Pope Francis on Gaudete Sunday: Be Surprised by God’s Mercy This Advent

Pope Francis delivered his message for the Third Sunday of Advent from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Angelus on Oct. 26, 2020.
Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Angelus on Oct. 26, 2020. (photo: Vatican Media )

VATICAN CITY — The season of Advent is a time to let ourselves be surprised by God’s mercy and compassion, Pope Francis said on Gaudete Sunday.

“Advent, then, is a time for overturning our perspectives … for letting ourselves be surprised by the greatness of God’s mercy,” the Pope said Dec. 11.

Advent is, he continued, “a time in which, preparing the Nativity display for the Infant Jesus, we learn again who Our Lord is, who he is; [it is] a time to leave behind certain mindsets and prejudices about God and our brothers and sisters; a time in which, instead of thinking about gifts for ourselves, we can give words and gestures of consolation to those who are wounded, as Jesus did with the blind, the deaf and the lame.”

Pope Francis delivered his message for the Third Sunday of Advent from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

The Sunday, which marks roughly halfway through the season preceding Christmas, is also known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for “rejoice.”

After giving his short reflection and praying the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis blessed figurines of the Child Jesus that people had brought to the Vatican from their Nativity scenes at home.

Blessing of Baby Jesus figurines Dec. 13 2020 CNA
Pope Francis blesses statues of the Baby Jesus on the Third Sunday of Advent. | 2020 photo; Daniel Ibañez/CNA(Photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

The Pope blesses the bambinelli — as they are called in Italian — every year on Gaudete Sunday.

“And now I bless the bambinelli, that is, the little statues of Baby Jesus that you dear children and young people have brought here and will then carry home and put in the Nativity,” Francis said.

“I invite you,” he continued, “to pray before the Nativity scene that the birth of Jesus will bring a ray of peace to the children of the whole world, especially those forced to live the terrible and dark days of war, this war in Ukraine that destroys many lives, many lives of many children.”

In his message, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, which recalls when John the Baptist was in prison and heard about the good works Jesus Christ was performing. 

St. John the Baptist “imagined a stern Messiah who would come and do justice with power by chastising sinners,” the Pope explained. "Now, on the contrary, Jesus has words and gestures of compassion towards all.”

Wracked with doubt, John sent his followers to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah or if he was just another prophet.

It could surprise us to know that the man who baptized Jesus and called him the Lamb of God experienced this uncertainty, Francis said, noting that “even the greatest believer goes through the tunnel of doubt.”

“And this is not a bad thing; on the contrary, sometimes it is essential for spiritual growth: It helps us understand that God is always greater than we imagine him to be,” he said.

Jesus’ “works are surprising compared to our calculations; his actions are always different; they exceed our needs and expectations; and, therefore, we must never stop seeking him and converting to his true face.”

The Pope pointed to a quote from the French theologian Henri de Lubac, who said God “needs to be rediscovered in stages ... sometimes believing that we are losing him.”

This is what John the Baptist did, Pope Francis said: “In doubt, he still seeks him, questions him, ‘argues’ with him and finally rediscovers him.”

“We too at times find ourselves in his situation, in an inner jail, unable to recognize the newness of the Lord, whom we perhaps hold captive in the presumption that we already know everything about him,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, we never know everything about him.”

“May Our Lady take us by the hand, like mom, in these days of preparation for Christmas, and help us recognize in the smallness of the Infant, the greatness of God who is coming.”