Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Advent: waiting for God

With the invitation to live the advent by preparing the nativity scene at our home and in our heart to welcome Christ, the Emmanuel, God always with us

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Roman Rite

1st Sunday of Advent – Year B – November 29, 2020

Is 63, 16-17.19; 64.2 to 7; Ps 80; 1 Cor 1, 3-9; Mk 13, 33-37


Ambrosian Rite

3rd Sunday of Advent – The fulfilled prophecies

Is 51.1 to 6; Ps 45; 2 Cor 2, 14-16a; Jn 5.33 to 39


1) A vigilant waiting so that our heart may become a Nativity

Advent, the powerful liturgical time that in the Roman rite begins today, invites us to pause in silence to accept and understand the presence of Christ. Let us make our heart different so that this presence of heaven finds space in our heart dilated by conversion. Indeed, the miracle of Christmas for which we are preparing, does not consist in celebrating the fact that more than two thousand years ago a child who was someone special was born in Judea. If Christ is born two thousand times in Bethlehem and not in each of us, we would not be saved. The important thing is that our dilated heart becomes a crib, then once again God would become a child on this Earth.

It is an invitation to live waiting, listening to the Word of Christ who said «My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it» (Lk 8:21), doing the will of the Father because “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother» (Mt 12:50), and recognizing that the individual events of the day are hints that God sends to us, signs of the attention he has for each of us. Pope Francis completes it saying «Advent is the time we are given to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare for the return of Christ. He will return to us on Christmas, when we commemorate his historic coming in the humility of the human condition. However, he comes in us whenever we are willing to receive him, and he will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. For this reason, we must always be vigilant and wait for the Lord with the hope of encountering him”.

If we live Advent as it is suggested to us in a masterly way, Christmas will not only be a celebration to remember a fact of the past, but the present and living implementation of an event. In fact, what happened once becomes today an event in the life of the believer. As more than two thousand years ago the Lord came for everyone, He always comes again for each of us. That is why we must experience the waiting and his coming so that for each of us salvation is born.

The first characteristic that qualifies the season of Advent is the vigilant waiting, as suggested by St. Mark ‘s Gospel. Today’s passage invites the community to pay attention reading contemporary history in the light of the presence of Christ, whose coming time is not known to us. This is where vigilance originates because it is not known when the landlord returns. Mark tells his community of converted pagans (and therefore also to us, children of converted pagans) that waiting for the Lord’s return is a decisive event on today’s way of acting. There are two points that qualify our vigilance: attention and fidelity of us servants to whom Christ has left his house to be cared for.

It should also be kept in mind that, when we wait for a known person, we are happy and this four-week period is given to us to become familiar with the person of Christ, the real Savior. He comes as a friend that we cannot find the greatest in the world and He comes as a true friend because he does not think so much about himself as about his friends.

We should live the waiting of the coming of the baby Jesus in the same way a mother waits for the child she is carrying: pondering the miracle of the imminent coming of a person desired but unknown, maybe even a little ‘dreaded‘ even if it is a little one that needs tenderness, the result of a love to be accepted with an open heart and without fear.

If the heart is not dull, it can and should be stretched toward Christ. We should have a keen attention to the Lord. He comes always, but often the encounter does not take place because we live a superficial and distracted spiritual life. Unfortunately, we are rarely able to perceive this spiritual «coming» of God.

The important thing is to live Advent as the certain waiting of the “coming» of God, as the Mother per excellence has lived the waiting of the coming of the Son, Jesus.

I think that, first, the Virgin Mary spent the months of waiting looking, thinking and reading everything that could have enriched her knowledge on the Waited by people, the Son of the Almighty  conceived with humility and abandonment.

Second, the Mother of God prayed earnestly. She asked the Spirit of God to enlighten her in the search for the face of her Son and Lord. God then established between Himself and Mary a bond of loyalty, trust, and agreement, in one word of obedient faith.

Third, the Virgin Mother practiced loving the Son whom she was carrying in her womb. How could she love One that she did not know? She put into practice what, years later, St. John the Apostle wrote in his first letter «the one who does not love his brother, whom he has not seen, cannot love the God whom he has not seen”. Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth whose son received the visit of the Son of God. Mary loved, not with words but with facts, not with feelings but doing, making herself a pilgrim of charity and of the mercy of God.


2) The joy of the presence of God who is near.

If we live the Advent of Christ-like the Virgin Mary lived the expectation of his birth, we will educate our heart to a real daily waiting, aware of the presence of Christ who became man for us to save our lives. And we will be in joy, because – like the Virgin Mary- we can be certain that God is at hand. He was in her and is in us always, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful spouse. This joy remains even in trials and in suffering, not on the surface but deep in the person who puts himself or herself in the hands of God and trusts in him.

Jesus’ birth brought joy to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, the people who welcomed him, and therefore also to us. Nevertheless, this question arises «Is this joy possible even today?” The answer is given by the lives of men and women of all ages and social condition who are happy to dedicate their existence to others for the love of Christ incarnated for us.  Was not Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of the true evangelical joy? She lived in daily contact with misery, human degradation, and death. Her soul knew the trials of the dark night of faith, yet she has given to all the smile of God. Once she said «We impatiently look forward to heaven, where God is, but it is in our power to be in heaven here on earth and from this very moment. Being happy with God means to love like him, to help like him, to give like him and to serve like Him. »

Joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the little and the poor. God takes home in those who love in this way – as He did in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the manger, in the house of Nazareth – and the soul is in joy. If happiness is made an idol we are on the wrong path, and it is hard to find the joy of which Jesus speaks. Unfortunately, this is the proposition of cultures that put individual happiness in the place of God, a mentality that finds its emblematic consequence in the pursuit of pleasure at any cost. Even at Christmas we can go wrong if we exchange the real feast with the one that does not open the heart to the joy of Christ and becomes only an exchange of material gifts.


3) Advent is the coming of Jesus.

How many centuries of waiting and how many souls consumed in the desire of the waiting! May Jesus come! «The Church bride waits for her groom! We must ask ourselves, however, with great sincerity, are we sparkling and credible witnesses of this expectation, of this hope? Do our communities still live in the sign of the presence of the Lord Jesus and of the passionate waiting for his coming, or do they appear tired, numb, under the weight of fatigue and resignation? Do we also run the risk of running out of the oil of faith and of the oil of joy? Be careful! Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, Mother of Hope and the Queen of Heaven, to be kept always in an attitude of listening and waiting, so that we can be already permeated by the love of Christ and can participate one day in a joy without end, in full communion with God. Do not forget, never forget «We shall always be with the Lord » (1 Thessalonians 4:17) «(Pope Francis, October 14, 2014).

Another question arises «How to discern the signs of “The One Who Is Coming «?” The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He said to them in reply “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times «(Mt 16)”. In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates. (Mt 24, 33).

The rebuke is also true for us because Christian sensibility, incarnated and redemptive, is decreasing. We look for exciting facts and do not recognize the exceptionality of the real presence of Christ in the consecrated Host. Many of us want to see crowds kneeling and praying and miracles of all kinds. These are facts that have their significance but are not the only signs of the “One who is coming”. We must have a heart stretched forward to the most delicate and almost imperceptible voices of our generation who, alongside violent detachments, knows the ineffable pangs of a waiting that, if it has not even a name, gives great hope to those who can see.

The consecrated Virgins in the world, imitating the Virgin Mary, are called to embody the spirit of Advent, which involves listening to God, deep desire to do his will and joyful service to others. Let us be guided by their example so that the God that is coming does not find us closed or distracted but can extend a bit of his kingdom of love, justice, and peace in each of us.

With their example, they proclaim to a world often disorientated but increasingly in search of meaning that God is the Lord of life and that his «love is greater than life” (Ps 63.4). By choosing obedience, poverty and chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven, they demonstrate that any attachment or love for people and things is incapable of definitively satisfying the heart and that earthly existence is a longer or shorter period of waiting for the «face to face» encounter with the divine Bridegroom. It is a waiting to be lived with a vigilant heart so to be ready to recognize and welcome him when he comes. By its nature, therefore, consecrated life is a definitive, unconditional, and passionate response to God. (see Consecrated Life, 17)


Patristic Reading


Theophylact: The Lord wishing to prevent His disciples from asking about that day and hour, says, «But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.»

For if He had said, I know, but I will not reveal it to you, He would have saddened them not a little; but He acted more wisely, and prevents their asking such a question, lest they should importune Him, by saying, neither the Angels, nor I.

Hilary, de Trin., ix: This ignorance of the day and hour is urged against the Only-Begotten God, as if, God born of God had not the same perfection of nature as God. But first, let common sense decide whether it is credible that He, who (p. 270) is the cause that all things are, and are to be, should be ignorant of any out of all these things. For how can it be beyond the knowledge of that nature, by which and in which that which is to be done is contained? And can He be ignorant of that day, which is the day of His own Advent? Human substances foreknow as far as they can what they intend to do, and the knowledge of what is to be done, follows upon the will to act. How then can the Lord of glory, from ignorance of the day of His coming, be believed to be of that imperfect nature, which has on it a necessity of coming, and has not attained to the knowledge of its own advent?

But again, how much more room for blasphemy will there be, if a feeling of envy is ascribed to God the Father, in that He has withheld the knowledge of His beatitude from Him to whom He gave a foreknowledge of His death. But if there are in Him all the treasures of knowledge, He is not ignorant of this day; rather we ought to remember that the treasures of wisdom in Him are hidden; His ignorance therefore must be connected with the hiding of the treasures of wisdom, which are in Him.

For in all cases, in which God declares Himself ignorant, He is not under the power of ignorance, but either it is not a fit time for speaking, or it is an economy of not acting.

But if God is said then to have known that Abraham loved Him, when He did not hide that His knowledge from Abraham, it follows, that the Father is said to know the day, because He did not hide it from the Son. If therefore the Son knew not the day, it is a Sacrament of His being silent, as on the contrary the Father alone is said to know, because He is not silent. But God forbid that any new and bodily changes should be ascribed to the Father or the Son.

Lastly, lest He should be said to be ignorant from weakness, He has immediately added, «Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is.»

Pseudo-Jerome: For we must needs watch with our souls before the death of the body.

Theophylact: But He teach us two things, watching and prayer; for many of us watch, but watch only to pass the night in wickedness; He now follows this up with a parable, saying, «For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave his servants power over every work, and commanded the porter to watch.» (p. 271)

Bede: The man who taking a far journey left his house is Christ, who ascending as a conqueror to His Father after the Resurrection, left His Church, as to His bodily presence, but has never deprived her of the safeguard of His Divine presence.

Greg, Hom in Evan, 9: For the earth is properly the place for the flesh, which was as it were carried away to a far country, when it was placed by our Redeemer in the heavens. «And he gave his servants power over every work,» when, by giving to His faithful ones the grace of the Holy Ghost, He gave them the power of serving every good work.

He has also ordered the porter to watch, because He commanded the order of pastors to have a care over the Church committed to them. Not only, however, those of us who rule over Churches, but all are required to watch the doors of their hearts, lest the evil suggestions of the devil enter into them, and lest our Lord find us sleeping.

Wherefore concluding this parable He adds, «Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.»

Pseudo-Jerome: For he who sleeps applies not his mind to real bodies, but to phantoms, and when he awakes, he possesses not what he had seen; so also are those, whom the love of this world seizes upon in this life; they quit after this life what they dreamed was real.

Theophylact: See again that He has not said, I know not when the time will be, but, «Ye know not.» For the reason why He concealed it was that it was better for us; for if, now that we know not the end, we are careless, what should we do if we knew it? We should keep on our wickedness even unto the end. Let us therefore attend to His words; for the end comes at even, when a man dies in old age; a midnight, when he dies in the midst of his youth; and at cockcrow, when our reason is perfect within us; for when a child begins to live according to his reason, then the cock cries loud within him, rousing him from the sleep of sense; but the age of childhood is the morning. Now all these ages must look out for the end; for even a child must be watched, lest he die unbaptized.

Pseudo-Jerome: He thus concludes His discourse, that the last should hear from those who come first this precept which is common to all; wherefore He adds, «But what I say unto you I (p. 272) say unto all, Watch.»

Augustine, Epist., 199, 3: For He not only speaks to those in whose hearing He then spake, but even to all who came after them, before our time, and even to us, and to all after us, even to His last coming. but shall that day find all living, or will any man say that He speaks also to the dead, when He says, «Watch, lest when he cometh he find you sleeping?»

Why then does He say to all, what only belongs to those who shall then be alive, if it be not that it belongs to all, as I have said? For that day comes to each man when his day comes for departing from this life such as he is to be, when judged in that day, and for this reason every Christian ought to watch, lest the Advent of the Lord find him unprepared; but that day shall find him unprepared, whom the last day of his life shall find unprepared


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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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