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Joy and penance

Third Sunday of Advent

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak,” is the message from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading for this Third Sunday of Advent. Then he goes on to announce that by the coming of the Lord, the lame leap like a stag, the tongue of the mute will sing, the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will bloom. These images depict outstanding accomplishments, events that seem at first sight to be impossible. Thus, their strength and the power of the message. The prophet announces an incomparable happiness, a most intense joy and universal peace by the coming of the Messiah.

It is precisely for them that we are preparing in this penitential season of Advent. To celebrate the joy of our redemption, to rediscover the joy of the encounter with Jesus Christ, true God and true man. To marvel once again with the fact of the Incarnation of the Son of God. To contemplate with renewed eyes the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God that leads Him to embrace our common humanity without ceasing to be God.

The messianic images presented by the prophet Isaiah, which the Church proposes to us for our meditation throughout the season of Advent, are certainly poetic. They have great literary value too. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so moving and inspiring. Feeble hands are strengthened. Weak knees are made firm. There is water in the desert. These are very graphic images calling us to hope, perseverance, courage, confidence, fortitude, even to audacity.

Now, this is not just poetry. It is not the pep talk of a coach to his team or a military commander to the troop so as to conquer a strategic objective and end there. It is the announcement of the consummation of God’s salvific plan. It is the proclamation of the passionate love of God for his creatures. It is the announcement of the definitive victory of life over death, of goodness over evil.
This oracle of the prophet has come to pass by the mystery of the Incarnation. The birth of Christ is the prologue to his radical, permanent and definitive victory. Jesus fully embraces our human nature. He redeems it. He heals it. God submits to the power of death to set his beloved creatures free. He shares our fragility so that we can participate in his divinity.

Of course, we have reasons to be filled with a joyful hope even as we suffer, even in the face of death. Everything that is truly human and humanizing in us has been assumed by God. Therefore, even pain and suffering which are real and bring sadness to our life have become a vehicle of communion with Him.

The fortitude proposed to us is neither stoicism nor ostentation of power but the embrace of our fragility and openness to grace. The invitation to Christian joy has nothing to do with the easy laughter or silly smile of a second-rate comedian. It is the serene joy that springs forth from inner peace brought about by our communion with God. We can do all things in Him who strengthens us. The strength of God comes to us by his weakness. He becomes fragile and vulnerable like us. That is why we can be joyful in the midst of suffering and pain. That is why even during a strong penitential season, such as Advent, the Church invites us to express that joy change the violet for rose.

Penance is not opposed to joy. The opposite of happiness is sadness. Christian joy has nothing to do with optimism, pessimism, our temperament or mood, but with our soul.

Penance is neither sadness nor pessimism. It must be a constant practice in the life of Christians. It helps us to enjoy with detachment the goods that divine providence entrusts to us. We do penance to subdue our senses and passions, to avoid the pitfall of letting the good things that the world has to offer, which are many, to become our masters. Penance helps us to train our will, weakened by sin. It opens our hearts to grace that purifies and heals our human nature, bringing it to perfect communion with God. Penance helps us to raise our sight to the horizon of eternity, the goal of our existence. It strengthens our feeble hands and makes our weak knees firm.
God has become man so that we may fully participate in his divine life! The announcement of the prophet Isaiah is a reality! There sprung water in the desert. We, who walk in darkness have seen a great light. A child is born whose mission is to bring the universe to its fulfilment in God. Our common humanity, present in each and every one of us, wounded by sin, limited, finite, has been assumed by Him whom the entire universe cannot contain. Not only there is water in the desert, it has become an orchard.
However, there are still many wastelands in the world, many barren lands in need of the living water that Christ is. Thus, the urgent need of our consistent witness and Christian living, of our commitment to transform reality so that the love of Christ may flourish everywhere, so that many ears may open up to listen to the loving word of God and many tongues may be untied to glorify our Eternal Father.

Our witness will be possible to the extent that we continue to grow in holiness. Penance is an indispensable part of the process. It fuels our hope by helping us to make a daily progress in our journey of conversion. It sharpens our senses to coop

erate in the work of the Lord who, as we pray in the responsorial Psalm, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, raises up those who were bowed down, loves the just, protects strangers, the fatherless and the widow he sustains. It is the God of Israel who became flesh, dwelt among us and, glorified by His Resurrection, reigns forever!

Fr. Roberto M. Cid