Some selections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The first set are taken from homilies at Vespers on the eve of the First Sunday, the second from Angelus talks on the First Sunday:
Therefore we can say that this prayer, this hope, expressed by the Apostle, contains a fundamental truth that he seeks to inculcate in the faithful of the community he founded and that we can sum up as follows: God calls us to communion with him, which will be completely fulfilled in the return of Christ, and he himself strives to ensure that we will arrive prepared for this final and decisive encounter. The future is, so to speak, contained in the present, or better, in the presence of God himself, who in his unfailing love does not leave us on our own or abandon us even for an instant, just as a father and mother never stop caring for their children while they are growing up.
Advent calls believers to become aware of this truth and to act accordingly. It rings out as a salutary appeal in the days, weeks and months that repeat: Awaken! Remember that God comes! Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, now!
The one true God, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes.
He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us.
His “coming” is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death, from all that prevents our true happiness. God comes to save us.
The Fathers of the Church observe that the “coming” of God – continuous and, as it were, co-natural with his very being – is centred in the two principal comings of Christ: his Incarnation and his glorious return at the end of time (cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 15,1: PG 33, 870).
The Advent Season lives the whole of this polarity.
From the outset, as becomes clear in the New Testament and especially in the Letters of the Apostles, a new hope distinguishes Christians from those who live in pagan religiosity. In writing to the Ephesians, St Paul reminds them that before embracing faith in Christ, they had “no hope and [were] without God in the world” (2: 12). This appears an especially apt description for the paganism of our day: in particular, we might compare it with the contemporary nihilism that corrodes the hope in man’s heart, inducing him to think that within and around him nothingness prevails: nothing before birth and nothing after death. In fact, if God is lacking, hope is lacking. Everything loses its “substance”. It is as if the dimension of depth were missing and everything were flattened out and deprived of its symbolic relief, its “projection” in comparison with mere materiality. At stake is the relationship between existence here and now and what we call the “hereafter”: this is not a place in which we end up after death; on the contrary, it is the reality of God, the fullness of life towards which every human being is, as it were, leaning. God responded to this human expectation in Christ with the gift of hope.
In short, these two Psalms shelter us from any temptation to escape or flee from reality; they preserve us from a false hope that might desire to enter Advent and move towards Christmas forgetting the tragedy of our personal and collective existence. In fact, a trustworthy hope that is not deceptive, can only be a “Paschal” hope, as the canticle of the Letter to the Philippians reminds us every Saturday evening, with which we praise the Incarnate Christ, crucified, Risen and our universal Lord. Let us turn our gaze and our heart to him, in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Advent. Let us place our hand in hers and enter joyfully into this new time of grace that God gives as a gift to his Church for the good of all humanity. Like Mary and with her maternal help, let us make ourselves docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, so that the God of peace may sanctify us totally, and the Church become a sign and instrument of hope for all men. Amen.
The meaning of the expression “advent” therefore includes that of visitation, which simply and specifically means “visit”; in this case it is a question of a visit from God: he enters my life and wishes to speak to me. In our daily lives we all experience having little time for the Lord and also little time for ourselves. We end by being absorbed in “doing”. Is it not true that activities often absorb us and that society with its multiple interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we devote a lot of time to entertainment and to various kinds of amusement? At times we get carried away. Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us. How often does God give us a glimpse of his love! To keep, as it were, an “interior journal” of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to consider the whole of our life as a “visit”, as a way in which he can come to us and become close to us in every situation?
The Apostle Paul’s words guide us to understanding the true meaning of the Liturgical Year which we are beginning this evening with the recitation of First Vespers of Advent. The whole journey of the Church Year is orientated to discovering and living fidelity to the God of Jesus Christ who will be presented to us once again, in the Grotto of Bethlehem, in the face of a Child.
From the Angelus
Advent begins this Sunday. It is a very evocative religious season because it is interwoven with hope and spiritual expectation: every time the Christian community prepares to commemorate the Redeemer’s birth, it feels a quiver of joy which to a certain extent it communicates to the whole of society
In Advent, the liturgy frequently repeats and assures us, as if to overcome our natural diffidence, that God “comes”: he comes to be with us in every situation of ours, he comes to dwell among us, to live with us and within us; he comes to fill the gaps that divide and separate us; he comes to reconcile us with him and with one another.
The development of modern science has always confined faith and hope to the private and individual sphere, so that today it appears in a clear and sometimes dramatic way that man and the world need God – the true God! – otherwise, they remain deprived of hope. Science contributes much to the good of humanity, but it is not able to redeem it. Man is redeemed by love, which makes one’s personal and social life good and beautiful. This is why the great hope, the full and definitive one, is guaranteed by God who is love, by God who has visited us and has given us life in Jesus, and who will return at the end of time. We hope in Christ, we await him! With Mary, his Mother, the Church goes to meet her Spouse: she does so with works of charity, because hope, like faith, is demonstrated in love.
A good Advent to all!
This season invites us to reflect on the dimension of time, which always exerts great fascination over us. However, after the example of what Jesus loved to do, I wish to start with a very concrete observation: we all say that we do not have enough time, because the pace of daily life has become frenetic for everyone. In this regard too, the Church has “good news” to bring: God gives us his time.
The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present and will come in the future. He embraces all the dimensions of time, because he died and rose; he is “the Living One”. While he shares our human precariousness, he remains forever and offers us the stability of God himself. He is “flesh” like us and “rock” like God. Whoever yearns for freedom, justice, and peace may rise again and raise his head, for in Christ liberation is drawing near.
Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.
“Watch!” This is Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel. He does not only address it to his disciples but to everyone: “Watch!” (Mk 13:37). It is a salutary reminder to us that life does not only have an earthly dimension but reaches towards a “beyond”, like a plantlet that sprouts from the ground and opens towards the sky. A thinking plantlet, man, endowed with freedom and responsibility, which is why each one of us will be called to account for how he/she has lived, how each one has used the talents with which each is endowed: whether one has kept them to oneself or has made them productive for the good of one’s brethren too.
In the midst of the upheavals of the world or in the deserts of indifference and materialism, may Christians accept salvation from God and bear witness to it with a different way of life, like a city set upon a hill. “In those days”, the Prophet Jeremiah announced, “Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: The Lord is our righteousness” (33:16). The community of believers is a sign of God’s love, of his justice which is already present and active in history but is not yet completely fulfilled and must therefore always be awaited, invoked and sought with patience and courage.
Every one of us, therefore, especially in this Season which prepares us for Christmas, can ask himself: What am I waiting for? What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for?