Vatican City, Dec 15, 2013 / 10:24 am
In his Angelus address on the third Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis emphasized the joy of the Christian message and community.
"The Christian message is called the 'gospel,' that is, 'good news,' an announcement of joy for all people; the Church is not a shelter for sad people, the Church is the house of joy!" he exclaimed to the crowds filling St. Peter's Square on Dec. 15.
"Christian joy, like hope, has its foundation in the faithfulness of God, in the certainty that He always keeps his promises," explained the pontiff.
The third Sunday of Advent is often referred to by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday, which indicates that it is a day of 'rejoicing.'
"In the liturgy, the invitation to rejoice, to arise, resounds repeatedly, because the Lord is near, Christmas is near. Like a mother, the Church encourages us to follow faithfully the spiritual path in order to celebrate the feast of Christmas with renewed exaltation."
The enthusiasm of the crowd was apparent. Despite the rain, large numbers of people flocked to the Vatican square to celebrate an old Italian tradition: the blessing of the baby Jesus statues for manger scenes.
Today is "Bambinelli" Sunday, when children bring their statues of the infant Jesus from their nativity sets at home to be blessed by the Pope. "Dear children, when you pray in front of your manger scene, also remember me as I remember you," asked Pope Francis.
"May the Virgin Mary help us to hasten our steps toward Bethlehem to meet the Child that is born for us, for the salvation and joy of all men," he encouraged.
"The joy of the gospel is not just any joy," the pontiff explained. "It is the joy that comes from knowing you are welcomed and loved by God."
Because of its divine origin, "this joy truly remains even in suffering, because it is not superficial, but goes down to the depths of the person who commits himself to God and trusts in Him."
"Those who have encountered Jesus along the road experience in their hearts a serenity and joy that nothing and no one can deprive them of," Pope Francis emphasized.
"Our joy is Jesus, his faithful love is inexhaustible!" he exclaimed, taking a moment to stress the loving forgiveness of God, who is always waiting to welcome his children back.
Moreover, when a fellow Christian becomes sad, "we must pray for him, and make him feel the warmth of the community."
Mary, the mother of Jesus, "helps us to live the joy of the Gospel in family, at work, in the parish and in every environment," he commented.
The Holy Father described a Christian's joy as "an intimate joy, with wonder and tenderness," like that of "a mother when she looks at her newborn baby, and feels that it is a gift from God, a miracle for which there is only thanks!"
After the Angelus, Pope Francis went to greet the members of the Dominic Tardini Community of House of Nazareth, who had participated in the 10 a.m. Mass held in St. Peter's Basilica, along with the group's president, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini.
The Pope thanked them for their work in service of "the dignity of the human person," asked for their prayers, and wished them a "happy and holy Christmas."