to go by that old scholastic philosophical dictum, bonum diffusivum sui, goodness is self-diffusive; the tendency of good is to spread itself, then today’s exhortation to joy is a clear and convincing example. Goodness comes in clusters, and anything good carries in its train a host of other goods.
Let us hear it direct from St. Paul: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.” Joy. Prayer. Thanksgiving. These three form an inseparable cluster for one who has “tested everything, refrained from evil, and retained what is good.” Serious discernment can not but lead to the light, and being in the light makes for freedom and gladness of heart.
Isaiah’s careful discernment led to the proclamation of what is behind all this joy: the discovery that “the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”
A similar discovery of God’s mysterious will on Mary’s part also leads to an even more profuse proclamation of joy: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This is what we all exultantly proclaimed as response to the first reading.
It is just that type of joy that leads to prayer. What the heart cannot contain, the mouth and the whole body declare. The heart and mind are lifted up and the entire person, “spirit, soul and body” becomes involved. Prayer that is marked by thanksgiving is what one engages in “in all circumstances,” that is, come what may, happen what might, for “this is the will of God for [us] in Christ Jesus.”
What then is behind our joy? It is in knowing God’s will through careful discernment. It is in knowing that we all have been redeemed, liberated as captives are, healed and “wrapped in a mantle of justice.” The conviction that nothing happens to us by accident, that everything is a fruit of grace, that one’s life rests on one who is in firm control of the ultimate finality of events and history, is behind every man’s rejoicing, every man’s prayerfulness and every man’s thanksgiving. Goodness comes in bundles! Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving do not come in separate, and isolated packages.
So far, we have established the following: God’s will and the knowledge that one does God’s will are behind one’s joy. Secondly, joy comes along with prayer and thanksgiving. What remains to be seen is what one does in consequence or because of that joy.
John the Baptist gives us a clue… being true to oneself, being definite about who one is, being honest about who one is not…Again, it is in knowing what one is supposed to be doing, and in being faithful to that thing one has been sent to do. Joy…inner joy that resides in the heart of John the Baptist is what is behind his testimony…”to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” John the Baptist’s joy – remember, even as a child, he already “leapt for joy” in his mother’s womb! – led him to preach, that is “to testify to the light.”
The priests and levites had every right to ascertain who he was. They asked him a barrage of questions. (I guess the equivalent of all this is the grilling one gets at the Immigration counter of Canada and the United States during these terrorist-crazed days!) With definitiveness and a deep sense of self-security and self-identity, he denied for three times: “I am not the Christ;” “I am not Elijah,” and “I am not the prophet.” But he did declare one thing for certain: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”
This then is what one does as a consequence of joy! One preaches; one proclaims and points to someone greater than himself – like John the Baptist who said, “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” John the Baptist, it seems to me, did not talk much. He preached by doing. He lived in the desert and had locusts and honey for food. He baptized people. He preached without talking much. And people followed him, even if he was not, as he expressly declared, the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet!
Perhaps there is something in this that merits a little more of our attention. For one, John the Baptist’s pristine honesty that comes from a well-defined sense of personal identity – that must have captured the attention of people who could tell the real from the fake. Inner joy radiates from within. No amount of empty, backslapping type of superficial and cheap humor can take the place of genuine peace associated with interior joy. John the Baptist was convincing, for he was authentically what he was: what you saw was what you got! “He came for testimony, to testify to the light,” – and testify, he did!
Good old Blessed Teresa of Calcutta must have had a flash of inspiration from above when she was heard to say at one time: “the one who is joyful, preaches without speaking.” REJOICE, REJOICE!