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It’s not too late to throw together a celebration of Bambinelli Sunday for your parish, school or just group of friends. Every year, I do searches for parishes advertising their observance, and so here’s what I’ve got as of today:

First, there’s Rome:

"bambinelli sunday"

St. Jude, Atlanta

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Mary, Cecil, OH

St. John of the Cross, Euclid, OH

Corpus Christi – Anglican Ordinariate in Charleston.

Sacred Heart – West Des Moines, IA

Holy Spirit Catholic School, St. Paul, MN

St. Patrick, Pottsville, PA

St. Patrick and St. Anthony, Watertown, NY

St. Paul, Ramsey, NJ

More to come!

Nice initiative by the Catholic Grandparents Association in Ireland, mentioned on the website of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe.

The third Sunday of Advent is known as the Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. Traditionally, every year in Rome, on that day, the Pope blesses the Bambinelli (figures of Baby Jesus) that people bring to St. Peter’s Square.

Last year, the Catholic Grandparents Association introduced this initiative in Ireland and, given its great success, they are repeating it this year, encouraging Parishes, Schools and Families to participate in this tradition and bring their Bambinelli to Mass to be blessed on 11 December.

This is a wonderful way of putting the birth of our Lord Jesus at the centre of Christmas.

Please find below the poster of the event, which you can adapt to your Parish.

More on Bambinelli Sunday from me..

here..

and at a Pinterest board.

bambinelli-blessing

 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

Here’s a link to Rome Reports’ account of a previous year’s blessing.

How the book came to be.

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In addition to the woman-and-the-Reformation specific material I’ve been reading, I’ve also been looking at a few books that cover the Reformation in general. Since today is the day the Reformation is in the news, I thought I’d talk about them a bit.

First, Carlos Eire’s massive Reformations.  Some of you might know Eire as the author of two affecting memoirs, including Waiting for Snow in Havana.  His day job is that of historian, being a professor of history and religious studies at Yale.

Reformations EireReformations is aptly titled, for as Eire points out, there is no single “Reformation” with a single source and direction, but rather a number of movements that erupted in the same era.

It’s a survey, yes, but it’s worth a look for a couple of reasons. First, history cannot be apprehended as an objective entity in the present. History is a story and is always remembered and told from a point of view. I am interested in Eire’s point of view, so I’m going to read his book on this topic.

Secondly, history may explore events that happened long ago, but we in the present are continually discovering new information that shifts or even radically changes our understanding of those events. History is also written with varied resources and methodologies. Forgotten or newly embraced methodologies shed new light on old narratives.

So it is with the Protestant Reformation. It’s helpful to periodically take stock and reevaluate this  set of events so complex and usually narrated from such entrenched, specific perspectives.

I’ve only read through the Luther material in the Eire book, but I do intend to finish it if I can renew it from the library enough times (700+ pages of text). If you are at all familiar with the basics, you might be skimming parts, but Eire does highlight some elements with which I was not familiar, primarily those related to Catholic life on the Continent before the Reformation, and particularly reform movements within Catholicism that sought to strengthen Catholicism, rather than break it apart – and succeeded, especially those in Spain. Very interesting.

The material on Luther himself provides not much new to me and draws on standard sources (Bainton, for example) with surprising frequency, but what the general reader might find most illuminating is, indeed, the juxtaposition of the pre-Reformation material with Luther. Given the liveliness, breadth, depth and seriousness of Catholic reform happening in Europe pre-1517, it makes it all the more tragic that the particular, peculiar and narrow theological stylings of one individual gained so much traction and came to dominate and shatter the landscape.

Brand Luther is a very interesting book that offers one angle on how that happened. Historian Andrew Pettegree surveys the Lutheran movement in great detail, but through the particular prism of the history of printing.

Even if you only have the vaguest familiarity with Luther, you probably associate his movement with the still relatively new technology of moveable type. Pettegree explores that relationship in great depth, making clear that this association was no accident. Brand LutherLuther came from a craft/business family background and knew what he was doing. He was quite particular about how his work was presented, knew that this was a powerful tool, and was deeply involved in making his work attractive, easy to read and accessible. And the printers loved him, of course – well, those of whom he approved that is. Luther and his controversies were a boon for the printing industry, and the particular political and economic arrangements of Germany only helped deepen the bond. In most other areas of Europe, printing was centrally controlled by stronger central governments. The political patchwork that was “Germany” meant that even if your local Duke had more Catholic sympathies and refused printers permission from printing Luther’s works, the neighboring duchy which was going all in could flood the area with Luther’s tracts nonetheless.

An interesting side point. Luther’s works were immensely popular and millions were printed and sold over just the span of a few years. His theological and political arguments, his Bible translations, his catechisms and his works for the laity were the bread and butter of German printers for decades. One gets the impression from histories of the Luther movement that the Catholic response to all of this was characterized by not much more than ineptitude and short-sightedness. There may have been some of that, but what stands out from Brand Luther is the sheer marketing force and ingenuity that Luther exerted. He saw right away that if his cause was to succeed and if his life was to be preserved, he had to take this beyond academic circles to the popular arena. Therefore, he wrote in German rather than only in Latin, and he wrote works specifically directed at laypeople. This is what the Catholic side could not or would not understand.  And, to come back around the printers – Pettegree points out that it got to a point at which Catholic writers had plenty of responses to Luther ready to roll, but printers were uninterested in taking them on because they didn’t sell.

As I was reading Brand Luther,  I toyed with a slightly different take on this early period of the Reformation and the fire it spread – and so quickly- through German lands at the time. There are countless reasons for this wildfire: the authentic appeal of Luther’s ideas of “freedom” from Roman Catholic religious ritual and spiritual sensibilities, real, scandalous and problematic Catholic corruption, the support of secular rulers, disdain of Rome as a foreign power, and the new technology. It’s all there. But what struck me in the reading was, honestly, the titillating, profitable appeal of scandal and taboo-breaking. When I read Luther’s best-selling bold, cocky, profane and dismissive invectives against almost every aspect of Catholic life that every person reading him would have grown up knowing and holding as sacred, and contemplate the violent, scatological images of clergy and religious practices that were printed and distributed by the thousands,  it doesn’t seem like a culture in which there is calm-truth seeking happening. It feels frantic, taboo-shattering, dam-bursting and addictively scandalous. And that, as we know, will always, always sell.

(By the way – this is being posted on October 31 – “Reformation Day” – the day Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door. both Eire and Pettegree point out that there is little evidence that such an event happened on that date, or even happened at all, at least to any fanfare or notice. FYI.)

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First…why?

Why highlight these saints almost every day?

Simple: Because through the saints, we learn how to be disciples. We learn how rich, textured and diverse Catholic life is. Because saints lived in the past, when we make reflecting on the life, work, witness or writing of a saint part of our day, we situate our faith more properly than we do if we situate our faith only in the present moment.

So, St. Irenaeus. We’ll start with Mike Aquilina:

St. Irenaeus is a giant. Pay no mind to the modern academics who portray him as a meanie nun out to rap gnostic knuckles with a crozier-sized ruler. St. Irenaeus was a scholar’s scholar, a biblical theologian of the first rank. He was a global diplomat who actually
succeeded at making peace. And he was a holy, plain-speaking, and truth-telling bishop. If today’s gnostic resurgents don’t like him, it’s because, after eighteen centuries and more, his critique is still right as rain and still raining all over the gnostic parade.

Then, B16:

 

Irenaeus was in all probability born in Smyrna (today, Izmir in Turkey) in about 135-140, where in his youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, a disciple in his turn of the Apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but his move must have coincided with the first development of the Christian community in Lyons: here, in 177, we find Irenaeus listed in the college of presbyters. In that very year, he was sent to Rome bearing a letter from the community in Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. His mission to Rome saved Irenaeus from the persecution of Marcus Aurelius which took a toll of at least 48 martyrs, including the 90-year old Bishop Pontinus of Lyons, who died from ill-treatment in prison. Thus, on his return Irenaeus was appointed Bishop of the city. The new Pastor devoted himself without reserve to his episcopal ministry which ended in about 202-203, perhaps with martyrdom.

Irenaeus was first and foremost a man of faith and a Pastor. Like a good Pastor, he had a good sense of proportion, a wealth of doctrine, and missionary enthusiasm. As a writer, he pursued a twofold aim: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of heretics, and to explain the truth of the faith clearly. His two extant works – the five books of The Detection and Overthrow of the False Gnosis and Demonstration of the Apostolic Teaching (which can also be called the oldest “catechism of Christian doctrine”) – exactly corresponded with these aims. In short, Irenaeus can be defined as the champion in the fight against heresies. The second-century Church was threatened by the so-called Gnosis, a doctrine which affirmed that the faith taught in the Church was merely a symbolism for the simple who were unable to grasp difficult concepts; instead, the initiates, the intellectuals – Gnostics,they were called – claimed to understand what was behind these symbols and thus formed an elitist and intellectualist Christianity. Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became increasingly fragmented, splitting into different currents with ideas that were often bizarre and extravagant, yet attractive to many. One element these different currents had in common was “dualism”: they denied faith in the one God and Father of all, Creator and Saviour of man and of the world. To explain evil in the world, they affirmed the existence, besides the Good God, of a negative principle. This negative principle was supposed to have produced material things, matter.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation, Irenaeus refuted the Gnostic dualism and pessimism which debased corporeal realities. He decisively claimed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh no less than of the spirit. But his work went far beyond the confutation of heresy: in fact, one can say that he emerges as the first great Church theologian who created systematic theology; he himself speaks of the system of theology, that is, of the internal coherence of all faith. At the heart of his doctrine is the question of the “rule of faith” and its transmission. For Irenaeus, the “rule of faith” coincided in practice with theApostles’ Creed, which gives us the key for interpreting the Gospel, for interpreting the Creed in light of the Gospel. The Creed, which is a sort of Gospel synthesis, helps us understand what it means and how we should read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by Irenaeus is the one he was taught by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and Polycarp’s Gospel dates back to the Apostle John, whose disciple Polycarp was.
The true teaching, therefore, is not that invented by intellectuals which goes beyond the Church’s simple faith. The true Gospel is the one imparted by the Bishops who received it in an uninterrupted line from the Apostles. They taught nothing except this simple faith, which is also the true depth of God’s revelation. Thus, Irenaeus tells us, there is no secret doctrine concealed in the Church’s common Creed. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly confessed by the Church is the common faith of all. This faith alone is apostolic, it is handed down from the Apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God. In adhering to this faith, publicly transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what their Bishops say and must give special consideration to the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and very ancient. It is because of her antiquity that this Church has the greatest apostolicity; in fact, she originated in Peter and Paul, pillars of the Apostolic College. All Churches must agree with the Church of Rome, recognizing in her the measure of the true Apostolic Tradition, the Church’s one common faith. With these arguments, summed up very briefly here, Irenaeus refuted the claims of these Gnostics, these intellectuals, from the start. First of all, they possessed no truth superior to that of the ordinary faith, because what they said was not of apostolic origin, it was invented by them. Secondly, truth and salvation are not the privilege or monopoly of the few, but are available to all through the preaching of the Successors of the Apostles, especially of the Bishop of Rome. In particular – once again disputing the “secret” character of the Gnostic tradition and noting its multiple and contradictory results – Irenaeus was concerned to describe the genuine concept of the Apostolic Tradition which we can sum up here in three points.

a) Apostolic Tradition is “public”, not private or secret. Irenaeus did not doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the Apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no other teaching than this. Therefore, for anyone who wishes to know true doctrine, it suffices to know “the Tradition passed down by the Apostles and the faith proclaimed to men”: a tradition and faith that “have come down to us through the succession of Bishops” (Adversus Haereses, 3, 3, 3-4). Hence, the succession of Bishops, the personal principle, and Apostolic Tradition, the doctrinal principle, coincide.

b) Apostolic Tradition is “one”. Indeed, whereas Gnosticism was divided into multiple sects, Church Tradition is one in its fundamental content, which – as we have seen – Irenaeus calls precisely regula fidei or veritatis: and thus, because it is one, it creates unity through the peoples, through the different cultures, through the different peoples; it is a common content like the truth, despite the diversity of languages and cultures. A very precious saying of St Irenaeus is found in his book Adversus Haereses: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the world… having received [this faith from the Apostles]… as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world” (1, 10, 1-2). Already at that time – we are in the year 200 – it was possible to perceive the Church’s universality, her catholicity and the unifying power of the truth that unites these very different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Lastly, the Apostolic Tradition, as he says in the Greek language in which he wrote his book, is “pneumatic”, in other words, spiritual, guided by the Holy Spirit: in Greek, the word for “spirit” is “pneuma”. Indeed, it is not a question of a transmission entrusted to the ability of more or less learned people, but to God’s Spirit who guarantees fidelity to the transmission of the faith.
This is the “life” of the Church, what makes the Church ever young and fresh, fruitful with multiple charisms.

For Irenaeus, Church and Spirit were inseparable: “This faith”, we read again in the third book of Adversus Haereses, “which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also…. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace” (3, 24, 1). As can be seen, Irenaeus did not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always enlivened from within by the Holy Spirit, who makes it live anew, causes it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church. Adhering to her teaching, the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be what it appears, that is, “public”, “one”, “pneumatic”, “spiritual”. Starting with each one of these characteristics, a fruitful discernment can be made of the authentic transmission of the faith in the today of the Church. More generally, in Irenaeus’ teaching, the dignity of man, body and soul, is firmly anchored in divine creation, in the image of Christ and in the Spirit’s permanent work of sanctification. This doctrine is like a “high road” in order to discern together with all people of good will the object and boundaries of the dialogue of values, and to give an ever new impetus to the Church’s missionary action, to the force of the truth which is the source of all true values in the world.

Repeating what I said yesterday, if you have a mind to study the Church Fathers via these talks either as an individual or as a parish study group, feel free to use the free pdf of the study guide I wrote for OSV.  For example the reflection questions for the section on Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen

1. These thinkers of early Christianity did not shy from engaging with non-Christian thinking. How would you describe their relationships to it? What seems to you to be their standard for what elements of non-Christian thinking to accept or reject?

2. Apologetics is still an important part of Christian expression. What issues have you experienced as being areas in which you or others you know are called upon to offer an “apologia”? Are there any resources you have found particularly helpful?

3. All of these thinkers — and most in this book — emerged from the East, the birthplace of Christianity. What do you know about the Eastern Catholic churches today? Have you ever attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy?

4. Irenaeus battled Gnostic heresies in which only an elite had access to the ultimate saving spiritual knowledge. Can you see any currents of this element of Gnostic thinking in the world today? Do you ever catch yourself thinking along these lines?

5. These thinkers were engaged in very creative work, but work that was very faithful to the tradition they had been handed by the apostles. What kind of creative, faithful ways of teaching and expressing faith are you aware of today? If you were in charge of evangelization  for the Church in your area, what kinds of approaches would you encourage?

6. Justin Martyr felt that certain elements of his pagan life had actually worked to prepare him for his Christian life. Are their any elements of your life before your fuller coming to faith that you feel have prepared you for deepening your faith today?

7. Ignatius and Origen both longed for martyrdom. What do you think about that?

8. Several of these thinkers indicate the importance of the bishop of Rome. How do you see the importance of the papacy expressed in the Church and the world today?

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Ah…Rome.

I had not initially planned to include Rome in this trip, since we were there 3 ½ years ago. But then I thought, well, 3 ½ years is a long time in Child Time, I, personally could go to Rome once a year and be fine with it, and finally, I started thinking about the things we haven’t done in Rome yet…and then I saw that it’s only a 2-hour, 20 Euro train ride from Bologna, and so Rome was back in the running.

This will not be a lengthy, word, thinking-out-loud post like the others, because the parameters of this step were pretty clear to me – doing the two major things we haven’t done in the Roma area: The Appian Way and the catacombs in that area, and then Ostia Antica.

Ostia Antica is, of course, not in Rome, but rather a short train ride to the coast. It’s a fine site of the ancient Roman port – sort of like a smaller Pompeii, without the volcano. My late father went there during his month in Rome several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. We have been to Pompeii, but we are always up for ruins, so Ostia Antica it is.

I would like to try to get into one of the new underground tours of the Coliseum, but they are really popular and I don’t know if it will be possible. We also have never been to the Capitoline Museum – somehow, when in Rome, indoor museums are never a priority with me. There’s so much to see just walking around outside. We will try to do that, but a priority will be, I think, a guided tour of the Palatine Hill and Forum. We walk through the Forum every time we go, trying to be intelligent about it, but I think a tour guide would really deepen our appreciation..especially since kids tend to listen to a tour guide with far more attentiveness than they do to Mom. Who barely knows what she’s talking about so yeah. Tour. And I do think that will be a more interesting excursion than the museum, if we have to choose.

Other than that…wandering, revisiting St. Peter’s and as many other past favorite sites as we can.

In the past, we have stayed in apartments off the Borgo Vittorio, near the Vatican. I can’t find the first one in which we stayed over ten years ago, but this is the place we stayed at in 2012. I grabbed a larger, 3-bedroom apartment because we had a friend from the US staying with us for a few days during our time there. (And if you look at the cost of the apartment, you will see what I mean about relative pricing. People, I paid more than that per night for a mediocre hotel room in Charleston – the cheapest I could find –  a few weeks ago.Bah.)  In 2008, one of my older sons was living in Rome – he worked as an English teacher there for about a year and a half – and I went to visit him at Thanksgiving. During that visit, I stayed in an apartment in the Monteverde area, west of the Tiber River and Trestavere, south of Vatican City. I’d like to show you that one, but the website is down, but I know they probably still rent it because my daughter lived in Europe for a year and a half (in Germany), and on her visit to Rome, a year ago, she stayed in the same apartment.

This time, I had thought about trying to stay around Piazza Navone or Campo di Fiore, but could never find something roomy enough that was affordable. I worried about noise as well. When we went to Madrid last year, we had a lovely apartment, but the noise at night was incredible. It wasn’t super crazy spring break revelry – just normal Spanish life, which doesn’t start until 10pm at the earliest, then goes strong until 3 am or so. But still. I wondered…how do you people get anything done in life?

So we’re back to Monteverde this time. It’s closer to transportation for the Ostia Antica thing, and it’s a quieter area.

There! That was quick!

Next, I’ll share with you what we’re reading and watching for prep. For all #Italy2016 posts go here. 

 

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I finally got around to finishing Louis Bouyer’s memoirs – what an odd book.

Bouyer was a French scholar and priest – a convert from Protestantism – raised in some combined high church Reformed/Lutheran milieu, he was a Lutheran pastor. Two of his more well-known books that have been translated in English are Liturgical Piety and The

Louis Bouyer Memoirs

Enter a caption

Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.  I’ve read both, but don’t remember tons about them.

Bouyer’s memoir has been receiving some buzz mostly because of what he says about his work on commissions attached to the Second Vatican Council.  He was bitter.

I said the book was odd. Why?

Well, it is a memoir, but, in the end, a not terribly personal one.  The first few chapters which treat his childhood in and about Paris are quite lovely and evocative. But as he grows to adulthood, the book takes on the character of a list. Bouyer went here, studied these subjects with these people, got fed up or converted and then moved on.  Repeat.  Over and over again. In Europe, in the United States, encounters and friendships, a bit of teaching, some preaching….

Not, in the end, terribly interesting.

A couple of points struck me:

First, Bouyer was in Paris for most of World War II.  Perhaps he has written about that experience elsewhere in some depth, but here he does not.  You know the war is going on – he mentions it in sad terms a couple of times, but only as the faintest background to his writing and engagements with other scholars. It’s very strange – he was living in German-occupied Paris and he has nothing to say about that? I don’t care what he thought about some other Oratian in the house – I want to know what occupied Paris was like for these fellows.

And then, the Vatican II stuff.  To tell the truth there is not a lot more than what has been mentioned in reviews – his loathing of Bugnini, the composition of Eucharistic Prayer II in a Trestavere trattoria and Ratzinger’s aside about Rahner: “Another monologue about dialogue.”

Now, I do believe he did, indeed write about all of that in quite a bit more detail, so I can’t fault the memoir for only hitting the highlights (to him). But what I wondered about was not as much the content as the attitude.  Bouyer had a deeply negative assessment of the liturgical direction of Vatican II and makes clear that this direction was present long before the Council itself – for example, in the French context, there was some sort of conflict between liturgical groups in the 50’s, but so much was assumed in the telling, I found it very confusing and really never understood what was going on.  So yes, distress and even disgust – that’s clearly expressed. But what I found lacking was a consideration of the complexities of his own involvement or even distant responsibility, even the broadest sense for the direction of the post-Conciliar liturgical scene. It is this bad thing that happened, but why? It is almost as if what s more important in the telling is the personal slight to Bouyer in his desired direction being rejected rather than any concern for the Church as a whole.

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….year C.  Angelus addresses that track with the readings, from B16:

2012:

Today the word of God calls us to this, outlining the lines of conduct we should follow to be ready for the Lord’s Coming. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples: “take heed… lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life… at at all times, praying” (Lk 21:34, 36). Therefore, moderation and prayer. And the Apostle Paul adds the invitation to “increase and abound in love” among ourselves and for everyone, to make our hearts blameless in holiness (cf. 1 Thess 3:12-13).

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.

The Virgin Mary perfectly embodies the spirit of Advent that consists in listening to God, with a profound desire to do his will and to serve our neighbour joyfully. Let us allow ourselves to be guided by her, so that God who comes may not find us closed or distracted but rather may extend a little of his kingdom of love, justice and peace in each of us.

2006:

I would like here to recall above all the beloved Catholic community which lives on Turkish territory. I am thinking of it this Sunday as we enter the Season of Advent.

I was able to meet and celebrate Holy Mass with these brothers and sisters of ours who live in conditions that are frequently difficult. It is truly a small flock, variegated, rich in enthusiasm and faith, which we might say lives the Advent experience constantly and vividly, sustained by hope.

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.

He comes into human history to knock at the door of every man and every woman of good will, to bring to individuals, families and peoples the gifts of brotherhood, harmony and peace.

This is why Advent is par excellence the season of hope in which believers in Christ are invited to remain in watchful and active waiting, nourished by prayer and by the effective commitment to love. May the approaching Nativity of Christ fill the hearts of all Christians with joy, serenity and peace!

To live this Advent period more authentically and fruitfully, the liturgy urges us to look at Mary Most Holy and to set out in spirit together with her towards the Bethlehem Grotto. When God knocked at the door of her young life, she welcomed him with faith and love.

In a few days we will contemplate her in the luminous mystery of her Immaculate Conception. Let us allow ourselves to be attracted by her beauty, a reflection of divine glory, so that “the God who comes” will find in each one of us a good and open heart that he can fill with his gifts.

2006 Vespers 

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.

In the first days, the accent falls on the expectation of the Lord’s Final Coming, as the texts of this evening’s celebration demonstrate.

With Christmas approaching, the dominant note instead is on the commemoration of the event at Bethlehem, so that we may recognize it as the “fullness of time”.

Between these two “manifested” comings it is possible to identify a third, which St Bernard calls “intermediate” and “hidden”, and which occurs in the souls of believers and, as it were, builds a “bridge” between the first and the last coming.

“In the first”, St Bernard wrote, “Christ was our redemption; in the last coming he will reveal himself to us as our life: in this lies our repose and consolation” (Discourse 5 on Advent, 1).

The archetype for that coming of Christ, which we might call a “spiritual incarnation”, is always Mary. Just as the Virgin Mother pondered in her heart on the Word made flesh, so every individual soul and the entire Church are called during their earthly pilgrimage to wait for Christ who comes and to welcome him with faith and love ever new.

The liturgy of Advent thus casts light on how the Church gives voice to our expectation of God, deeply inscribed in the history of humanity; unfortunately, this expectation is often suffocated or is deviated in false directions.

As a Body mystically united to Christ the Head, the Church is a sacrament, that is, a sign and an effective instrument of this waiting for God.

To an extent known to him alone, the Christian community can hasten his Final Coming, helping humanity to go forth to meet the Lord who comes.

And she does this first of all, but not exclusively, with prayer.

Next, essential and inseparable from prayer are “good works”, as the prayer for this First Sunday of Advent declares, and in which we ask the Heavenly Father to inspire in us “the desire to go with good works” to Christ who comes.

In this perspective, Advent is particularly suited to being a season lived in communion with all those who – and thanks be to God they are numerous – hope for a more just and a more fraternal world.
In this commitment to justice, people of every nationality and culture, believers and non-believers, can to a certain extent meet. Indeed, they are all inspired by a common desire, even if their motivations are different, for a future of justice and peace.

 

 

 

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This coming Sunday, the 87 (!) – year old Pope Emeritus Benedict will attend an event for grandparents – the elderly – in St. Peter’s Square.   It’s a good opportunity to revisit some remarks he made in 2012 when he visited a home for the elderly run by the Community of San’Egidio. 

I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. It would be superfluous to say that I am well acquainted with the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age and I know that for many these difficulties are more acute due to the economic crisis. At times, at a certain age, one may look back nostalgically at the time of our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. Thus at times our gaze is veiled by sadness, seeing this phase of life as the time of sunset. This morning, addressing all the elderly in spirit, although I am aware of the difficulties that our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old! At every phase of life it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring. We must never let ourselves be imprisoned by sorrow! We have received the gift of longevity. Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some “aches and pains” and a few limitations. In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.

In the Bible longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing is widespread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and to make the most of. And yet frequently society dominated by the logic of efficiency and gain does not accept it as such: on the contrary it frequently rejects it, viewing the elderly as non-productive or useless. All too often we hear about the suffering of those who are marginalized, who live far from home or in loneliness. I think there should be greater commitment, starting with families and public institutions, to ensure that the elderly be able to stay in their own homes. The wisdom of life, of which we are bearers, is a great wealth. The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life. Those who make room for the elderly make room for life! Those who welcome the elderly welcome life!

From the outset the Community of Sant’Egidio has supported so many elderly people on their way, helping them to stay in their own living milieus and opening various “casa-famiglia” in Rome and throughout the world. Through solidarity between the young and the old it has helped people to understand that the Church is effectively a family made up of all the generations, where each person must feel “at home” and where it is not the logic of profit and of possession that prevails but that of giving freely and of love. When life becomes frail, in the years of old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: each one of us, at any stage of life, is wanted and loved by God, each one is important and necessary (cf. Homily for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry, 24 April 2005).

Today’s visit fits into the European Year of Active Aging and of Solidarity between the Generations. And in this very context I would like to reaffirm that the elderly are a value for society, especially for the young. There can be no true human growth and education without fruitful contact with the elderly, because their life itself is like an open book in which the young generations may find precious indications for their journey through life.

Dear friends, at our age we often experience the need of the help of others; and this also happens to the Pope. In the Gospel we read that Jesus told the Apostle Peter: “when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). The Lord was referring to the way in which the Apostle was to witness to his faith to the point of martyrdom, but this sentence makes us think about that fact that the need for help is a condition of the elderly. I would like to ask you to seek in this too a gift of the Lord, because being sustained and accompanied, feeling the affection of others is a grace! This is important in every stage of life: no one can live alone and without help; the human being is relational. And in this case I see, with pleasure, that all those who help and all those who are helped form one family, whose lifeblood is love.

Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings; never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. And this phase of life is also a gift for deepening the relationship with God. The example of Blessed Pope John Paul II was and still is illuminating for everyone. Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. The prayers of the elderly can protect the world, helping it, perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety. Today I would like to entrust to your prayers the good of the Church and peace in the world. The Pope loves you and relies on all of you! May you feel beloved by God and know how to bring a ray of God’s love to this society of ours, often so individualistic and so efficiency-oriented. And God will always be with you and with all those who support you with their affection and their help.

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