St Peter's Square
In this season of Advent, while the Ecclesial Community is preparing for and celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation, it is invited to rediscover and deepen its own personal relationship with God. The Latin word "adventus" refers to the coming of Christ and brings to the fore God's movement towards humanity, to which each is called to respond with openness, expectation, seeking and attachment. And as God is sovereignly free in revealing and giving himself because he is motivated solely by love, so the human person is also free in giving his or her own, even dutiful, assent: God expects a response of love.
In these days, the liturgy presents to us as a perfect model of this response the Virgin Mary, whom this 8 December we will contemplate in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
The Virgin is the One who continues to listen, always ready to do the Lord's will; she is an example for the believer who lives in search of God. The Second Vatican Council dedicated an attentive reflection to this topic as well as to the relationship between truth and freedom.
In particular, the Council Fathers approved, precisely 40 years ago, a Declaration on the question of religious liberty, that is, the right of persons and of communities to seek the truth and to profess their faith freely. The first words that give this document its title are "dignitatis humanae": religious liberty derives from the special dignity of the human person, who is the only one of all the creatures on this earth who can establish a free and conscious relationship with his or her Creator.
"It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will..., are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth" (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2).
Thus, the Second Vatican Council reaffirms the traditional Catholic doctrine which holds that men and women, as spiritual creatures, can know the truth and therefore have the duty and the right to seek it (cf. ibid., n. 3).
Having laid this foundation, the Council places a broad emphasis on religious liberty, which must be guaranteed both to individuals and to communities with respect for the legitimate demands of the public order. And after 40 years, this conciliar teaching is still most timely.
Let us pray that all human beings may completely fulfil the religious vocation they bear engraved in their being. May Mary help us to recognize in the face of the Child of Bethlehem, conceived in her virginal womb, the divine Redeemer who came into the world to reveal to us the authentic face of God.
After the Angelus:
I greet all those present for today's Angelus. On this Second Sunday of Advent, Christians throughout the world are called to "prepare a way for the Lord". May we always make a place for him in our hearts and in our lives. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, I invoke the Blessings of Almighty God.
To the French-speaking pilgrims:
May you prepare the ways of the Lord in your hearts and through renewed attention to the most needy! In the coming week, on 9 December, we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of Handicapped Persons, proclaimed by the United Nations. On this occasion, I invite each one of you to work ever harder at the integration of persons with disabilities into society, into the world of work and into the Christian community, as I remind you that every human life deserves respect and must be protected from its conception to its natural end. I assure my support and my prayers to all those who are already dedicated to this immense task.
I wish everyone a good Sunday!
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
For a week we have been experiencing the liturgical Season of Advent: a season of openness to the future of God, a time of preparation for holy Christmas when he, the Lord, who is the absolute innovation, came to dwell among this fallen humanity to renew it from within. A message full of hope resounds in the liturgy of Advent, inviting us to raise our gaze to the ultimate horizon but at the same time to recognize the signs of the God-with-us in the present. On this Second Sunday of Advent the Word of God acquires the moving tones of the so-called "Second Isaiah", who announced to the Israelites, tried by decades of bitter exile in Babylon, liberation at last: "Comfort, comfort my people", the Prophet says in God's name. "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended" (Isaiah 40: 1-2). This is what the Lord wishes to do in Advent: to speak to the heart of his people and through it to the whole of humanity, to proclaim salvation. Today too the Church raises her voice: "Make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40: 3). For the peoples worn out by poverty and hunger, for the hosts of refugees and for all who are suffering grave and systematic violations of their rights, the Church stations herself as a sentinel on the lofty mountain of faith and proclaims: "Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes with might" (Isaiah 40: 10).
This prophetic announcement is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who with his preaching and, later, with his death and Resurrection, brought the ancient promises to fulfilment, revealing an even deeper and more universal perspective. He inaugurated an exodus that was no longer solely earthly, in history, hence temporary, but rather radical and definitive: the transition from the kingdom of evil to the Kingdom of God, from the dominion of sin and death to that of love and life. Therefore, human hope goes beyond the legitimate expectations of social and political liberation because what Jesus began is a new humanity that comes "from God" but, at the same, time germinates on our earth, to the extent that it lets itself be fertilized by the Lord's Spirit. Thus it is a question of fully entering the logic of faith: believing in God, in his plan of salvation, and at the same time, striving to build his Kingdom. Justice and peace are in fact gifts of God, but require men and women to be the "good ground" ready to receive the good seed of his Word.
The first fruits of this new humanity is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. She, the Virgin Mother, is the "way" that God prepared for himself in order to come into the world. With all her humility, Mary walks at the head of the new Israel in its exodus from all exile, from all oppression, from all moral and material slavery, toward the "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3: 13). Let us entrust to her maternal intercession the expectation of peace and salvation of the people of our time.
After the Angelus:
H.H. Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias, died a few days ago. Let us join our Orthodox brethren in prayer to commend his soul to the goodness of the Lord so that he may welcome him into his Kingdom of light and peace.
Next Thursday afternoon, 11 December, I shall meet the university students of the Roman Athenaeums, at the end of the Holy Mass at which Cardinal Agostino Vallini will preside. On the occasion of the Pauline Year, I shall be offering the young students the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans and I will be glad to greet them together with the Rectors, lecturers and technical and administrative staff at this traditional meeting in preparation for Holy Christmas.
I am pleased to address a special greeting to the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who will be beginning the celebrations of the Centenary Jubilee of the rebirth and reform of their Congregation tomorrow. Dear Brothers, may the Virgin Mary obtain abundant graces for you and help you to be ever faithful to your Charisms.
I greet the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims who are gathered here today. The Church puts before us, on this Second Sunday of Advent, the figure of John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness: "Prepare a way for the Lord". During this Advent Season, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ, let us prepare a place for him in our hearts. I invoke God's abundant blessings upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday marks the second stage of the Season of Advent. This period of the liturgical year brings into the limelight the two figures who played a preeminent role in the preparation for the historic coming of the Lord Jesus: the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. Today’s text from Mark’s Gospel focuses on the latter. Indeed, it describes the personality and mission of the Precursor of Christ (cf. Mark 1:2-8). Starting with his external appearance, John is presented as a very ascetic figure: he was clothed in camel-skin and his food was locusts and wild honey that he found in the Judean desert (cf. Mark 1:6).
Jesus himself once compared him to the people “in kings’ houses” who are “clothed in soft raiment” (Matthew 11:8). John the Baptist’s style must remind all Christians to opt for a lifestyle of moderation, especially in preparation for the celebration of the Christmas festivity, in which the Lord, as St Paul would say, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
With regard to John’s mission, it was an extraordinary appeal to conversion: his baptism “is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment” (Jesus of Nazareth, I, p. 14; English translation, Doubleday, New York, 2007) and by the imminent appearance of the Messiah, described as “he who is mightier than I”, who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8).
John’s appeal therefore goes further and deeper than a lifestyle of moderation: it calls for inner conversion, based on the individual’s recognition and confession of his or her sin. While we are preparing for Christmas, it is important that we re-enter ourselves and make a sincere examination of our life. Let us permit ourselves to be illuminated by a ray of light that shines from Bethlehem, the light of the One who is “the Mightiest” who made himself lowly, “the Strongest” who made himself weak.
All four Evangelists describe John the Baptist’s preaching with reference to a passage from the Prophet Isaiah: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). Mark also inserted a citation from another prophet, Malachi, who said: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way” (Mark 1:2; cf. Malachi 3:1).
These references to Old Testament Scriptures “envisage a saving intervention of God, who emerges from his hiddenness to judge and to save; it is for this God that the door is to be opened and the way made ready” (Jesus of Nazareth, I, op. cit., p. 15).
Let us entrust to Mary, the Virgin of expectation, our journey towards the Lord who comes, as we continue on our Advent itinerary in order to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Emmanuel, God-with-us.
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4 January 2015