During the first Holy Week after he was elected, Pope Francis raised a few eyebrows and opened many eyes. On that Holy Thursday he visited a prison for young people where he celebrated the annual washing of the feet. Not only did he wash the feet of Catholics, he included Muslims and women in the ritual. This was a big surprise for many Catholics, especially some clergy. For centuries, the Holy Thursday washing of the feet had been exclusively reserved to Catholic men.
During this past year, the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope initiated a custom of going out of the Vatican one Friday a month to perform some “work of mercy.” In August the Holy Father went to a home for women recovering from prostitution, many of whom had been victims of trafficking. This, too, was an eye-opener for many people.
In the Gospel today, John the Baptist, in prison for following his conscience, sent a group of his disciples to talk to Jesus. Unsure of whether Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John’s message to Jesus was, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus responded using a clear reference to Isaiah 35:5-6: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”
If someone were to ask Pope Francis, “Are you the Holy Father who was chosen for the church?” could he not answer in words much like Jesus’? We see in Pope Francis the works of love and mercy that we saw in Jesus.
In two weeks we will sing, “Joy to the World.” The liturgy calls us to rejoice already today. “Gaudete,” rejoice! The coming of our Savior is at hand. Joy ought not be put off. Even as we work, to prepare the way of the Lord we do it with light hearts, for we know that our Savior is coming to us soon.
In the first reading we hear this proclamation from Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.” Sometimes we experience our own lives as being barren as a wilderness and as parched as a desert. During those trying times it may be hard for us to be glad and rejoice when we are struggling.
The same is true for others. Sometimes people – perhaps even people very close to us – may be hurting or struggling, may feel like their lives are hopeless, barren and dry. How can they find a cause for joy and gladness?
For inspiration this Advent, we need only look to examples set by Jesus and by Pope Francis. Their actions have brought comfort and healing to countless people. Their love and mercy have brought hope and joy.
What if someone were to ask us the question put to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” How would we answer?
Jesus ascended to the Father when he had completed his work on this earth. He left it to us to continue his work here. The hungry will be fed, the homeless will be sheltered, the lonely will be visited ... and all will find a cause for great joy when each baptized person continues the ministry and compassion of Jesus.
And we will find our own joy, too, as Jesus ministers to us through others, even (or especially) the ones to whom we are ministering.