Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pope Benedict: Advent a time for honest self assessment


“As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives”, said Pope Benedict XVI Sunday, in his reflections before the midday Angelus prayer on this second Sunday of Advent.

The Holy Father also drew attention to a series of upcoming anniversaries this week and in doing so to the plight of millions worldwide, without a country to call their own: “In the coming days, in Geneva and other cities, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Organization for Migration, the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 50 th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. I entrust to the Lord all those who, often forcibly, must leave their homeland, or who are stateless. While I encourage solidarity for them, I pray for all those who are doing their utmost to protect and assist these brothers and sisters in emergency situations, even if it means exposing themselves to serious hardships and dangers”.

Pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s this Sunday huddled under umbrella’s as the mild December weather gave way to incessant rain. A decidedly Advent atmosphere permeated the square where the nativity scene is currently under construction. This year it will be dedicated Mary, the Mother of God, and as is tradition it will be inaugurated on 24 December. Waiting for midday and the Pope to appear, children gathered around an enormous Christmas tree, that will be hoisted into position next to the central obelisk by a crane on Monday. The gigantic spruce is a gift to the Holy Father from the Zakarpattia region in Ukraine and is a towering 30.5 metres high. The tree will be blessed and lit on 16 December in the presence of the bishops of Ukraine.

Dear brothers and sisters!

This Sunday marks the second stage of Advent. This period of the liturgical year highlights the two figures who played a prominent role in preparation for the historical coming of the Lord Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. In fact today’s Gospel of Mark focuses on the figure of the Baptist. Indeed it describes the personality and mission of the Precursor of Christ (cf. Mk 1.2 to 8). Beginning with his outward appearance, John is presented as a very ascetic figure dressed in camel skin, he feeds on locusts and wild honey, found in the desert of Judea (cf. Mk 1.6). Jesus himself once held him in contrast to those who "wear fine clothing” in the “royal palaces " (Mt 11.8). The style of John the Baptist was meant to call all Christians to choose a sober lifestyle, especially in preparation for the feast of Christmas, when the Lord - as Saint Paul would say - "became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich"(2 Cor 8.9).

With regard to the John’s mission, it was an extraordinary appeal to conversion: his baptism "is tied to a fiery invitation to a new way of thinking and acting, it is above all linked to the announcement of God's justice" (Jesus of Nazareth I, Milan 2007, p. 34) and the imminent appearance of the Messiah, defined as "he who is mightier than I" and who will "baptize with the Holy Spirit" (Mk 1,7.8). Therefore, John’s appeal goes far beyond and deeper than a call to a sober lifestyle: it is a call for inner change, starting with the recognition and confession of our sins. As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives. May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is "the Greatest" and made himself small, he who is "the Strongest" but became weak.

All four Evangelists describe the preaching of John the Baptist referring to a passage from the prophet Isaiah: " A voice proclaims:In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God'"(Isaiah 40.3 ). Mark also adds a quote from another prophet, Malachi, who says: " Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me " (Mk 1.2, see Mal 3.1). These references to the Old Testament Scriptures "speak of the saving intervention of God, coming out of his inscrutability to judge and save, we must open the door to Him, preparing the way" (Jesus of Nazareth, I, p. 35).

To the maternal intercession of Mary, the Virgin who awaits, we entrust our journey towards the Lord who comes, as we continue our journey of Advent to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

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