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Be happy

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” Our entrance antiphon on this Third Sunday of Advent sets the mood of our Eucharistic celebration. From the color of the candle and the vestments (a lighter shade of purple or pink) to the prayers and the readings, the whole liturgy is bursting with an uncontainable joy and anticipation. The reason is because “the Lord is near” (second reading), so near as to be actually “in your midst.” (first reading)

Today’s liturgy and the readings, in particular, remind me of the story of St. Dominic Savio. When he heard Don Bosco preach in one of his homilies that God’s will for everyone is to be holy, the young student resolved there and then to become a saint. Since then, he changed from a lively typical teenager to a serious loner. He stopped playing games and avoided fun and recreation. His health eventually gave way, and he became ill.

When Don Bosco visited him in the infirmary, the priest was shocked to learn that the boy had been fasting from food and doing corporeal penance. Dominic thought that this was the way to become a saint. Don Bosco corrected him and taught him a way more appropriate for his age and condition. The simple lessons he gave Dominic on holiness became the elements of what would constitute the Salesian youth spirituality. Today’s readings mention three basic elements of this spirituality.

BE HAPPY.

This is the first lesson Don Bosco gave to Dominic. To be a saint means to be happy. His explanation is simple. If one wishes to be holy, he must be in the state of grace; he must have God is his heart. And if one possesses God, how can he be sad? He is in fact the most fortunate of men. One thing alone can take God away from us – sin. Dominic understood this so well that he chose for his motto, “Death rather than sin.”

This Sunday’s liturgy urges us to be happy because God is not only near; he is in our midst. Ours is a joy from deep within which no one can take away. “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Can anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” (Rm 8:36) Thus, St. Teresa of Avila exhorts us, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you… whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”

DO YOUR ORDINARY DUTY EXTRAORDINARILY WELL.

This is Don Bosco’s second lesson to Dominic. Instead of fasting and inflicting pain on his body, Dominic’s penance was to be the exact fulfillment of his daily duties. Again, Don Bosco ‘s explanation is simple. The heart of holiness is in the fulfilment of God’s will. How do you know what is God’s will for you here and now? In your duty. If your duty now is to study, then study well. If it is to work, work well… Since doing our duty is doing God’s will, we cannot but do it with love. And when love qualifies our actions, our actions can only be our best.

This is the same lesson that John the Baptist taught to those who were seeking righteousness. When asked what they should do, the prophet replied: do your duty. To the tax collectors: charge the right amount and do not collect more than what is required. To the soldiers: do not abuse your power, and be satisfied with your wages. The path to righteousness is open to all and is possible for all – by doing one’s duty.

DO GOOD TO ALL.

The ultimate mark of holiness is our love for God which finds expression in our love of neighbor. This was Don Bosco’s third lesson to Dominic. He taught him how to be sensitive to the needs of others. More importantly, he taught him to share not only God’s goodness, but God himself. He taught him how to be an apostle to his peers.

This is the common lesson John the Baptist gave to all who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Our acts of love do not only hasten the coming of God among us. They, in fact, effect his presence in our midst. As an ancient Latin hymn goes, “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” Where there is love, there is God.*

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