Entry 0313: Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent
by Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate
On eight occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the First Sunday of Advent, on 27 November 2005, 3 December 2006, 2 December 2007, 30 November 2008, 29 November 2009, 28 November 2010, 27 November 2011, and 2 December 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections before the recitation of the Angelus and nine homilies delivered on these occasions.
Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 2 December 2006
Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 28 November 2009
Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 27 November 2010
Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 1 December 2012
Students, Dear University
I entrust to Mary, Seat of Wisdom, all of you and your loved ones; the studies, teaching and life of the athenaeums; and, especially, the itinerary of formation and of witness in this Year of Faith. May the lamps you will carry in your chaplaincies always be fed by your faith that is humble but full of reverence so that each one of you may be a light of hope and peace in the university environment. Amen.
St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 27 November 2005
First Sunday of Advent
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
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, Christians relive a dual impulse of the spirit: on the one hand, they raise their eyes towards the final destination of their pilgrimage through history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus; on the other, remembering with emotion his birth in
they kneel before the Crib.
The hope of Christians is turned to the future but remains firmly rooted in an event of the past. In the fullness of time, the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary: “Born of a woman, born under the law”, as the Apostle Paul writes (Gal 4:4).
Today’s Gospel invites us to stay on guard as we await the final coming of Christ. “Look around you!”, Jesus says. “You do not know when the master of the house is coming” (Mk 13:35). The short parable of the master who went on a journey and the servants responsible for acting in his place highlights how important it is to be ready to welcome the Lord when he suddenly returns.
The Christian community waits anxiously for his “manifestation”, and the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, urges them to trust in God’s fidelity and to live so as to be found “blameless” (see 1 Cor 1:7-9) on the day of the Lord. Most appropriately, therefore, the liturgy at the beginning of Advent puts on our lips the Psalm: “Show us, O Lord, your kindness, and grant us your salvation” (see Ps 85:8).
We might say that Advent is the season in which Christians must rekindle in their hearts the hope that they will be able with God’s help to renew the world.
In this regard I would also like to remember today the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, on the Church in the Modern World: it is a text deeply imbued with Christian hope.
I am referring in particular to no. 39, entitled “New Heavens and a New Earth”. In it we read: “We are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (see 2 Cor 5:2; II Pt 3:13).... Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows”.
Indeed, we will find the good fruits of our hard work when Christ delivers to the Father his eternal and universal Kingdom. May Mary Most Holy, Virgin of Advent, obtain that we live this time of grace in a watchful and hardworking way while we await the Lord.
FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saturday, 26 November 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the celebration of First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent we are beginning a new liturgical year. In singing the Psalms together, we have raised our hearts to God, placing ourselves in the spiritual attitude that marks this season of grace: “vigilance in prayer” and “exultation in praise” (see Roman Missal, Advent Preface, II/A).
Taking as our model Mary Most Holy, who teaches us to live by devoutly listening to the Word of God, let us reflect on the short Bible Reading just proclaimed.
It consists of two verses contained in the concluding part of the First Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians (I Thes 5: 23-24). The first expresses the Apostle’s greeting to the community: the second offers, as it were, the guarantee of its fulfilment.
The hope expressed is that each one may be made holy by God and preserved irreproachable in his entire person - “spirit, soul and body” - for the final coming of the Lord Jesus; the guarantee that this can happen is offered by the faithfulness of God himself, who will not fail to bring to completion the work he has begun in believers.
This First Letter to the Thessalonians is the first of all
St Paul’s Letters, written probably in the
year 51. In this first Letter we can feel, more than in the others, the Apostle’s
pulsating heart, his paternal, indeed we can say maternal, love for this new
community. And we also feel his anxious concern that the faith of this new
Church not die, surrounded as she was by a cultural context in many regards in
opposition to the faith.
Thus, Paul ends his Letter with a hope, or we might almost say with a prayer. The content of the prayer we have heard is that they [the Thessalonians] should be holy and irreproachable to the moment of the Lord’s coming. The central word of this prayer is “coming”. We should ask ourselves what does “coming of the Lord” mean? In Greek it is “parousia”, in Latin “adventus”, “advent”, “coming”. What is this “coming”? Does it involve us or not?
To understand the meaning of this word, hence, of the Apostle’s prayer for this community and for communities of all times - also for us - we must look at the person through whom the coming of the Lord was uniquely brought about: the Virgin Mary.
Mary belonged to that part of the People of Israel who in Jesus’ time were waiting with heartfelt expectation for the Saviour’s coming. And from the words and acts recounted in the Gospel, we can see how she truly lived steeped in the Prophets’ words; she entirely expected the Lord’s coming.
She could not, however, have imagined how this coming would be brought about. Perhaps she expected a coming in glory. The moment when the Archangel Gabriel entered her house and told her that the Lord, the Saviour, wanted to take flesh in her, wanted to bring about his coming through her, must have been all the more surprising to her.
We can imagine the Virgin’s apprehension. Mary, with a tremendous act of faith and obedience, said “yes”: “I am the servant of the Lord”. And so it was that she became the “dwelling place” of the Lord, a true “temple” in the world and a “door” through which the Lord entered upon the earth.
We have said that this coming was unique: “the” coming of the Lord. Yet there is not only the final coming at the end of time: in a certain sense the Lord always wants to come through us. And he knocks at the door of our hearts: are you willing to give me your flesh, your time, your life?
This is the voice of the Lord who also wants to enter our epoch, he wants to enter human life through us. He also seeks a living dwelling place in our personal lives. This is the coming of the Lord. Let us once again learn this in the season of Advent: the Lord can also come among us.
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.
Before Christ who comes, men and women are defined in the whole of their being, which the Apostle sums up in the words “spirit, soul and body”, thereby indicating the whole of the human person as a unit with somatic, psychic and spiritual dimensions. Sanctification is God’s gift and his project, but human beings are called to respond with their entire being without excluding any part of themselves.
It is the Holy Spirit himself who formed in the Virgin’s womb Jesus, the perfect Man, who brings God’s marvellous plan to completion in the human person, first of all by transforming the heart and from this centre, all the rest.
Thus, the entire work of creation and redemption which God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, continues to bring about, from the beginning to the end of the cosmos and of history, is summed up in every individual person. And since the first coming of Christ is at the centre of the history of humanity and at its end, his glorious return, so every personal existence is called to be measured against him - in a mysterious and multiform way - during the earthly pilgrimage, in order to be found “in him” at the moment of his return.
May Mary Most Holy, the faithful Virgin, guide us to make this time of Advent and of the whole new liturgical year a path of genuine sanctification, to the praise and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Saint Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 3 December 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like once again to thank the Lord, together with you, for the Apostolic Journey which I made to
in these past few days: I felt accompanied and sustained by the prayer of the
entire Christian community. My cordial thanks to all!
Next Wednesday, at the General Audience, I will have the opportunity to speak more expansively about this unforgettable spiritual and pastoral experience, which I hope will bear fruits of good for an ever more sincere cooperation among all Christ’s disciples and a profitable dialogue with Muslim believers.
I am now eager to renew my gratitude to all those who organized the Visit and helped in various ways to ensure that it went peacefully and fruitfully. I address a special thought to the Turkish Authorities and to the friendly Turkish People who gave me a welcome worthy of their traditional spirit of hospitality.
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.
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The first antiphon of this evening’s celebration is presented as the opening of the Advent Season and re-echoes as the antiphon of the entire liturgical year. Let us listen to it again: “Proclaim to the peoples: God our Saviour is coming”.
At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words “God comes”. These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.
Let us pause a moment to reflect: it is not used in the past tense - God has come, - nor in the future - God will come, - but in the present: “God comes”.
At a closer look, this is a continuous present, that is, an ever-continuous action: it happened, it is happening now and it will happen again. In whichever moment, “God comes”.
The verb “to come” appears here as a theological verb, indeed theological, since it says something about God’s very nature.
Proclaiming that “God comes” is equivalent, therefore, to simply announcing God himself, through one of his essential and qualifying features: his being the God-who-comes.
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 (see 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.
Peace is the goal to which the whole of humanity aspires! For believers “peace” is one of the most beautiful names of God, who wants all his children to agree with one another, as I also had the opportunity to recall on my Pilgrimage in
in the past few days.
A hymn of peace rang out in Heaven when God became man and was born of a woman in the fullness of time (see Gal 4: 4).
Let us therefore begin this new Advent - a time granted to us by the Lord of time - by reawakening in our hearts the expectation of the God-who-comes and the hope that his Name will be hallowed, that his Kingdom of justice and peace will come, that his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Let us allow the Virgin Mary, Mother of the God-who-comes and Mother of Hope, to guide us in this waiting.
May she whom we will celebrate as Immaculate in a few days obtain for us that we be found holy and immaculate in love at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 2 December 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this first Sunday of Advent a new liturgical year begins: the People of God begin again on the way to living the mystery of Christ in history. Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever (see Heb 13: 8); history, instead, changes and requires constant evangelization; it needs to be renewed from within and the only true novelty is Christ: he is its fulfilment, the luminous future of humanity and of the world. Risen from the dead, Jesus is the Lord to whom God subjects all enemies, including death itself (see 1 Cor 15: 25-28). Advent is therefore the propitious time to awaken in our hearts the expectation of he “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rv 1: 8). The Son of God has already come to
about 20 centuries ago, he comes in each moment in the soul and in the
community disposed to receive him, he will come again at the end of time “to
judge the living and the dead”. The believer is therefore always vigilant,
inspired by the intimate hope of encountering the Lord, as the Psalm says: “I
wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the
Lord more than watchmen for the morning” (Ps 130: 5-6).
This Sunday is therefore a day specially suited to offering the entire Church and to all men and women of good will my second Encyclical, which I wanted to dedicate precisely to the theme of Christian hope. It is entitled Spe Salvi, because it opens with the expression “Spe salvi facti sumus - in hope we were saved” (Rm 8: 24). In this, as in other passages of the New Testament, the word “hope” is strictly connected with the word “faith”. It is a gift that changes the life of the one who receives it, as the experience of so many men and women saints demonstrates. In what does this hope consist, so great and so “trustworthy”, to make us say that in it we have “salvation”? In essence it consists in the knowledge of God, in the discovery of the heart of the good and merciful Father. Jesus, with his death on the Cross and his Resurrection, has revealed his Face to us, the face of a God so great in love as to communicate to us an uncrushable hope that not even death can break, because the life of the one who entrusts himself to this Father opens itself to the prospect of eternal beatitude.
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!
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter’s Basilica, Saturday, 1st December 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Advent is, par excellence, the season of hope. Every year this basic spiritual attitude is reawakened in the hearts of Christians, who, while they prepare to celebrate the great Feast of Christ the Saviour’s Birth, revive the expectation of his glorious second coming at the end of time. The first part of Advent insists precisely on the parousia, the final coming of the Lord. The antiphons of these First Vespers are all oriented, with different nuances, to this perspective. The short
from the First Letter to the Thessalonians (5: 23-34) refers explicitly
to the final coming of Christ using precisely the Greek term parousia (see
v. 23). The Apostle urges Christians to keep themselves sound and blameless,
but above all encourages them to trust in God, who “is faithful” (v. 24) and
will not fail to bring about this sanctification in all who respond to his
This entire Vespers liturgy is an invitation to hope, pointing on the horizon of history to the light of the Saviour who comes: “on that day a great light will appear” (Antiphon 2); “the Lord will come with great might” (Antiphon 3); “his splendour fills the whole world” (Magnificat Antiphon). This light, which shines from the future of God, was already manifest in the fullness of time; therefore, our hope does not lack a foundation but is supported by an event situated in history, which at the same time exceeds history: the event constituted by Jesus of Nazareth. The Evangelist John applies to Jesus the title of “light”: it is a title that belongs to God. Indeed, in the Creed we profess that Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light”.
I wanted to dedicate my second Encyclical, which was published yesterday, to the theme of hope. I am pleased to offer it in spirit to the entire Church on this First Sunday of Advent, so that, during preparation for Holy Christmas, the communities and individual faithful can read and meditate upon it to rediscover the beauty and depth of Christian hope. This, in fact, is inseparably bound to knowledge of the Face of God, the Face which Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, revealed to us with his Incarnation, his earthly life and his preaching, and especially with his death and Resurrection. True and steadfast hope is founded on faith in God Love, the Merciful Father who “so loved the world that he gave his Only Son” (Jn 3: 16), so that men and women and with them all creatures might have life in abundance (see Jn 10: 10). Advent, therefore, is a favourable time for the rediscovery of a hope that is not vague and deceptive but certain and reliable, because it is “anchored” in Christ, God made man, the rock of our salvation.
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,
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.
Man is the one creature free to say “yes” or “no” to eternity, that is, to God. The human being is able to extinguish hope within him, eliminating God from his life. How can this be? How can it happen that the creature “made for God”, intimately oriented to him, the creature closest to the Eternal One, can deprive himself of this richness? God knows the human heart. He knows that those who reject him have not recognized his true Face, and so he never ceases to knock at our door like a humble pilgrim in search of hospitality. This is why the Lord grants humanity new time: so that everyone may manage to know him! This is also the meaning of a new liturgical year which is beginning: it is a gift of God, who once again wishes to reveal himself to us in the mystery of Christ, through the Word and the Sacraments. He wants to speak to humanity and to save the people of today through the Church. And he does so by going out to meet them in order “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19: 10). In this perspective, the celebration of Advent is the answer of the Church-Bride to the ever new initiative of God the Bridegroom, “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rv 1: 8). God offers to humanity, which no longer has time for him, further time, a new space in which to withdraw into itself in order to set out anew on a journey to rediscover the meaning of hope.
Here, then, is the surprising discovery: my, our hope is preceded by the expectation which God cultivates in our regard! Yes, God loves us and for this very reason expects that we return to him, that we open our hearts to his love, that we place our hands in his and remember that we are his children. This attitude of God always precedes our hope, exactly as his love always reaches us first (see I Jn 4: 10). In this sense Christian hope is called “theological”: God is its source, support and end. What a great consolation there is in this mystery! My Creator has instilled in my spirit a reflection of his desire of life for all. Every person is called to hope, responding to the expectations that God has of him. Moreover, experience shows us that it is exactly like this. What keeps the world going other than God’s trust in humankind? It is a trust reflected in the hearts of the lowly, the humble, when they strive daily to do their best through difficulties and labours, to do that little bit of good which is nonetheless great in God’s eyes: in the family, in the work place, at school, in the various social contexts. Hope is indelibly engraved in the human heart because God our Father is life, and for eternal life and beatitude we are made.
Every child born is a sign of trust in God and man and a confirmation, at least implicit, of the hope in a future open to God’s eternity that is nourished by men and women. God has responded to this human hope, concealing himself in time as a tiny human being.
wrote: “We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with
man, if this Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us” (Conf. X, 43, 69,
cited in Spe Salvi, no. 29). Thus, let us allow ourselves to be guided
by the One who in her heart and in her womb bore the Incarnate Word. O Mary,
Virgin of expectation and Mother of hope, revive the spirit of Advent in your
entire Church, so that all humanity may start out anew on the journey towards
Bethlehem, from which it came, and that the Sun that dawns upon us from on high
will come once again to visit us (see Lk 1: 78), Christ our God. Amen.
PASTORAL VISIT OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
ST JOHN THE BAPTIST” ROMAN HOSPITAL
OF THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY HOSPITALLER ORDER OF
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
First Sunday of Advent, 2 December 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”. These words that we repeated in the response of the Responsorial Psalm clearly express the feelings that fill our hearts today, the First Sunday of Advent. The reason why we can go ahead joyfully, as the Apostle Paul has exhorted us, lies in the fact that our salvation is now at hand. The Lord is coming! With this knowledge we set out on the journey of Advent, preparing ourselves to celebrate with faith the extraordinary event of the Lord’s birth. In the coming weeks, day after day the liturgy will offer for our reflection Old Testament texts that recall the lively, constant desire that kept alive in the Jewish people the expectation of the Messiah’s coming. Watchful in prayer, let us too seek to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord, who will come to show us his mercy and give us his salvation.
Precisely during this time of waiting, Advent is a season of hope, and it is to Christian hope that I wished to dedicate my second Encyclical, officially presented the day before yesterday; it begins with the words St Paul addressed to the Christians of Rome: “Spe salvi facti sumus - in hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 24). In the Encyclical, I write among other things that “we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain” (no. 31). May the certainty that God alone can be our steadfast hope enliven us all, gathered here this morning in this house where illness is combated with the support of solidarity. And I would like to make the most of my Visit to your hospital, managed by the Association of the Italian Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to present the Encyclical in spirit to the Christian community of Rome, and especially to those who, like you, are in direct contact with suffering and illness, for precisely through suffering like the sick do we have need of hope, the certainty that God exists and does not abandon us, that he lovingly takes us by the hand and accompanies us. It is a text I invite you to examine deeply, to find in it the reasons for this “trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous” (no. 1).
Dear brothers and sisters, “May the God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit be with you all!”. With this wish which the priest addresses to the assembly at the beginning of Holy Mass, I offer you my cordial greeting. I greet first of all the Cardinal Vicar, Camillo Ruini, and Cardinal Pio Laghi, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Prelates and priests present and the chaplains and Sisters who serve here. I greet with respect His Most Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Bertie, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, whom I thank for the sentiments he has expressed on behalf of the management, the administrative, health-care and nursing staffs and all those who in their various capacities work in this hospital. I extend my greeting to the distinguished Authorities, with a special thought for the Health-care Director as well as the Patients’ Representative, whom I thank for the words they addressed to me at the beginning of the Celebration.
But my most affectionate greeting is for you, dear sick people, and for your relatives who share your anxieties and hopes. The Pope is spiritually close to you and assures you of his daily prayers; he invites you to find support and comfort in Jesus and never to lose trust. The Advent liturgy will repeat to us throughout the coming weeks not to tire of calling on him; it will exhort us to go forth to meet him, knowing that he himself comes constantly to visit us. In trial and in sickness, God mysteriously visits us, and if we abandon ourselves to his will, we can experience the power of his love. Precisely because they are inhabited by people troubled by suffering, hospitals and clinics can become privileged places to witness to Christian love, which nourishes hope and inspires resolutions of fraternal solidarity. In the Collect we prayed: “O God, inspire in us the determination to meet with good works your Christ who comes”. Yes! Let us open our hearts to every person, especially if he or she is in difficulty, because by doing good to those in need we prepare to welcome Jesus, who, in them, comes to visit us.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is what you seek to do in this hospital, where everyone’s concern focuses on the professional and loving acceptance of the patients, the preservation of their dignity and the commitment to improve the quality of their life. Down the centuries the Church has made herself particularly “close” to the suffering. Your praiseworthy Sovereign Military Order of Malta has chosen to share in this spirit: from the very outset it was dedicated to the assistance of pilgrims in the
Holy Land with a
Hospice-Infirmary. While it pursued its aim of the defence of Christianity, the
Sovereign Military Order of Malta spared no effort in treating the sick,
especially the poor and the outcast. This hospital is also a testimony of this
fraternal love. Having come into existence in the 1970s, it has today become a
stronghold with a high standard of technology and a home of solidarity, where
side by side with the health-care staff numerous volunteers work with generous
Dear Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, dear doctors, nurses and all who work here, you are all called to carry out an important service to the sick and to society, a service that demands self-denial and a spirit of sacrifice. In every sick person, whoever he or she may be, may you be able to recognize and serve Christ himself; make them perceive with your acts and words the signs of his merciful love. To carry out this “mission” well, endeavour, as St Paul instructs us in the Second Reading, to “put on the armour of light” (Rom 13: 12), which consists in the Word of God, the gifts of the Spirit, the grace of the Sacraments, the theological and cardinal virtues; fight evil and abandon sin that darkens our life. At the beginning of a new liturgical year, let us renew our good resolutions of evangelical life. “It is full time now for you to wake from sleep” (Rom 13: 11), the Apostle urges; it is time to convert, to throw off the lethargy of sin, to prepare ourselves confidently to welcome “the Lord who comes”. It is for this reason that Advent is a season of prayer and watchful waiting.
The Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed exhorts us to be “watchful”, which is among other things the key word of the whole of this liturgical period: “Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt 24: 42). Jesus, who came among us at Christmas and will return in glory at the end of time, does not tire of visiting us continuously in everyday events. He asks us to be alert to perceive his presence, his advent, and recommends that we watch and wait for him since his coming is not programmed or foretold but will be sudden and unexpected. Only those who are alert are not taken by surprise. He warns: may it not happen to you as in Noah’s day, when men ate and drank heedlessly and were swept away unprepared by the flood (see Mt 24: 37-38). What does the Lord want to make us understand with this warning, other than we must not let ourselves be absorbed by material realities and concerns to the point of being ensnared by them? We must live in the eyes of the Lord with the conviction that he can make himself present. If we live in this way, the world will become better.
“Watch, therefore”. Let us listen to Jesus’ Gospel invitation and prepare ourselves to relive with faith the mystery of the Redeemer’s birth, which filled all the world with joy; let us prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord in his constant coming to us in the events of life, in joy and in pain, in health and in sickness; let us prepare ourselves to meet him at his definitive coming. His nearness is always a source of peace, and if suffering, a legacy of human nature, sometimes becomes unbearable, with the Saviour’s advent “suffering - without ceasing to be suffering - becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise” (Spe Salvi, no. 37). Comforted by these words, let us continue the Eucharistic Celebration, invoking upon the sick, their relatives and all who work in this hospital and in the entire Order of the Knights of Malta the motherly protection of Mary, the Virgin of waiting and hope, as also of the joy which already exists in this world, because when we feel the closeness of the living Christ, there the remedy to suffering and his joy is already present. Amen.
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 30 November 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. 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. We always have little time; especially for the Lord, we do not know how or, sometimes, we do not want to find it. Well, God has time for us! This is the first thing that the beginning of a liturgical year makes us rediscover with ever new amazement. Yes, God gives us his time, because he entered history with his Word and his works of salvation to open it to eternity, to make it become a covenantal history. In this prospective, already in itself time is a fundamental sign of God’s love: a gift that man, as with everything else, is able to make the most of or, on the contrary, to waste; to take in its significance or to neglect with obtuse superficiality.
Then there are the three great “points” in time, which delineate the history of salvation: at the beginning, Creation; the Incarnation-Redemption at the centre and at the end the “parousia”, the final coming that also includes the Last Judgment. However, these three moments should not be viewed merely in chronological succession. In fact, Creation is at the origin of all things but it also continues and is actuated through the whole span of cosmic becoming, until the end of time. So too, although the Incarnation-Redemption occurred at a specific moment in history the period of Jesus’ journey on earth it nevertheless extends its radius of action to all the preceding time and all that is to come. And in their turn, the final coming and the Last Judgment, which were decisively anticipated precisely in the Cross of Christ, exercise their influence on the conduct of the people of every age.
The liturgical season of Advent celebrates the coming of God in its two moments: it first invites us to reawaken our expectation of Christ’s glorious return, then, as Christmas approaches, it calls us to welcome the Word made man for our salvation. Yet the Lord comes into our lives continually. How timely then, is Jesus’ call, which on this First Sunday is powerfully proposed to us: “Watch!” (Mk 13: 33, 35, 37). It is addressed to the disciples but also to everyone, because each one, at a time known to God alone, will be called to account for his life. This involves a proper detachment from earthly goods, sincere repentance for one’s errors, active charity to one’s neighbour and above all a humble and confident entrustment to the hands of God, our tender and merciful Father. The icon of Advent is the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Let us invoke her so that she may help us also to become an extension of humanity for the Lord who comes.
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter’s Basilica, Saturday, 29 November 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this evening liturgy, we begin the itinerary of a new liturgical year, entering into the first of its seasons: Advent. In the biblical reading that we have just heard, taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul uses precisely this word: “coming”, which in Greek is parusia and adventus in Latin (1 Thes 5: 23). According to the common tradition of this text, Paul urges the Christians of Thessalonica to keep themselves blameless “for the coming” of the Lord. However, in the original text one reads “in the coming” (εν τη παρουσια), almost as if the advent of the Lord were more so than a future point in time a spiritual place in which to walk already in the present, while waiting, and in which one is indeed perfectly preserved in every personal dimension. In fact, it is exactly this that we live out in the liturgy. By celebrating the liturgical seasons we actualize the mystery in this case the Lord’s coming as it were “walking in it” towards its full realization at the end of time, but already drawing sanctifying virtue from it, since the last times have already begun with Christ’s death and Resurrection.
The word that sums up this particular state, in which one awaits something that is to be manifested but of which one also already has a glimpse and a foretaste, is “hope”. Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in it the whole Church is called to become hope, for herself and for the world. The whole organism of the Mystical Body acquires, so to speak, the “colour” of hope. The whole People of God continue on their journey, attracted by this mystery: that our God is “the God who comes” and calls us to go to meet him. How? In the first place in that universal form of hope and expectation which is prayer, which is eminently expressed in the Psalms, human words in which God himself has placed and continually places the invocation of his coming on the lips and in the hearts of believers. Let us therefore reflect for a few moments on two of his Psalms which we have just prayed and which are consecutive in the biblical Book: Psalms 141 and 142, according to the Jewish numbering.
“I have called to you, Lord; make hasten to help me! / Hear my voice, when I cry to you. / Let my prayer arise before you like incense, / the raising of my hands like an evening oblation” (Ps 141: 1-2). Thus begins the first Psalm of the First Vespers for the first week of the Psalter: words which, at the beginning of Advent, acquire a new “colour”, because the Holy Spirit makes them resound ever anew within us in the Church on her way between the time of God and human times. “Lord, hasten to help me!”. It is the cry of someone who feels he is in grave danger but it is also the cry of the Church amid the many threats that surround her, that threaten her holiness, the irreproachable integrity of which the Apostle Paul speaks which instead must be preserved for the Lord’s coming. And in this invocation the cry of all the just also resounds, of all those who want to resist evil, the seduction of an iniquitous well-being, of pleasures offensive to human dignity and to the condition of the poor. At the beginning of Advent the Church’s liturgy once again makes this cry her own, and raises it to God “like incense” (v. 2). The evening offering of incense is in fact a symbol of prayer, of the outpouring of hearts turned to God, to the Most High, as well as “the raising of... hands like an evening oblation” (v. 2). Material sacrifices, as it also took place in the Jewish temple, are no longer offered in the Church, but the spiritual offering of prayer is raised, joined to that of Jesus Christ who is at the same time Sacrifice and Priest of the new and eternal covenant. In the cry of the Mystical Body we recognize the very voice of the Head: the Son of God who has taken upon himself our trials and our temptations, to give us the grace of his victory.
This identification of Christ with the Psalmist is particularly evident in the second Psalm (142). Here, every word, every invocation, makes one think of Jesus in his passion, and in particular of his prayer to the Father in
Gethsemane. In his first coming, with the Incarnation,
the Son of God wanted to share fully in our human condition. Of course, he did
not share in sin, but for our salvation suffered all its consequences. In
praying Psalm 142 the Church relives every time the grace of this compassion,
of this “coming” of the Son of God in human anguish so deeply as to plumb its
depths. The Advent cry of hope then expresses from the outset and very
powerfully, the full gravity of our state, of our extreme need of salvation. It
is as if to say: we await the Lord not in the same way as a beautiful
decoration upon a world already saved, but as the only way of liberation from a
mortal danger and we know that he himself, the Liberator, had to suffer and die
to bring us out of this prison (see v. 8).
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.
TO THE BASILICA OF SAINT LAWRENCE OUTSIDE THE WALLS
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 1750th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE MARTYRDOM OF THE HOLY DEACON
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
First Sunday of Advent, 30 November 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today on the First Sunday of Advent, we enter that four-week Season with which a new liturgical year begins and that immediately prepares us for the Feast of Christmas, the memorial of the Incarnation of Christ in history. Yet, the spiritual message of Advent is more profound and already orients us to the glorious return of the Lord at the end of our history. Adventus is the Latin word that could be translated by “arrival”, “coming” or “presence”. In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term that indicated the arrival of an official, and especially the visit of kings or emperors to the provinces, but it could also be used for the appearance of a divinity, which emerged from its hidden dwelling-place and thus manifested its divine power; its presence was solemnly celebrated with worship.
By using this term, “Advent”, Christians wanted to express the special relationship that bound them to the Crucified and Risen Christ. He is a King who, having entered this poor province called earth, made us the gift of his visit and after his Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven desired in any case to stay with us; we perceive his mysterious presence in the liturgical assembly. Indeed, in celebrating the Eucharist, we proclaim that he did not withdraw from the world, that he did not leave us alone and, even though we cannot see and touch him as with material and tangible realities, he is in any case with us and among us. Indeed, he is in us, because he can attract to himself and communicate his life to every believer who opens his/her heart to him. Thus, Advent means commemorating the first coming of the Lord in the flesh, with his definitive return already in mind, and, at the same time, it means recognizing that Christ present in our midst makes himself our travelling companion in the life of the Church who celebrates his mystery. This knowledge, dear brothers and sisters, nourished by listening to the Word of God, must help us to see the world with different eyes, to interpret the individual events of life and history as words that God addresses to us, as signs of his love that assure us of his closeness in every situation; this awareness, in particular, should prepare us to welcome him when “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end”, as in a little while we shall repeat in the Creed. In this perspective, Advent becomes for all Christians a time of expectation and hope, a privileged time for listening and reflection, as long as we let ourselves be guided by the liturgy, which invites us to advance to meet the Lord who comes.
“Come, Lord Jesus”: dear friends, this ardent invocation of the Christian community of the early days must also become our constant aspiration, the aspiration of the Church in every epoch, which longs for and prepares herself for the encounter with her Lord. Come today, Lord; enlighten us, give us peace, help us triumph over violence. Come Lord, we pray precisely in these weeks: “Lord... let us see your face and will shall be saved” (Ps 80: 3), we have just prayed with the words of the Responsorial Psalm. And the Prophet Isaiah revealed to us in the First Reading that the Face of Our Saviour is that of a tender and merciful father who cares for us in all circumstances because we are the work of his hands: “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (63: 16). Our God is a father prepared to forgive repentant sinners and to welcome those who trust in his mercy (see Is 64: 4). We had drifted away from him because of sin, falling under the dominion of death, but he took pity on us and, on his own initiative, without any merit on our part, decided to meet our needs, sending his only Son as our Redeemer. As we face such a great mystery of love, our thanksgiving rises spontaneously and our invocation becomes more trusting: Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, today, in our time, in every part of the world, let us feel your presence and grant us your salvation (see Gospel acclamation).
Dear brothers and sisters, the thought of Christ’s presence and his return at the end of time is particularly significant in this Basilica of yours beside the monumental
where so many of our beloved
deceased rest while they await resurrection. How often are funerals celebrated
in this temple; how often do the works of the liturgy ring out full of comfort:
“In him who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of
death gives way to the bright promise of immortality” (see Preface for
Christian Death I). cemetery of Verano
Yet your monumental Basilica, which makes us think back to the primitive Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine and later transformed to acquire its present appearance, speaks above all of the glorious martyrdom of St Lawrence, Archdeacon of Pope St Sixtus II and his reliable steward in the administration of the community’s goods. Today I have come to celebrate the Blessed Eucharist to join you in paying homage to him in a most unusual circumstance, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of Lawrence, established to commemorate the 1,750th anniversary of holy Deacon’s birth in Heaven. History confirms to us how glorious is the name of this Saint, by whose sepulchre we have gathered. His concern for the poor, the generous service that he rendered to the Church of Rome in the context of assistance and charity, his fidelity to the Pope which he took to the point of desiring to follow him in the supreme trial of martyrdom and the heroic witness of pouring out his blood, which he suffered only a few days later, are facts well known to all. St Leo the Great, in a beautiful homily, thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of this “illustrious hero”: “The flames could not overcome Christ’s love and the fire that burned outside was less keen than that which blazed within”. And he adds: “The Lord desired to spread abroad his glory throughout the world, so that from the East to the West the dazzling brightness of his deacon’s light does shine, and Rome is become as famous through Lawrence as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen” (Homily 85, 4: PL 54, 486).
The 50th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII falls this year and this reminds us of a particularly dramatic event in the centuries-old history of your Basilica. It took place during the Second World War, when, exactly on 19 July 1943, a violent bombardment caused severe damage to the building and to the whole neighbourhood, sowing death and destruction. The generous gesture made by my venerable Predecessor can never be eradicated from the memory of history: he hastened here immediately to help and to comfort the people so badly hit, among the still smouldering ruins. Nor have I forgotten that this same Basilica also contains the urns of two other great people: in the hypogeum in fact, are placed for the veneration of the faithful the mortal remains of Bl. Pius IX, while in the atrium is the tomb of Alcide De Gasperi, who was a wise and balanced guide for Italy during the difficult years of the post-war reconstruction and, at the same time, a distinguished statesman capable of looking to Europe with a broad Christian vision.
While we are gathered here in prayer, I would like to greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar, with Monsignor Vicegerent, who is also Commendatory Abbot of the Basilica, with the Auxiliary Bishop of the Northern Sector of Rome and with your Parish Priest, Fr Bruno Mustacchio, whom I thank for his kind words at the beginning of the liturgical celebration. I greet the Minister General of the Order of Capuchins and the Friars of the Community who carry out their service with zeal and dedication, welcoming the many pilgrims, assisting the poor with charity and witnessing to hope in the Risen Christ to all those who visit the Cemetery of Verano. I would like to assure you of my appreciation, and, above all, of my remembrance in prayer. I also greet the various groups who are involved in the animation of the catechesis, the liturgy, charity, the members of the two polyphonic choirs, the Franciscan Third Order, local and regional. Then I have learned with pleasure that for some years the “diocesan missionary laboratory” has been housed here, to inculcate in the parish communities a missionary awareness, and I willingly join you in expressing the hope that this initiative of our Diocese will help to inspire a courageous missionary pastoral action that will bring the proclamation of God’s merciful love to every corner of Rome, involving mainly young people and families. Lastly, I would like to extend my thoughts to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, especially to the elderly, the sick and people who are lonely and in difficulty. I remember all and each one at this Holy Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters, at the beginning of this Advent what better message can we glean from St Lawrence than that of holiness? He repeats to us that holiness, that is, going to meet Christ who comes ceaselessly to visit us, does not go out of fashion, on the contrary as time passes it shines brightly and expresses the perennial striving for God of humankind. May this Jubilee event therefore be an occasion for your parish community of a renewed adherence to Christ, a further deepening of the sense of belonging to his Mystical Body which is the Church, and a constant commitment of evangelization through charity. May Lawrence, a heroic witness of the Crucified and Risen Christ be for each person an example of docile adherence to the divine will, so that, as we heard the Apostle Paul remind the Corinthians, we too may live in such a way as to be found “guiltless” in the day of Our Lord (see 1 Cor 1: 7-9).
To prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming is also the exhortation we hear in today’s Gospel: “Watch”, Jesus tells us in Luke’s short parable about the master of the house who goes on a journey but the date of whose return is unknown (see Mk 13: 33-37). Watching means following the Lord, choosing what Christ chose, loving what he loved, conforming one’s own life to his; watching means passing every instant of our time in the sphere of his love without letting oneself be disheartened by the inevitable difficulties and problems of daily life. This is what St Lawrence did, this is what we must do and let us ask the Lord to grant us his grace so that Advent may be an incentive for all to walk in this direction. May Mary, the humble Virgin of Nazareth chosen by God to become Mother of the Redeemer, St Andrew whose feast we are celebrating today, and St Lawrence, an example of fearless Christian faithfulness to the point of martyrdom, guide us and go with us. Amen!
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 29 November 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday, by the grace of God, a new Liturgical Year opens, of course, with Advent, a Season of preparation for the birth of the Lord. The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Liturgy, affirms that the Church “in the course of the year... unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from the Incarnation and Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the Coming of the Lord”. In this way, “recalling the mysteries of the redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time; the faithful lay hold of them and are filled with saving grace” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 102). The Council insists on the fact that the centre of the Liturgy is Christ, around whom the Blessed Virgin Mary, closest to him, and then the martyrs and the other saints who “sing God’s perfect praise in Heaven and intercede for us” (ibid., no. 104) revolve like the planets around the sun.
This is the reality of the Liturgical Year seen, so to speak, “from God’s perspective”. And from the perspective, let us say, of humankind, of history and of society what importance can it have? The answer is suggested to us precisely by the journey through Advent on which we are setting out today. The contemporary world above all needs hope; the developing peoples need it, but so do those that are economically advanced. We are becoming increasingly aware that we are all on one boat and together must save each other. Seeing so much false security collapse, we realize that what we need most is a trustworthy hope. This is found in Christ alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he “is the same yesterday and today and for ever (Heb 13: 8). 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 (see Lk 21: 28) as we read in today’s Gospel. We can therefore say that Jesus Christ is not only relevant to Christians, or only to believers, but to all men and women, for Christ, who is the centre of faith, is also the foundation of hope. And every human being is constantly in need of hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Virgin Mary fully embodies a humanity that lives in hope based on faith in the living God. She is the Virgin of Advent: she is firmly established in the present, in the “today” of salvation. In her heart she gathers up all past promises, and encompasses the future. Let us learn from her in order to truly enter this Season of grace and to accept, with joy and responsibility, the coming of God in our personal and social lives.
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this celebration we are entering the liturgical season of Advent. In the biblical Reading we have just heard, taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul invites us to prepare for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5: 23), with God’s grace keeping ourselves blameless. The exact word Paul uses is “coming”, in Latin adventus, from which the term “Advent” derives.
Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be rendered with “presence”, “arrival” or “coming”. In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of an official or the visit of the king or emperor to a province. However, it could also mean the coming of the divinity that emerges from concealment to manifest himself forcefully or that was celebrated as being present in worship. Christians used the word “advent” to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is the King who entered this poor “province” called “earth” to pay everyone a visit; he makes all those who believe in him participate in his Coming, all who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. The essential meaning of the word adventus was: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not deserted us. Even if we cannot see and touch him as we can tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in many ways.
The meaning of the expression “advent” therefore includes that of visitatio, 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?
Another fundamental element of Advent is expectation, an expectation which is at the same time hope. Advent impels us to understand the meaning of time and of history as a kairós, as a favourable opportunity for our salvation. Jesus illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the story of the servants sent to await the return of their master; in the parable of the virgins who await the bridegroom; and in those of the sower and of the harvest. In their lives human beings are constantly waiting: when they are children they want to grow up, as adults they are striving for fulfilment and success and, as they advance in age, they look forward to the rest they deserve. However, the time comes when they find they have hoped too little if, over and above their profession or social position, there is nothing left to hope for. Hope marks humanity’s journey but for Christians it is enlivened by a certainty: the Lord is present in the passage of our lives, he accompanies us and will one day also dry our tears. One day, not far off, everything will find its fulfilment in the
, a Kingdom of justice and peace. Kingdom of God
However there are many different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present endowed with meaning expectation risks becoming unbearable; if one expects something but at a given moment there is nothing, in other words if the present remains empty, every instant that passes appears extremely long and waiting becomes too heavy a burden because the future remains completely uncertain. On the other hand, when time is endowed with meaning and at every instant we perceive something specific and worthwhile, it is then that the joy of expectation makes the present more precious. Dear brothers and sisters, let us experience intensely the present in which we already receive the gifts of the Lord, let us live it focused on the future, a future charged with hope. In this manner Christian Advent becomes an opportunity to reawaken within ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah who was expected for long centuries and was born in poverty, in
In coming among us, he brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his
love and his salvation. Present among us, he speaks to us in many ways: in
Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily
life, in the whole of the creation whose aspect changes according to whether
Christ is behind it or whether he is obscured by the fog of an uncertain origin
and an uncertain future. We in turn may speak to him, presenting to him the
suffering that afflicts us, our impatience, the questions that well up in our
hearts. We may be sure that he always listens to us! And if Jesus is present,
there is no longer any time that lacks meaning or is empty. If he is present,
we may continue to hope, even when others can no longer assure us of any
support, even when the present becomes trying.
Dear friends, Advent is the season of the presence and expectation of the eternal. For this very reason, it is in a particular way a period of joy, an interiorized joy that no suffering can diminish. It is joy in the fact that God made himself a Child. This joy, invisibly present within us, encourages us to journey on with confidence. A model and support of this deep joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom we were given the Infant Jesus. May she, a faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace of living this liturgical season alert and hardworking, while we wait. Amen!
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 28 November 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church begins a new Liturgical Year, a new journey of faith that on the one hand commemorates the event of Jesus Christ and, on the other, opens to its ultimate fulfilment. It is precisely in this double perspective that she lives the Season of Advent, looking both to the first coming of the Son of God, when he was born of the Virgin Mary, and to his glorious return, when he will come “to judge the living and the dead”, as we say in the Creed. I would now like to focus briefly on this evocative theme of “waiting”, for it touches upon a profoundly human aspect in which the faith becomes, so to speak, completely one with our flesh and our heart.
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.
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? And this same question can be posed at the level of the family, of the community, of the nation. What are we waiting for together? What unites our aspirations, what brings them together? In the time before Jesus’ birth the expectation of the Messiah was very strong in
– that is, the expectation of an Anointed one, a descendent of King David, who
would at last set the people free from every form of moral and political
slavery and find the . But no one would
ever have imagined that the Messiah could be born of a humble girl like Mary,
the betrothed of a righteous man, Joseph. Nor would she have ever thought of
it, and yet in her heart the expectation of the Savior was so great, her faith
and hope were so ardent, that he was able to find in her a worthy mother.
Moreover, God himself had prepared her before time. There is a mysterious
correspondence between the waiting of God and that of Mary, the creature “full
of grace”, totally transparent to the loving plan of the Most High. Let us
learn from her, the Woman of Advent, how to live our daily actions with a new
spirit, with the feeling of profound expectation that only the coming of God
can fulfil. Kingdom
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
FOR UNBORN LIFE
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With this evening celebration the Lord gives us the grace and joy of opening the new Liturgical Year, starting with its first season: Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning brings a special grace, because it is blessed by the Lord.
In this Advent Season we shall be granted once again to experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and who cared for us to the point of deigning to become a man.
This great and fascinating mystery of the God-with-us, indeed, of the God who becomes one of us, is what we shall celebrate in the coming weeks journeying towards holy Christmas. During the Season of Advent we shall feel the Church which takes us by the hand and — in the image of Mary Most Holy, expresses her motherhood, enabling us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.
While our hearts look forward to the annual celebration of Christ’s Birth, the Church’s Liturgy directs our gaze to the final goal: our encounter with the Lord who will come in the splendour of glory. For this reason in every Eucharist we “announce his death, proclaim his Resurrection until he comes again”, we watch in prayer.
The Liturgy does not cease to encourage and support us, putting on our lips, in the days of Advent, the cry with which the whole of Sacred Scripture ends, on the last page of the Revelation to St John: “Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20).
Dear brothers and sisters, our gathering this evening for the beginning of the journey through Advent is enriched by another important reason: together with the whole Church we wish to celebrate a solemn prayer vigil for unborn life. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have accepted this invitation and to those who are specifically dedicated to welcoming and safeguarding human life in its various situations of frailty, especially when it is newly conceived and in its early stages.
Precisely, the beginning of the Liturgical Year helps us live anew the expectation of God who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God who makes himself little, who becomes a child; it speaks to us of the coming of a God who is close, who chose to experience human life from the very beginning in order to save it totally, in its fullness. And so the mystery of Lord’s Incarnation and the beginning of human life are closely and harmoniously connected and in tune with each other in the one saving plan of God, the Lord of the life of each and everyone.
The Incarnation reveals to us, with intense light and in a surprising way, that every human life has a very lofty and incomparable dignity.
In comparison with all the other living beings that populate the earth man has an unmistakable originality. He is presented as the one unique being, endowed with intelligence and free will, as well as consisting of material reality. He lives simultaneously and inseparably in both the spiritual and the corporal dimension.
This is also suggested in the text of the First Letter to the Thessalonians that has just been proclaimed: “May the God of peace himself”,
St Paul writes, “sanctify you wholly; and may
your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23).
We are therefore spirit, soul and body. We are part of this world, tied to the possibilities and limitations of our material condition, while at the same time we are open to an infinite horizon, able to converse with God and to welcome him within us. We are active in earthly realities and through them we are able to perceive God’s presence and to reach out to him, Truth, Goodness and absolute Beauty. We savour fragments of life and happiness and yearn for complete fulfilment.
God loves us deeply, totally and without making distinctions. He calls us to friendship with him, he makes us part of a reality beyond every imagination and every thought and word: his divine life itself.
With feeling and gratitude, let us be aware of the value of every human person’s incomparable dignity and of our great responsibility to all. “Christ, the final Adam”, the Second Vatican Council states, “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear… by his Incarnation, the Son of God has in a certain way united himself with each man” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22).
Believing in Jesus Christ also means seeing man in a new way, with trust and hope. Moreover, experience itself and right reason testify that the human being is capable of understanding and of wanting, conscious of himself and free, unrepeatable and irreplaceable, the summit of all earthly realities, and who demands to be recognized as a value in himself and deserves always to be accepted with respect and love. He is entitled not to be treated as an object to be possessed or a thing to be manipulated at will, and not to be exploited as a means for the benefit of others and their interests.
The human person is a good in himself and his integral development must always be sought. Love for all, moreover, if it is sincere, tends spontaneously to become preferential attention to the weakest and poorest. This explains the Church’s concern for the unborn, the frailest, those most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the clouding of consciences.
The Church continually reasserts what the Second Vatican Council declared against abortion and against every violation of unborn life: “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care” (ibid., no. 51).
Cultural trends exist that seek to anaesthetize consciences with spurious arguments. With regard to the embryo in the mother’s womb, science itself highlights its autonomy, its capacity for interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism.
It is not an accumulation of biological material but rather of a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new individual of the human species. This is what Jesus was in Mary’s womb; this is what we all were in our mother’s womb. We may say with Tertullian, an ancient Christian writer: “the one who will be a man is one already” (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.
Unfortunately, even after birth, the lives of children continue to be exposed to neglect, hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, violence and exploitation. The many violations of their rights sorrowfully wound the conscience of every person of good will.
In the face of the sad view of injustices committed against human life, before and after birth, I make my own Pope John Paul II’s passionate appeal to the responsibility of each and every individual: “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!” (Encyclical Evangelium vitae, no. 5).
I urge politicians, leaders of the economy and of social communications to do everything in their power to promote a culture ever respectful of human life, to obtain favourable conditions and support networks for the acceptance and development of life.
Let us entrust our prayers and our commitment to unborn life to the Virgin Mary, who welcomed the Son of God made man with her faith, with her maternal womb, with her attentive care, with her nurturing support, vibrant with love.
Let us do so in the Liturgy — which is the place where we live the truth and where truth lives with us — adoring the divine Eucharist in which we contemplate Christ’s Body, that Body which took flesh from Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit, and was born of her in
for our salvation. Ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine!
Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 27 November 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, together with the Church, we are beginning the new liturgical year: a new journey of faith to experience together in Christian communities but, as always, also to be taken within world history so as to open it to God’s mystery, to the salvation that comes from his love. The liturgical year begins with the Season of Advent. It is a marvellous period in which the expectation of Christ’s return and the memory of his first Coming — when he emptied himself of his divine glory to take on our mortal flesh — reawakens in hearts.
“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.
Today, Isaiah, too, the prophet of Advent, with a heartfelt entreaty addressed to God on behalf of the people, gives us food for thought. He recognized the shortcomings of his people and said at a certain point: “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our iniquities” (see Is 64:6).
How can we fail to find this description striking? It seems to reflect certain panoramas of the post-modern world: cities where life becomes anonymous and horizontal, where God seems absent and man the only master, as if he were the architect and director of all things: construction, work, the economy, transport, the branches of knowledge, technology, everything seems to depend on man alone. And in this world that appears almost perfect at times disturbing things happen, either in nature or in society, which is why we think that God has, as it were, withdrawn and has, so to speak, left us to ourselves.
In fact, the true “master” of the world is not the human being but God. The Gospel says: “Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mk 13:35-36).
The Season of Advent returns every year to remind us of this in order that our life may find its proper orientation, turned to the face of God. The face is not that of a “master” but of a Father and a Friend. Let us make the Prophet’s words our own, together with the Virgin Mary who guides us on our Advent journey.”O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter: we are all the work of your hand” (Is 64:8).
Saint Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Advent, 2 December 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the Church begins a new Liturgical Year, a journey which, 50 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is further enriched by the Year of Faith. The first Season on this itinerary is Advent, formed — in the Roman Rite — of the four weeks preceding the Nativity of Our Lord, that is, the mystery of the Incarnation.
The word “advent” means “coming” or “presence”. In the ancient world it meant the visit of the king or emperor to a province; in the Christian language it refers to the Coming of God, to his presence in the world; a mystery that embraces the entire cosmos and history, but that has two culminating events: the First and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The first is, precisely, the Incarnation. The second is his glorious return at the end of time. These two events that are chronologically distant — and we are not given to know by how long — are deeply connected, because with his death and Resurrection Jesus fulfilled that transformation of man and of the cosmos which is the final goal of Creation. However, before the end, the Gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations, as Jesus says in the Gospel according to St Mark (see Mk 13:10). The Lord’s Coming continues, the world must be penetrated by his presence and this ongoing Coming of the Lord in the proclamation of the Gospel requires our continuous collaboration. Moreover the Church, who is, as it were, the Betrothed, the promised Bride of the Lamb of the Crucified and Risen God (see Rev 21:9), in communion with her Lord, collaborates in this Coming of the Lord, in which his glorious return has already begun.
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 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 (see 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, “
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.
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
PRESIDED BY HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
MEETING WITH STUDENTS OF
’S UNIVERSITIES AND ATHENEUMS ROME
“He who calls you is faithful” (1 Thess 5:24).
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. The entire history of salvation is a journey of love, mercy and benevolence: from Creation to the liberation of the People of Israel from slavery in
Egypt, to the gift of the Law on
Sinai, to the return to the homeland from the Babylonian captivity. The God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was always the close God who never abandoned his
People. On several occasions he suffered their infidelity with sadness and
patiently awaited their return, ever with the freedom of a love that precedes
and sustains the beloved, attentive to his or her dignity and deepest
God did not withdraw into his heaven but lowered himself to man’s experience: a great mystery that succeeds in surpassing every possible expectation. God entered human time in the most unthinkable way: by making himself a child and going through the stages of human life, so that our whole existence, spirit, soul and body — as St Paul has reminded us — might be kept blameless and be raised to God’s heights. And he did all this out of his faithful love for humanity. When love is true, by its nature it strives for the good of others, for their greatest possible good. It is not limited merely to respecting the commitments of friendship that have been taken on, but goes further, without calculation or measure. This is precisely what the living, true God did, whose profound mystery is revealed to us in St John’s words: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16). In Jesus of Nazareth this God takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man, and he gives it a decisive reorientation toward a new manner of human existence, characterized by having been generated by God and by aspiring to him (see Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 3, The Infancy Narratives).
Dear young people, distinguished rectors and professors, it is a cause of great joy to me to share these reflections with you who represent
Rome’s university world. In this world, while
retaining their own specific identities, converge Rome’s state and private universities and the
pontifical institutions that have developed together for so many years, bearing
a lively witness to a fertile dialogue and cooperation among the different
branches of knowledge and theology. I greet and thank the Cardinal Prefect of
the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Rector of the Foro Italico
University of Rome and your representative, for his words to me on behalf of
all. I greet with deep cordiality the Cardinal Vicar and the Minister of
Education, Universities and Research, as well as the various academic
I greet you with special affection, dear young university students of the Roman Athenaeums, who have renewed your profession of faith at the Apostle Peter’s Tomb. In this period you are preparing for the great decisions of your life and for service in the Church and in society. This evening you can feel that you are not alone. With you are the university teachers and chaplains, as well as the animators of the colleges. The Pope is with you! And, above all you are integrated into the great academic community of
in which it is possible to proceed in prayer, research, exchanges, and in
bearing witness to the Gospel. It is a precious gift for your life; may you be able
to see it as a sign of fidelity to God, who offers you opportunities to conform
your existence to that of Christ, to let yourselves be sanctified by him to the
point of perfection (see 1 Thess 5:23).
The liturgical year that we are beginning with these Vespers also represents for you the journey to live once again the mystery of this faithfulness of God, on which you are called to found your lives, as on a firm rock. In celebrating and living this itinerary of faith with the whole Church, you will experience that Jesus Christ is the one Lord of the cosmos and of history, without whom every human project risks coming to nothing. The liturgy, lived in its true spirit, is always the fundamental school for living the Christian faith, a “theological” faith which involves you in your whole being — spirit, soul and body — to make you living stones in the edifice of the Church and collaborators of the New Evangelization. Especially in the Eucharist the living God makes himself so close that he becomes food that supports us on the journey, a presence that transforms us with the fire of his love.
Dear friends, we are living in a context in which we often come across indifference to God. However, I think that in the inner depths of all those who live far from God — also among your peers — there is an inner longing for the infinite, for transcendence. It is your task to witness in the university halls to the close God who also shows himself in the search for the truth, the soul of all intellectual commitment.
In this regard, I express my pleasure and encouragement at seeing the university pastoral programme entitled: “The Father saw him from afar. The today of man, the today of God”, proposed by the Vicariate of Rome’s Office for Campus Ministry. Faith is the door that God opens in our lives to lead us to the encounter with Christ, in which the presence of the human meets the today of God. The Christian faith is not adherence to a generic or indefinite God but to the living God who in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, entered our history and revealed himself as the Redeemer of man. Believing means entrusting one’s life to the One who alone can give it fullness in time and open it to a hope beyond time.
In this Year of Faith the invitation, that I wish to address to the entire academic community of
Rome, is to
reflect on faith. The continuous dialogue between the State or private
universities and the Pontifical universities promises hope for an ever more
meaningful presence of the Church in the context of a culture that is not only
Roman but also Italian and international. The Cultural Weeks and the
International Symposium of Teachers which will be held next June will be an
example of this experience, which I hope it will be possible to repeat in all
the university towns with State, private and Pontifical athenaeums.
Dear friends, “He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24); he will make you heralds of his presence. In this evening’s prayer let us set out in spirit toward the Bethlehem Grotto in order to taste the true joy of Christmas: the joy of welcoming at the centre of our life, after the example of the Virgin Mary and of St Joseph, that Child who reminds us that God’s eyes are open on the world and on every man and woman (see Zech 12:4). God’s gaze is focused on us because he is faithful to his love! Only this certainty can lead humanity towards goals of peace and prosperity, in this delicate and complex period of history.
Moreover the next World Youth Day in
Rio de Janeiro
will be a great opportunity for you young university students to demonstrate
the historical fruitfulness of God’s fidelity, offering your witness and
commitment for the moral and social renewal of the world.
The handing over of the Icon of Mary Sedes Sapientiae to the Brazilian University Delegation by the university chaplaincy of Roma Tre that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year is a sign of this common commitment of yours as young university students of
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