Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Saying Yes to the Truth that Becomes Flesh and Saves Life

With the invitation to say yes as Our Lady did and to prepare ourselves to welcome with faith the Redeemer who comes to be with us always. He is the Word of love of God for humanity of all times

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Roman Rite

4th Sunday of Advent – Year B – December 20, 2020

2 Sm 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16; Ps 89; Rom 16.25-27; Lk 1: 26-38

 

Ambrosian Rite

6th Sunday of Advent – Sunday of the Incarnation or of the Divine Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Is 62.10-63.3b; Ps 71; Fil 4.4-9; Lk 1, 26-38a

 

Introduction.

Very few days separate this fourth Sunday of Advent from the feast of Christmas which is rich in symbols linked to different cultures. Of all, the most important is certainly the Nativity that “arouses so much amazement and moves us, because” it manifests God’s tenderness. He, the Creator of the universe, lowers himself to our smallness. The gift of life, for us already mysterious, fascinates us even more when we see that He who was born of Mary is the source and support of every life. In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes looking for us when we are disoriented and lose direction; a faithful friend who is always close to us. He gave us his Son who forgives us and raises us from sin “(Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter, Admirabile signum, 3)

Next to the nativity scene we find the traditional “Christmas tree”. An ancient custom which enhances the value of life because in winter the evergreen fir becomes a sign of a life that never dies. Usually, Christmas gifts are placed on the decorated tree and at its feet. This symbol thus becomes eloquent also in a typically Christian sense: it recalls the “tree of life” (cf. Gen 2,9), the figure of Christ, the supreme gift of God to humanity. The message of the Christmas tree is therefore that life remains “always green”, if it becomes a gift not so much of material things but of yourself in friendship and sincere affection, in fraternal help and in forgiveness, in shared time and mutual listening.

Nothing is more beautiful, urgent, and important than freely giving back to men what we have freely received from God. Nothing can exempt or relieve us from this onerous and fascinating commitment. The joy of Christmas, which we already look forward to, while it fills us with hope at the same time pushes us to announce to everyone the presence of God among us.

  • The time of the “Yes”

               During the previous Sundays, the Liturgy has drawn attention to the figure of John the Baptist, the Precursor. Today it is Mary, his Mother that He gave also to us, that is offered as the example of the waiting for Christ to welcome him into our lives and in our flesh.

Hence, it is important to grasp the behavior of the Virgin towards the One who comes to take home in us and became Flesh to save our flesh so that we may “conceive” the Word of God concretely. With her “fiat” (yes), Mary conceived Jesus under her heart. With our fiat we conceive Him in our hearts. May Mary Annunciation teach us to say the great word “Yes, fiat, O Lord, thy will be done.”[1]

The “yes”, the “fiat” of the Virgin Mary was not pronounced by a heart dull or sleepy, but by one tense and watchful. Even if uttered by a humble young woman, this spousal “yes” is the expression of a simple and profound heart. Mary is the Mother of God not only because she gave physical life to Jesus, but also because, before conceiving Him in her womb, she listened to Him with his ear and conceived Him in her heart. She is mother because she listens and welcomes the Son and let Him live like He is, not just because she brings Him in her womb and gives Him birth[2].
Mary’s yes was the expression of the freedom of this Virgin pure, fruitful and conscious of belonging to a history, a great history, that was bringing God into the world.
A fact is history not only because it occurs in time, but also because it occurs in a place.
The time is indicated as follows, “It was the sixth month from the conception of St. John the Baptist by Elizabeth.” It is the episode preceding the one mentioned in the today’s Gospel. Now, a six-month-old is not fully developed. John the Baptist represents the Old Testament and the promise. It is important to take note that the Annunciation fulfills the promise ahead of time. When does the conception happens? At the sixth month, namely when the promise is not yet mature. That, in my opinion, means that the realization of a promise depends not only on God. God has made the promise, He could fulfill it immediately, He does it at the sixth month, He only waits for someone to say “yes, let it be to me as you have said, I welcome the Word.” In short, God has been forever “Yes” to man. When finally, we also say yes as Mary did, then the conception takes place. We become mature and complete people when we say yes to God. Do not wait for tomorrow to say “Yes”. Normally we think of the future waiting for better times. No. The only time we have is the present. This is the only time when we touch the eternal: the past is gone; the future is not yet here. What we are living is the time of listening. We must not look for a better one, otherwise we spend half of our life thinking about the future, the other half regretting the past, and never live. God is “present”[3], and his proposal is done “now.” It was not yesterday, it was not for tomorrow, it is for today. In the Gospel of Luke let us remember the first words of Jesus: “Today this word is fulfilled.”

2) The place and the characters of the Yes. 

In this day of the Yes, it is important to understand also the place where it was pronounced, the location that the Evangelist Luke presents in deliberate contrast to the previous narration of John the Baptist.
The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist takes place in the Temple of Jerusalem, it is made to a priest who is carrying out his duties and occurs, so to speak, officially, as required by law, and in accordance with the cult, the place and the Jewish rites.
The announcement of the birth of the Messiah is made to Mary, a woman who lives in Nazareth, a small, insignificant country village of semi-pagan Galileans. Nazareth for us today means: the place of everyday life. It is to teach us that the Word is the place where we live every day. It is in our daily lives that we can and must live as children of God and    listen to the Word. Then it will be helpful to go to shrines, basilicas and in the places where we can be with many others because these places call us to a life of communion in the Church. But the important thing is the “here and now”: the present and the place of everyday life. It is there that every day the Word is made flesh as, in the everyday life of Mary who has become the “place” of welcome, the new life begins. This life began not in the temple but in simple humanity of Jesus Christ, who became the true temple, the tent of the encounter.
After having considered the “place” where God has revealed his love, the simple house of the humble Mary, let us look at the characters of this announcement.
Let’s start with the angel Gabriel, whose name means “power of God”, who addresses Mary that with her “yes” will bear fruit by the power of God’s grace.
The Angel’s greeting to Mary is “Rejoice, full of grace,” that we might paraphrase “Be joyful, you who are freely and forever beloved by God.” Our Lady is called to a mission, but first she is invited to joy, and her anguish is cancelled because the Lord “is with her” to save her and the entire humanity.
Let us fix our eyes on the heart of Mary, who calls herself “servant” and whom the Angel of God defines full of grace. Grace and service: in these two words it is enclosed all the Christian understanding of existence. The gift received continues to become a gift.
Mary is troubled by the angel’s words. However, her confusion is not derived from misunderstanding or from fear. It comes from the emotion produced by the encounter with God who, through the Angel, tells her that “free to be loved by God” is her new name.
When God calls someone to make him an instrument of salvation, He not only calls him by name, but gives him a new name capable of expressing his identity and his vocation. For Mary, the new name is “Full of Grace” that is “freely and forever loved by God.” This new name of Mary speaks immediately of the gratuitousness and faithfulness of God, the root of all correct understanding of God, man, and the world. Of this root Mary is the luminous and transparent icon. And this is already the happy news of the miracle of Christmas, which is now imminent.
“To accept and to welcome the miracle of Christmas, is to accept that Mary is truly the ‘Mother of God’ and the ‘Virgin Mother’. This is not against sexuality and human love. The meaning is another. We know very well that the life we give is a life toward death. God’s intervention was needed. It was necessary that the chain of birth to death should be broken so that with Jesus a creature totally alive could rise, a living creature that would not be inside death like us, but that would voluntarily grab it to destroy it. The fruitful virginity of Mary, as well as the appearances of the Risen One, behind closed doors, are a sign of this life more living than ours, a transfigured materiality.”[4]
The example of Mary, who gives life to the totally alive, today is especially continued by the consecrated Virgins. By freely choosing virginity, these women confirm themselves as persons mature and capable of living. At the same time, they realize the personal value of their own femininity by becoming “a sincere and total gift” to Christ, Redeemer of man and Spouse of souls. The naturally spousal disposition of the feminine personality finds a response in a virginity understood in this way. The woman, called from the very “beginning” to be loved and to love, finds in the vocation to virginity first of all Christ as the Redeemer who “loved to the end” through the total gift of self. She responds to this gift with the “sincere gift” of her entire life (see Saint John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 34).
The consecrated virgins in the world show us how to follow the fruitful example of Mary, living like her the grace of simplicity. They testify with simple humility that we should not force ourselves to think about big things, let alone to do them, because we become ridiculous in our presumption. Like the Virgin Mary we must recognize and accept the presence of the Word of God in us.
Let us pray Our Lady that what happened in her may happen in us. Let us ask the Lord that His love may take root like a flower in the fragility of our flesh.
And let us all push ourselves to imitate the attitude of Mary of Nazareth, who shows us that “being is prior to doing, and that we must leave it to God to truly be what He wants us to be. It is He who does in us many wonders. Mary is receptive, but not passive. In the same way in which she, at the physical level, receives the power of the Holy Spirit but then gives flesh and blood to the Son of God that takes form in her, so, on a spiritual level, she welcomes the grace and responds to it with faith “(Pope Francis, Angelus, December 8, 2014).

Patristic Reading

Leo, the Great

  Sermon XXII. On the Feast of the Nativity, II. 

  1. The Mystery of the Incarnation Demands Our Joy. 

Let us be glad in the Lord, dearly beloved, and rejoice with spiritual joy that there has dawned for us the day of ever-new redemption, of ancient preparation, of eternal bliss. For as the year rolls round, there recurs for us the commemoration of our salvation, which promised from the beginning, accomplished in the fulness of time will endure for ever; on which we are bound with hearts up lifted to adore the divine mystery: so that what is the effect of God’s great gift may be celebrated by the Church’s great rejoicings. For God the almighty and merciful, Whose nature as goodness, Whose will is power, Whose work is mercy: as soon as the devil’s malignity killed us by the poison of his hatred, foretold at the very beginning of the world the remedy His piety had prepared for the restoration of us mortals: proclaiming to the serpent that the seed of the woman should come to crush the lifting of his baneful head by its power, signifying no doubt that Christ would come in the flesh, God and man, Who born of a Virgin should by His uncorrupt birth condemn the despoiler of the human stock. Thus, in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours. And “ours” we call what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair. For what, the deceiver brought in and the deceived admitted had no trace in the Saviour nor because He partook of man’s weaknesses, did He therefore share our faults. He took the form of a slave without stain of sin, increasing the human and not diminishing the Divine: because that “emptying of Himself” whereby the Invisible made Himself visible and Creator and Lord Of all things as He was, wished to be mortal, was the condescension of Pity not the failing of Power.
II. The New Character of the Birth of Christ Explained. 
Therefore, when the time came, dearly beloved, which had been fore-ordained for men’s redemption, there enters these lower parts of the world, the Son of God, descending from His heavenly throne and yet not quitting His Father’s glory, begotten in a new order, by a new nativity. In a new order, because being invisible in His own nature He became visible in ours, and He whom nothing could contain, was content to be contained: abiding before all time He began to be in time: The Lord of all things, He obscured His immeasurable majesty and took on Him the form of a servant: being God, that cannot suffer, He did not disdain to be man that can, and immortal as He is, to subject Himself to the laws of death. And by a new nativity He was begotten, conceived by a Virgin, born of a Virgin, without paternal desire, without injury to the mother’s chastity: because such a birth as knew no taint of human flesh, became One who was to be the Saviour of men, while it possessed in self the nature of human substance. For when God was born in the flesh, God Himself was the Father, as the archangel witnessed to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “because the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee: and therefore, that which shall be born of thee shall be called holy, the Son of God.” The origin is different but the nature like: not by intercourse with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained. Consider here not the condition of her that bare but the will of Him that was born; for He was born Man as He willed and was able. If you inquire into the truth of His nature, you must acknowledge the matter to be human: if you search for the mode of His birth, you must confess the power to be of God. For the Lord Jesus Christ came to do away with not to endure our pollutions: not to succumb to our faults but to heal them. He came that He might cure every weakness of oar corruptness and all the sores of our defiled souls: for which reason it behoved Him to be born by a new order, who brought to men’s bodies the new gift of unsullied purity. For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself: that Spirit (I say) who had determined to raise the fallen, to restore the broken, and by overcoming the allurements of the flesh to bestow on us in abundant measure the power of chastity: in order that the virginity which in others cannot be retained in child-bearing, might be attained by them at their second birth.
III. Justice Required that Satan Should Be Vanquished by God Made Man. 
And, dearly beloved, this very fact that Christ chose to be born of a Virgin does it not appear to be part of the deepest design? I mean, that the devil should not be aware that Salvation had been born for humanity, and through the obscurity of that spiritual conception, when he saw Him no different to
others, should believe Him born in no different way to others. For when he observed that His nature was like that of all others, he thought that He had the same origin as all had and did not understand that He was free from the bonds of transgression because he did not find Him a stranger to the weakness of mortality. For though the true mercy of God had infinitely many schemes to hand for the restoration of mankind, it chose that design which put in force for destroying the devil’s work, not the efficacy of might but the dictates of justice. For the pride of the ancient foe not undeservedly made good its despotic rights over all men, and with no unwarrantable supremacy tyrannized over those who had been of their own accord lured away from God’s commands to be the slaves of his will. And so there would be no justice in his losing the immemorial slavery of humans, were he not conquered by that which he had subjugated. And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers’ conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception. For no taint of sin penetrated, where no intercourse occurred. Her unsullied virginity knew no lust when it ministered the substance. The Lord took from His mother our nature, not our fault. The slave’s form is, created without the slave’s estate, because the New Man is so commingled with the old, as both to assume the reality of our race and to remove its ancient flaw.
IV. The Incarnation Deceived the Devil and Caused Him to Break the Bond Under Which He Held Men. 
When, therefore, the merciful and almighty Saviour so arranged the commencement of His human course as to hide the power of His Godhead which was inseparable from His manhood under the veil of our weakness, the crafty foe was taken off his guard and he thought that the nativity of the Child, Who was born for the salvation of mankind, was as much subject to himself as all others are at their birth. For he saw Him crying and weeping, he saw Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, subjected to circumcision, offering the sacrifice which the law required. And then he perceived in Him the usual growth of boyhood and could have had no doubt of His reaching man’s estate by natural steps. Meanwhile, he inflicted insults, multiplied injuries, made use of curses, affronts, blasphemies, abuse, in a word, poured upon Him all the force of his fury and exhausted all the varieties of trial: and knowing how he had poisoned man’s nature, had no conception that He had no share in the first transgression Whose mortality he had ascertained by so many proofs. The unscrupulous thief and greedy robber persisted in assaulting Him Who had nothing of His own, and in carrying out the general sentence on original sin, went beyond the bond on which he rested, and required the punishment of iniquity from Him in Whom he found no fault. And thus, the malevolent terms of the deadly compact are annulled, and through the injustice of an overcharge the whole debt is cancelled. The strong one is bound by his own chains, and every device of the evil one recoils on his own head. When the prince of the world is bound, all that he held in captivity is released. Our nature cleansed from its old contagion regains its honourable estate, death is destroyed by death, nativity is restored by nativity: since at one and the same time redemption does away with slavery, regeneration changes our origin, and faith justifies the sinner.
V. The Christian is Exhorted to Share in the Blessings of the Incarnation. 
Whoever then thou art that devoutly and faithfully boastest of the Christian name, estimate this atonement at its right worth. For to thee who was a castaway, banished from the realms of paradise, dying of thy weary exile, reduced to dust and ashes, without further hope of living, by the Incarnation of the Word was given the power to return from afar to thy Maker, to recognize thy parentage, to become free after slavery, to be promoted from being an outcast to sonship: so that, thou who was born of corruptible flesh, mayest be reborn by the Spirit of God, and obtain through grace what thou has not
by nature, and, if thou acknowledge thyself the son of God by the spirit of adoption, dare to call God Father. Freed from the accusings of a bad conscience, aspire to the kingdom of heaven, do God’s will supported by the Divine help, imitate the angels upon earth, feed on the strength of immortal sustenance, fight fearlessly on the side of piety against hostile temptations, and if thou keep thy allegiance in the heavenly warfare, doubt not that thou wilt be crowned for thy victory in the triumphant camp of the Eternal King, when the resurrection that is prepared for the faithful has raised thee to participate in the heavenly Kingdom.
VI. The Festival Has Nothing to Do with Sunworship, as Some Maintain. 
Having therefore so confident a hope, dearly beloved, abide firm in the Faith in which you are built: lest that same tempter whose tyranny over you Christ has already destroyed, win you back again with any of his wiles, and mar even the joys of the present festival by his deceitful art, misleading simpler souls with the pestilential notion of some to whom this our solemn feast day seems to derive its honour, not so much from the nativity of Christ as, according to them, from the rising of the new sun. Such men’s hearts are wrapped in total darkness and have no growing perception of the true Light: for they are still drawn away by the foolish errors of heathendom, and because they cannot lift the eyes of their mind above that which their carnal sight beholds, they pay divine honour to the luminaries that minister to the world. Let not Christian souls entertain any such wicked superstition and portentous lie. Beyond all measure are things temporal removed from the Eternal, things corporeal from the Incorporeal, things governed from the Governor. For though they possess a wondrous beauty, yet they have no Godhead to be worshipped. That power then, that wisdom, that majesty is to be adored which created the universe out of nothing and framed by His almighty methods the substance of the earth and sky into what forms and dimensions He willed. Sun, moon, and stars may be most useful to us, most fair to look upon; but only if we render thanks to their Maker for them and worship God who made them, not the creation which does Him service. Then praise God, dearly beloved, in all His works and judgments. Cherish an undoubting belief in the Virgin’s pure conception. Honour the sacred and Divine mystery of man’s restoration with holy and sincere service. Embrace Christ born in our flesh, that you may deserve to see Him also as the God of glory reigning in His majesty, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit remains in the unity of the Godhead for ever and ever. Amen. 

 

[1] If by chance we pray the Rosary, we repeat 50 times in a row what is the core of this Sunday’s Gospel passage. And the bells ring three times a day; St. Francis of Assisi had introduced them on his return from the East, precisely in memory of the Annunciation. The Incarnation of the Word, Mary’s yes, is at the beginning and at the end of the day and in the heart of the day.

[2] In this regard let us remember that when they say to Jesus: “Your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you”, Jesus answers: “Who is my mother, who are my brothers? Those who listen and do the word”. Mary is his mother because she listens to the Word and does the Word. And to a woman who says to him: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that nursed you”, Jesus says:” Blessed are those who hear and do the Word”. So, Mary is always presented as the prototype of those who listen and through listening do what they hear.

[3] Among other things, in addition to living spiritually what Christ says, “The pain of each day is enough”, living in the present is also a matter of sanity. Instead, we live thinking about the future anxiously and suspended in the void of uncertainty, and thinking about the past, drowned in regret and frustration.

[4] Olivier Clément. La mère de Dieu, un éclairage orthodoxe”,in Jean Comby (ed), Théologie, histoire et piété mariale. Actes du colloque de la faculté de théologie de Lyon, 1-3 octobre 1996, Lyon, Profac (1997), 209-221.

 

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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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