first Sunday of Advent

Vigilant waiting for God

Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, December 03, 2023

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Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 11.30.2023).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, December 03, 2023


Waiting for a visit and welcome.

Sunday, before Advent. The horizon of prayer opens onto history, which has its center in Christ, God made man, the good Face of destiny. We must therefore renew our attitude to prayer, understood in the sense of the tension to elevate ourselves to God, who reveals himself to us as the source of wisdom and power, of goodness and love.
For this reason the Church begins the Mass today with this beautiful Introit song: “To you, Lord, I lift my soul, my God, in you I trust: that I may not be confused. Let not my enemies triumph over me. Whoever hopes in you must not be disappointed.» This opening song shows very well the trust of the Church-Bride. Let us repeat it with her from the bottom of our hearts, because the Savior will come to us to the extent that we have desired and faithfully waited for him.
Therefore, on this first Sunday of Advent we are called to become aware of Christ who comes to «visit us like the sun rising from above». It is about God’s visit: He enters the life of each of us, he addresses each of us because he wants to live permanently in each of us.
With this visit God enters our lives and addresses each of us. Advent invites us to elevate our soul to welcome the present that comes. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are signs that God addresses to us, signs of the attention that he has for each of us. Advent invites us and pushes us to contemplate the Lord present and the certainty of his presence helps us to look at the world and our lives with different eyes. It helps us to consider our entire existence as a «visit», as a way in which He can come to us and become close to us, in every situation and in every moment because He is Emmanuel, the God always with us.
In addition to the «visit», the other important element of Advent is the vigilant «waiting» which – at the same time – is hope. Advent, a liturgical season that renews the wait for the coming of Christ from year to year, pushes us to understand the meaning of time and history as a favorable time («kairós») for our salvation. Jesus illustrated this element of waiting in many parables: in the story of the servants invited to wait for the master’s return, in the parable of the virgins waiting for the groom. or in those of sowing and reaping.
In our life, we are constantly waiting: when we are little we want to grow, as adults we tend towards fulfillment and success, as we age, we aspire to rest. But the time comes when we discover that we have hoped too little if, beyond our profession or social position, there is nothing else left to hope for. Hope marks the path of every human being, but for us Christians it is animated by a certainty: the Lord is present in the flow of our lives, he accompanies us and one day he will also dry our tears. One day, not far away, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of justice and peace. In the meantime we pray «I hope in the Lord, my soul hopes in his word. My soul awaits the Lord more than the sentinels await the dawn. Let Israel wait for the Lord, for with the Lord is mercy and with him is great redemption» (Ps 129, 5-7).


Vigilance and contrition.

The liturgical season of Advent celebrates God’s visit, reawakening the expectation of Christ’s glorious return and, therefore, preparing us to welcome the Son of God, the Word made man for our salvation. But the Lord continually comes into our lives. Therefore we must take seriously Christ’s invitation, which is forcefully proposed to us again on this first Sunday: «Watch» (Mk 13,33.35.37). This «command» is not addressed only to the disciples, but also «to everyone», because each of us, in the hour that only God knows, will be called to give an account of our existence. This involves above all a humble and trusting entrustment to the hands of God, our tender and merciful Father, but also active charity towards others and sincere contrition for one’s sins.
The prayer of a heart that watches while waiting is a prayer of those who recognize themselves in need. When we recognize our state of poverty, it is precisely then that God fills us with his gifts. The first of these is forgiveness, because the greatest need is sin. Prayer, which is asking and waiting, is asking and waiting for forgiveness. An expectation that does not ask for and accept this forgiveness, does not wait for the Redeemer, who loves to forgive us, who loves to love us. Forgiveness is the first expression of his love for him. Prayer always has a dimension of contrition, which makes us say: «Lord, before speaking to me, forgive me» (Ant. Ambr.). But the penitential dimension is joined by the nuptial dimension, because it is born from our sin and flourishes in marriage with God.
The contrition that lies at the beginning of the celebration of the Holy Mass, or the contrition that lies within the heart of our participation in the mystery of Christ, which is the sacrament of Confession, this contrition must qualify our advent. Without this contrition our wait for Christ who comes to us in a cave is too childish or too light and a little superficial, that is, too taken for granted. It is only with contrition that the incumbency of Christ and the imminence of Christ are splendidly alive in us, and vigilance is achieved.
Vigilance, therefore, is contrition. And, existentially, along the path of our life, vigilance is contrition full of love.
To experience this contrite wait, we can recite the prayer that Saint Ambrose of Milan recited before the celebration of the Holy Mass: «King of virgins and lover of chastity and perfect continence, with the celestial dew of your blessing quench the fomite in my body of ardent concupiscence, so that chastity of body and soul may remain in me. Mortify the urges of the flesh in my members and give me perpetual and true chastity together with your other gifts that truly please you, so that I can offer you the Sacrifice of praise with a chaste body and a clean heart.»
The form of life which clearly demonstrates that the nuptial dimension is combined with contrition is that of the consecrated virgins. The spiritual marriage with Christ makes these women strangers to the world, but intimately close to God. They are convinced that they are nothing and, in the eyes of the world, they are despicable, but in the eyes of God they are precious and dear and are a model for all of how to live the wait to welcome Christ completely and without reservations.
In them the heart of God rests as in a manger. In them humanity can see the reflection of God.

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