At midday today the Holy Father appeared at the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to pray the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Before the Marian prayer, the Pontiff addressed some words to those present.
“In today’s Gospel, there is a question repeated three times: ‘What should we do?’. Three categories of people pose this question to John the Baptist: first, the crowd in general; second, the publicans, or tax collectors; and, third, some soldiers, to know what must be done to convert in the way he preaches. John’s reply to the crowd is to share basic necessities: ‘Whoever has two cloaks, should share with the person who has none, and whoever has food should do likewise’. He tells the second group, the tax collectors, to stop collecting more than is due. What does this mean? No ‘kickbacks’: John the Baptist is clear. And to the third group, the soldiers, he says do not exhort anyone for anything, and be content with your pay”.
These three answers refer to an identical path of conversion, which is manifested in concrete commitments to justice and solidarity. “It is the road that Jesus indicates in all His preaching: the active path of love for one’s neighbor. From these admonitions of John the Baptist, we understand what were the general trends of those who at that time held power, in various forms. Little has changed. However, no group of people is excluded from the path of conversion for salvation, not even tax collectors who were considered sinners by definition. … God does not preclude for anyone the possibility of salvation. He is eager to show mercy to all, and welcome everyone in the tender embrace of reconciliation and forgiveness”.
Francis went on to explain that “today’s liturgy tells us, with John’s words, that is necessary to repent, to change direction and take the path of justice, solidarity and sobriety: these are the essential values of a fully human and genuinely Christian life. Repent! This sums up John the Baptist’s message. The liturgy of this Third Sunday of Advent helps us rediscover a special dimension of conversion: joy. Whoever converts and approaches the Lord experiences joy”.
He also emphasized that nowadays “it takes courage to speak of joy, which, above all, requires faith. The world is beset by many problems, the future weighed down by uncertainties and fears. And yet, the Christian is a joyful person, and his joy is not something superficial and ephemeral, but deep and stable, because it is a gift from God that fills life. Our joy comes from knowing that ‘the Lord is near’, that He is close by with His tenderness, His mercy, His forgiveness and His love”.
He concluded, “May the Virgin Mary help us to strengthen our faith, so that we may welcome the God of joy, the God of mercy, who always wants to live in the midst of her children. May our Mother teach us to share tears with those who weep, but also to be able to share a smile”.