“So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”(Jn 3:29b-30).
How could John be feeling joy with decrease? This is counter to what many aspire to in our country. Aren’t we supposed to obtain more, be more popular, and not rest on our laurels if we are to be happy? If our end goal is, fame or honor, wealth, power, and/or pleasure, then yes that would be true. But John is giving us an insight here about what brings us real joy.
True joy comes from within when we have found our meaning and purpose in life, our mission. John was clear about his mission. John came to prepare the way of the Lord. He experienced this from the time when he leaped in the womb when Mary first arrived to see Elizabeth. From that moment, he was preparing the way for Jesus and continued to do so into his adult life. He was not distracted by how many people he was or was not baptizing, but he was focused on preparing people to be ready for the coming of the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29).
John is not threatened by Jesus as was Herod, he is overjoyed that the time of fulfillment had come. What John had been called to do by God he had been doing. The reality that Jesus increased and John decreased brought John joy because this was the fulfillment of his mission. How many of us get to experience the fruits of our labor?
If we want to be happy, experience joy, and be fulfilled in our life, then following the lead of John the Baptist is a pretty good way to start. I do not ne essarily mean selling off everything and living in the wilderness. The important point is that John cultivated a relationship with God. He came to know his voice, was open to his direction, acted on God’s leading, found confirmation, and became clear of the part he was to play in salvation history.
Each and every one of us has a specific role to play in God’s plan. We come to understand our mission by slowing down and becoming consciously aware of the relationship God is inviting us to participate in. As we do so we also experience the Holy Spirit who “impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission” (Francis 2014, 48).
Even in the midst of this pandemic over the past year, with many adjustments and common weariness, I still enjoy teaching. Through interactions with my colleagues and students, I encounter Jesus each day and bear witness through the love that I experience. Teaching has been and continues to be a significant part of the mission the Holy Spirit has called me to participate in. I am also glad that I am able to do so through these reflections online as well. There have been many evenings in which my body was ready to head for the land of dreams but I have found joy in putting together one more reflection on the Gospel of the day to share.
When we make the time to listen, we will hear and begin to recognize the voice of Jesus in the silence of our hearts, we will better discern where we are placing our time and energy, as well as better examine how God is inviting us through his creation, our experiences, and relationships. As we step out and risk, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, decrease and allow Jesus to increase within us, he will not only confirm for us but provide us with the means to accomplish our mission.
Photo: My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready. I will sing, I will sing your praise. Awake my soul, awake lyre and harp. With joy I will awake the dawn (cf Psalm 57).
Pope Francis. The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.