“Joy is a mark of those who have had an experience with the Risen One who passed through the cross, for it is one of the fruits of the resurrection: “Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said to them, ‘Shalom!… After that word He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord”.
Through joy we witness that the Lord is not only alive, but is in our midst, full of power and love, and sends us continually on mission. John the Baptist is also a forerunner in witnessing from the beginning this spiritual joy, fruit of God who fulfills His promises. After having seen John in the desert, and having seen with the help of this look of faith that makes us see beyond appearances all that he has struggled and suffered, the time has come to speak of this aspect of his mission: to bear witness to spiritual joy.
Joy permeates the entire existence of St. John the Baptist, so before we focus on the Jordan, where he fulfilled most of his ministry, let us give an overview of the joy in the life of this prophet. The coming of the Messiah would certainly be an event surrounded by joy, according to the Old Testament, so it is normal that the precursor is bathed in this spiritual climate.
From the beginning of the recitations that speak about John we see the present joy. Zechariah, when his son was born and filled with the Holy Spirit, explodes in praise of God. In his hymn (Benedictus), he says that John is “an expression of God’s tenderness” because he announces a salvation that is made present. When Gabriel announces to Zechariah that his wife is going to conceive, the angel says: “You shall rejoice and many shall be glad at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord” (01).
We have already seen how the visit of Our Lady to her cousin made John jump with joy in his womb. This is the first joy that John the Baptist comes to witness: joy that those who have an experience of the Spirit experience. That is why John will say later: “As for me, behold, I baptize with water; but among you is he whom you do not know, and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire! (02). John witnesses to the joy of the experience of the Spirit, the joy of remaining in this grace, of having his whole life guided by His love: “The glory of man is perseverance in the service of God,” said St. Irenaeus. Perseverance that is grace. “These are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience (…). Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with their passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk under His impulse” (03).
We have also seen that John himself, in speaking of himself, calls himself “friend of the Bridegroom” and witnesses: “As for the friend of the Bridegroom, he remains there, he hears the voice of the Bridegroom, and he rejoices. This is my joy, and it is complete” (04). The joy of a deep intimacy with the Lord, of a privileged friendship. Friend of God! Our founder will also not hesitate to say: “Friendship with God is like a fountain that makes love flow in us. Love that is divine. Love that makes us choose for our life all that helps us to be more united to the Beloved” (05).
And also: “Friendship with God is the core of our Vocation. To decide for the divine friendship and to grow in this friendship is the secret of life” (06).
John the Baptist has this resemblance to us: he grew up in the desert, where his intimacy and friendship with God were forged: “He went to live in the desert until the day when he should be manifested to Israel” (06). Now we are a chosen people to cross the path that the Lord opens in the desert of this world: “God ardently wants to open a new path through the desert and thus form a people, a chosen people, formed by his hands to cross it, to travel it, to take it up in his life. We are this people. God has called us to this magnificent vocation” (08).
This new way, this loving plan of God can only be realized in us, “to be completed in our lives, if these are rooted in deep prayer” (09). Desert, a place where people have traditionally witnessed manifestations of God, a place of spiritual battle, a place where friendship with the Bridegroom grows. As in the life of John the Baptist. Thus, in the desert, we see another characteristic of John to whom we are called to cultivate: the radicality of his love for God, which is also a source of joy. In a penitent life, John gathered the strength to remain all focused on his mission, without distractions. He fed on grasshoppers and wild honey, his whole being lived turned towards God, he was rooted in God, who was everything to him. God being his everything, his joy was perfect, complete, full and so precious that he considered any effort to preserve that inner joy, as we saw in the previous chapter.
The joy of announcing with all his strength the Good News that he was already in the midst of the people He who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. The joy, therefore, of evangelizing! The true evangelizer cannot keep silent because there is in his being a devouring fire, a joy that is always gushing and that needs to gush forth through words, a proclamation, whatever the cost. This characteristic of John’s life reminds us of another characteristic of the Shalom Vocation: “In all our actions, the explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ is indispensable for fidelity to the call that the Lord makes to us. (10).
Saint Paul said: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize. We can also say: “Happy for me if I evangelize! Happy to bring his wife to his Spouse, happy to be an instrument of peace, happy to be a missionary, happy to be elected, happy to be totally united to the life of Jesus that develops in me. Yes, happy, happy, happy!
John also experienced the joy of spiritual fatherhood. He had disciples, as the Gospel reminds us. And he taught them to pray, because Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. On the way to discipleship, he did not take them to himself, that was not his joy in fatherhood, but prepared them to welcome the coming Messiah. Andrew, for example, was one of John’s disciples (11). This formation of the disciples was not something purely intellectual, but it involved all life. Saint Teresa reminds us that “only suffering can generate souls for Jesus”. John consumed his life, even martyrdom, to fertilize souls for Jesus.
O prophet of joy, teach us to remain focused on our Spouse and thus we will be able to witness with our lives that there is no greater love – and therefore greater joy – than to give our lives for those we love”.
Taken from the book “John the Baptist, Prophet of Spousal Love”
Translation: Sérgio Godoy Jr.
01 Lk 1.14-15th
02 Lk 3,16
03 Gl 5,22-25
04 Jn 3.29
05 AZEVEDO FILHO, Moysés Louro de. Writings: Letter to the Community 2005, 58.
06 Id, n. 55
07 Lk 1,80
08 AZEVEDO FILHO, Moysés Louro de. Writings: New Work, 01.
09 Id, n. 07
10 Statutes of the Catholic Community Shalom, 06
11 Jn 1.40