We have the privilege of having John the Baptist as our patron saint. It is really special to have the words of our patron saint said at every single Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Who else can say that? Not even Mary's words are part of every single Mass! So yes, we are very blessed to have John the Baptist as our patron. And one of the great things about our patron is his humility: John the Baptist quickly responds to suspicions about himself being the Messiah. John states clearly: he is not even worthy to untie the sandal of the one who is to come (meaning not even be a slave of Jesus), because The Messiah is so much above John the Baptist. If you recall, last week I spoke about humility and joy and how the two go together. Today we see them together again: the humility of John the Baptist in the Gospel, and the joy of the prophets Zephaniah and Isaiah, and Saint Paul in the other readings. We also see joy in the “rose” colored vestments I am wearing: the burst of bright color is a visual sign of the fact that we cannot contain our joy because, as Paul says, “the Lord is near.” As I mentioned last week, this joy comes from the humble awareness of the reality of our situation: we are creatures; we have sinned; God loves us too much to let us stay that way; God becomes man to both redeem us and to bind Himself to us forever. In short: we are deeply, deeply loved by the author of all of creation. God desires us. What could be more joyful?
So why do so many people run around the world with gloomy faces? Well, hundreds of reasons that all come down to one reason: sin. If we choose to focus on the pain and hurt of sin and other lesser evils (natural disasters or disease or death itself), then we can easily fall prey to what seems to be a depressing state of humanity. Recall what I said last week: “Sadness is to look at ourselves. Joy is to look at God.” So if we switch the focus, we can find, as John the Baptist did, the source of our joy.
That is exactly what Pope Francis is talking about when he calls us to recommit ourselves to the New Evangelization and discover what he names “The Joy the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the world that we are joyful, that we are transformed by the change of the Good News, even despite its demands, in fact almost because of its demands.
And it does indeed make demands on us. Our patron could not be any clearer in today's words. The people came to John and heard: “repent!” Well, they naturally wanted to know what John the Baptist meant, and he told them: live differently. Live life like this world doesn't matter, but the people here do. Stop using people and loving things. Start loving people and using things. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” John says in verse 8 (which came right before today's section).
So we might ask ourselves: right now, as I prepare for Jesus' coming, what one way can I change my life as evidence of my repentance? Conversion must work on two levels at once: on the interior level, and on the exterior level. We have to work to change our mindset, our way of looking at life – that is where humility comes in. Then, however, we have to put that into concrete actions – which is what John the Baptist and Pope Francis want of us: joyful response. What is my joyful response to my interior change? For Fr. Terry, that means putting aside the activism of a busy-body pastor and finding my center in prayer daily, so I can go about doing pastoral ministry with an awareness of God's will and remember to keep first things first and second things second. Today your patron says, “repent and produce fruit as evidence of it!” and your Pope says “be a joyful missionary.” What change will you make for Jesus?