Rome, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent,

Parish of St. Josemaría

The opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass in this church dedicated to St. Josemaría fills me with joy. Today we also begin the liturgical period of Advent: a time of preparation for the coming of our Lord. It is an “intense time” in the life of the Church, and should be such also in the life of each one of us. It is a time that demands a careful preparation, in order to take advantage of the innumerable graces it brings with it. Therefore we are invited to pray: All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.[1]

The liturgy mentions two comings of Christ, quite distinct but related to one another: first, the one that took place two thousand years ago with the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem, in a stable; second, the one that will take place on the world’s last day, when the same Jesus, crowned with majesty, will return to judge the living and the dead and to take possession of his kingdom and present it to God the Father.

The readings from today’s Mass speak to us above all about the second coming, but the key to reading and interpreting them is the first coming. Preparing for Christ’ birth is the best possible way to prepare ourselves for the moment when God will call us to himself. In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul warns us with a sense of urgency, as though sounding a trumpet: It is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.[2]

Yes, my sisters and brothers. It is the hour to awaken from the spiritual sleep that leads to tepidity, which we may have fallen into perhaps without noticing it. It is the hour to get up again, to make the decision to be true Catholics, one hundred percent Catholics: not only on Sunday, as though the rest of the week were of no importance to God, but every day, every hour, every minute, always. In this sense Advent is an “intense time,” because of the grace of conversion it brings with it, and also because of the greater personal commitment in the struggle which is demanded of us to be good children of God.

God comes to us in a visible way: this is the deep meaning of this liturgical time. We could not go to Jesus if he had not taken the initiative. He was born two thousand years ago of the Virgin Mary by the working of the Holy Spirit; and he wants to be born spiritually in our souls, not only at Christmas but every day. He comes to us especially every time that we receive him with our soul well-disposed in Holy Communion.

We need to prepare, then, for the coming of Jesus. How? St. Paul once again is our teacher here, and his voice has greater power in this year dedicated to him.[3] And so that there might be no doubt about what God expects of us, he adds: Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.[4]

Benedict XVI comments on these words: “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.”[5]

When we await the arrival of an important guest, we prepare our house as well as possible. We carry out the needed repairs; the house is thoroughly cleaned, and perhaps some piece of furniture is replaced by a new one. The home to which Jesus wants to come is, first of all, our soul. It is also our family, our work, the group of people with whom we are in contact. Isn’t there perhaps something that needs to be cleaned, to be improved? Now is the right moment to make sincere resolutions, so that the feast of Christmas is not just an opportunity for a family gathering (something that is very good) or, what is much worse, turned into an opportunity for unbridled consumerism. Rather, it should be a manifestation of the spiritual and transcendent meaning of Christ’s birth.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,[6] St. Paul continues in his letter to the Romans. And St. Josemaría Escrivá draws an immediate consequences from these words: “It is in the Sacrament of Penance that you and I put on Jesus Christ and his merits.”[7]

Each of us has to make our own personal resolutions for Advent. For some it will be a matter of going to the Sacrament of Penance, in order to rediscover God’s peace and the desire to begin a new and consistent Christian life. For others it may be a matter of greater continuity in their personal relationship with God, or of being more faithful to their plan of spiritual life.

Last year, in the homily he preached on the first Sunday of Advent, Benedict XVI exhorted us to listen to Jesus’ exhortation in the Gospel: Take heed, watch and pray.[8] And he added: “Let us... 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 Savior’s advent ‘suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise’ (Spe Salvi, no. 37).”[9]

Before ending, I would like to recall some words of St. Josemaría which can help us to enter fully into this liturgical period: “Advent is here. What a marvelous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come— for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist.”[10]

Let us pray also that our Lord will be well received in every home. And let us of course not neglect our duty to accompany, with Jesus who has come for everyone, those who are suffering. We cannot remain indifferent to others’ pain. Let us consider, for example, how we have prayed for the victims of violence in India, in the Congo, and in so many other parts of the world. Lord, we pray that your birth may also bring peace to all nations.

We begin today the novena to the Immaculate Conception. Let us always strive to show our Lady great honor, also during these days when we are preparing to celebrate her great feast and to follow her on the road to Bethlehem. Our Mother will take us by the hand and place us very close to Jesus. Amen.

[1] Opening Prayer.

[2] Rom 13:11.

[3] Rom 13:12.

[4] Rom 13:13.

[5] Benedict XVI, Homily, December 2, 2007.

[6] Rom 13:14.

[7] St. Josemaría, The Way, no. 310.

[8] Mk 13:33.

[9] Benedict XVI, Homily, December 2, 2007.

[10] St. Josemaría, The Forge, no. 548.

Romana, n. 47, July-December 2008, p. 281-283.

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