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Archbishop Follo: To Educate the Heart and Mind to Wait

With the wish that the joy of the Advent be the joy of the encounter of Love.

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Roman Rite – 1st Advent Sunday – Year C – December 2, 2018
Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3-12 4-2; Lk 21:25-28 — 34-36
Raise your eyes to heaven
Ambrosian Rite – III Advent Sunday
Is 45:1-8; Ps 125; Rm 9:1-5; Lk 7:18-28
The Lord has done great things for us

  1. An Advent heart

Advent, the waiting for the Savior, comes timely to the Christian consideration, a regular recurrence never iterative because it indicates the new stage of a journey that fortifies the faith in the coming Lord. It is a journey that becomes a sequence more and more perfect up to the final encounter with Jesus.
In today’s gospel, everything is described as catastrophic events which shake the stars and throw humanity into confusion. (Lk 21:25-26). Luke doesn’t want to announce the end of the world.  He uses the apocalyptic way to say that the final fall of Jerusalem will be a conclusive stage for the establishment of God‘s Kingdom in the world. Considering the end of Jerusalem, the first Christians concluded that the end of the Saint City did not coincide with the final return of Christ. Therefore the return of Christ is not easy to foresee but the signs can be recognized by the ones who have “an Advent heart” (Father Primo Mazzolari). It is a heart outstretched towards the God who comes and donates himself.
It is an Advent heart that prepares itself to gracefully welcome the Savior craved by all and awaited by the Chosen People. Christ is the “seed’’ in Jeremiahs’ lecture. He is the new man sent by God to restore justice. It is not a punishing justice, rather a merciful gift that gives the dignity of son and daughter to every man and woman and reconnects the communion with God the Father.
In today’s liturgy of the World of God (everlasting gift that makes us understand God’s loyalty), we find a message of preparation for the coming of our Master, the Emmanuel, God with us. The gospel is symbolic in this regard and doesn’t allow any confusion: Christ will come on the clouds with the divine power He owns. We are sure of this coming and for this reason, we must prepare ourselves with prayers. We must not only increase our prayer time but also live a constant attitude of prayer. In fact, only those who humbly put themselves in front of God and have faith in Him can wait for the coming Christ without fear.
Alongside prayer, we must conduct a good life maintaining a behavior worthy of the light, as St Paul reminds us “It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now, our salvation is nearer than when we believed. [12] The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” ( Rm 13: 11b.12-13a)

2. An Advent heart that becomes a crib.

      During Advent time we receive this invitation: “Lift up your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Lk 21:28). Let’s open our minds and our hearts to welcome the One whom the entire world is waiting for: Jesus.  Let’s lift up our eyes to the Master and let’s live waiting for Him in vigilant prayer because every moment is pregnant with salvation.
The liturgy tells us about our origins and our final destination. When a child is being baptized the priest asks to the parents: “What are you asking the Church for this child?”  And the answer is “Eternal life”. From the beginning, we know our landing. The beginning and the end are indissolubly linked together. Our life will not be as Ulysses’ Odyssey rather the exodus of Israel from slavery to liberty in the promised land, where the freedom of the unselfish love for God and the generous service to neighbors is cultivated. The God who becomes flesh for love puts himself in our weak hands and in our hearts that become a crib. If we live in charity, every moment becomes the presence and the coming of God in us. If we live in charity, God lives in our heart always: in the evening, at midnight, at sunrise, in the morning.
The instant of the meeting is hidden in every moment. Let’s be always vigilant to try to understand the meaning of all things. Let’s be vigilant regarding the meaning of time. Let’s be vigilant regarding the times of life. Advent is the blessed time when God comes. Advent is a time of waiting and a time of joy because every coming of Christ is a gift of grace and salvation that pushes us to live the present as a time of responsibility and vigilance. “Vigilance” means the need of an industrious and firm waiting because we can count on a faithful God.

3. What if the Heart of God is waiting for us?

    During Advent, the Church asks us to live the wait of God who comes to us. We need a pure heart to recognize the Infinite, which is made flesh as a Child in a manger. We cannot keep ourselves from being happy for a God who is so close to us up to the point to be born in Bethlehem (city of bread) to become Bread of Life.
One thing is certain: we can live without God or we can put away Him in a corner, but He never leaves us. He is respectful of the freedom He gave us and waits for our awakening. When we finally open our eyes, we see the deception of the evil, which makes our hearts blind with the lure of things. How many times do we answer to the desire of infinite with an infinite number of things! (Alexander Solgenistin).
How can things without a soul such as money or other possessions be considered happiness? If we are true to ourselves we feel that we miss “Someone.” Nothing charms us for long, nothing fulfills us.
If we are honest to ourselves we should say, as in Proverbs: “Vanity of vanities”. We need indeed of the One who can guide us beyond the vanity and the poverty of this earth. The point is that we don’t know how and don’t want to go searching.  Advent is the time to open the doors and the windows of our souls to hear the ‘steps’ of the coming God. It is not wise to hide to ourselves the longing for the Father who waits for us as the merciful father waited for the prodigal son. When the prodigal son (every one of us) came back it was “Christmas” because the son who was dead returned to life.
Let’s live the time of Advent with the confidence that God is waiting for us in the Manger, at the Last Supper, on the Calvary, in the Church and at the end in His and our Home.
The attitude of a believer is not the one of a naive dreamer because its foundations are not on human things or on chances. The believer knows that life is changed by the encounter with Life.
Waiting is to live thinking not only of us. We must look around us and we’ll see many brothers and sisters who like us are “beggars of love.” In their company, we must look above.
Daily life can be heavy on our heart, but if we live it in dedication to God and with our brothers and sisters our heart will remain as light as a feather. Let’s look at the example of the consecrated Virgins, who imitate the consecration of Mary, Virgin, and Mother. The Madonna “The Virgin of the waiting and the Mother of hope” (Pope Benedict XVI) is the star of the Advent and the “Door” that the Son has crossed to enter in the world. These consecrated women are called to live in vigilance (RCV # 21), to persevere in dedication to God, to give themselves to Christ (in doing so they give Christ to their brothers and sisters). In this way, they serve God and the Church. (RCV #36)
Practical suggestions:

  1. Beside prayers and moderation in eating, let’s build a Nativity in our homes. It will help us to lift up our eyes to remember the beginning of God living with us. Doing so we will not suppress our longing for God and will avoid the hardening of our eyes and of our heart.
  2. For those of you who have more time, I propose the Sermons over the Advent by St Bernard of Clairvaux.
  3. For the ones who can understand Italian I suggest reading the following poetry by Clemente Rebora: 

Dall’immagine tesa
vigilo l’istante
con imminenza di attesa –
e non aspetto nessuno:
nell’ombra accesa
spio il campanello
che impercettibile spande
 un polline di suono –
e non aspetto nessuno:
fra quattro mura
stupefatte di spazio
più che un deserto
non aspetto nessuno:
ma deve venire;
verrà, se resisto,
a sbocciare non visto,
verrà d’improvviso,
quando meno l’avverto:
verrà quasi perdono
di quanto fa morire,
verrà a farmi certo
del suo e mio tesoro,
verrà come ristoro
delle mie e sue pene,
verrà, forse già viene
il suo bisbiglio.
 Advent means “coming”. It is clear that we are awaiting the coming of Christ.

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain

on Luke 21, 28 33

GREG. Having in what has gone before spoken against the reprobate, He now turns His words to the consolation of the elect; for it is added, When these things begin to be, look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws nigh; as if he says, When the buffetings of the world multiply, lift up your heads, that is, rejoice your hearts, for when the world closes whose friends you are not, the redemption is near which you seek. For in Holy Scripture the head is often put for the mind, for as the members are ruled by the head, so are the thoughts regulated by the mind. To lift up our heads then is to raise up our minds to the joys of the heavenly country.
EUSEB. Or else, To those that have passed through the body and bodily things, shall be present spiritual and heavenly bodies: that is, they will have no more to pass the kingdom of the world, and then to those that are worthy shall be given the promises of salvation. For having received the promises of God which we look for, we who before were crooked shall be made upright, and we shall lift up our heads who were before bent low; because the redemption which we hoped for is at hand; that name for which the whole creation waits.
THEOPHYL. That is a perfect liberty of body and soul. For as the first coming of our Lord was for the restoration of our souls, so will the second be manifested to the restoration of our bodies.
EUSEB. He speaks these things to His disciples, not as to those who would continue in this life to the end of the world, but as if uniting in one body of believers in Christ both themselves and us and our posterity, even to the end of the world.
GREG. That the world ought to be trampled upon and despised, He proves by a wise comparison, adding, Behold the fig tree and all the trees, when they now put forth fruit, you know that summer is near. As if He says, as from the fruit of the tree the summer is perceived to be near, so from the fall of the world the kingdom of God is known to be at hand. Hereby is it manifested that the world’s fall is our fruit. For hereunto it puts forth buds, that whomever it has fostered in the bud it may consume in slaughter. But well is the kingdom of God compared to summer; for then the clouds of our sorrow flee away, and the days of life brighten up under the clear light of the Eternal Sun.
AMBROSE; Matthew speaks of the fig-tree only, Luke of all the trees. But the fig-tree shadows forth two things, either the ripening of what is hard, or the luxuriance of sin; that is, either that, when the fruit bursts forth in all trees and the fruitful fig-tree abounds, (that is, when every tongue confesses God, even the Jewish people confessing Him,) we ought to hope for our Lord’s coming, in which shall be gathered in as at summer the fruits of the resurrection. Or, when the man of sin shall clothe himself in his light and fickle boasting as it were the leaves of the synagogue, we must then suppose the judgment to be drawing near. For the Lord hastens to reward faith, and to bring an end of sinning.
AUG. But when He says, When you shall see these things to come to pass, what can we understand but those things which were mentioned above. But among them we read, And then shall they see the Son of man coming. When therefore this is seen, the kingdom of God is not yet, but nigh at hand. Or must we say that we are not to understand all the things before mentioned, when He says, When you shall see these things, &c. but only some of them; this, for example, being excepted, And then shall they see the Son of man. But Matthew would plainly have it taken with no exception, for he says, And so you, when you see all these things, among which is the seeing the coming of the Son of man; in order that it may be understood of that coming whereby He now comes in His members as in clouds, or in the Church as in a great cloud.
TIT. BOST. Or else, He says, the kingdom of God is at hand, meaning that when these things shall be not yet shall all things come to their last end, but they shall be already tending towards it. For the very coming of our Lord itself, casting out every principality and power is the preparation for the kingdom of God.
EUSEB. For as in this life, when winter dies away, and spring succeeds, the sun sending forth its warm rays cherishes and quickens the seeds hid in the ground, just laying aside their first form, and the young plants sprout forth, having put on different shades of green; so also the glorious coming of the Only-begotten of God, illuminating the new world with His quickening rays shall bring forth into light from more excellent bodies than before the seeds that have long been hidden in the whole world, i.e. those who sleep in the dust of the earth. And having vanquished death, He shall reign from henceforth the life of the new world.
GREG. But all the things before mentioned are confirmed with great certainly, when He adds, Verily I say to you, &c.
BEDE; He strongly commends that which he thus foretell. And, if one may so speak, his oath is this, Amen, I say to you. Amen is by interpretation “true.” Therefore the truth says, I tell you the truth, and though He spoke not thus, He could by no means lie. But by generation, he means either the whole human race or especially the Jews.
EUSEB. Or by generation He means the new generation of His holy Church, showing that the generation of the faithful would last up to that time when it would see all things, and embrace with its eyes the fulfillment of our Savior’s words.
THEOPHYL. For because He had foretold that there should be commotions, and wars and changes, both of the elements and in other things, lest anyone might suspect that Christianity itself also would perish, He adds, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away: as if He said, Though all things should be shaken, yet shall my faith fail not. Whereby He implies that He sets the Church before the whole creation. The creation shall suffer change, but the Church of the faithful and the words of the Gospel shall abide forever.
GREG. Or else, The heaven and, earth shall pass away, &c. As if He says, All that with us seems lasting does not abide to eternity without change, and all that with Me seems to pass away is held fixed and immovable, for My word which passes away utters sentences which remain unchangeable, and abide forever.
BEDE; But by the heaven which shall pass away we must understand not the ethereal or the starry heaven, but the air from which the birds are named “of heaven.” But if the earth shall pass away, how does Ecclesiastes say, The earth stands forever? Plainly then the heaven and earth in the fashion which they now have shall pass away, but in essence, subsist eternally.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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