The readings for this third Sunday of Advent are filled with all sorts of human feelings and emotions: joy and fear in Zephaniah; anxiety and peace in St. Paul; expectation and satisfaction in Luke’s Gospel. Because God’s word deals so directly with our human experience, it takes on a relevance that endures down the ages. But it is important to note that our Christian lives should not be based primarily on emotions. Rather, we are called to ground our lives in truth and to translate that truth into action.
That having been said, let us never downplay the power of our emotional life. St. Paul knew this better than most. In writing to the Philippians, he urges his fellow Christians to rejoice in the Lord. He goes on to say that the negative feeling of anxiety must be countered by the knowledge that the Lord is near. Then, when appreciating the gift of understanding and knowledge, Paul maintains that God’s peace far surpasses the limits of our mind.
John the Baptist was a prophet of powerful, dare we say volcanic, feelings. His life and ministry were passionate, on fire. We must “feel” the emotions in his advice: Share what you have with others; stop collecting more than is right; do not practice extortion; and the list goes on. Add to this keen appreciation of realizing his secondary role in the coming of the Messiah and we have here a passionate, honest and humble disciple.
Then we have the prophet Zephaniah who, like St. Paul, encouraged the people of his day to shout for joy, sing for joy, be glad, fear not! The prophet was aware of the power of God and the nearness of salvation. Herein were the motives for joy and gladness. God longed to renew his people in his love and it was this love that elicited joy and banished fear. Again, the power of feelings and emotions plays a central role in God’s revelation.
Fr. William Johnston speaks of what happens when feelings are repressed: “… they will break out in overeating, or in grasping for power or money, or in excessive severity towards ourselves and others. Indeed, we now know, repressed feelings may cleverly masquerade as virtues; we may think that we are very pious and holy people when, in fact, we are frustrated, angry and deprived. Such is the beautiful, yet devastating role of feelings in human life. (cf. “The Mirror Mind,” 112).
On this third Sunday of Advent we are called to rejoice for the Lord is near. May our emotions be grounded in the truths of our faith and find expression in lives of discipleship.
Questions for reflection
1. What role do emotions play in your life?
2. What is your predominant feeling?
3. Why do repressed feelings demand careful discernment?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.