Last Sunday we started, as a Church, the liturgical period known in the Church’s liturgical cycle as Advent. The latter deals with the preparation for the Christmas solemnity. Such an important season in the Church’s life is extended over four Sundays. s
The term per se includes three levels of meaning that are all related to the word Advent, whose latin derivative, advenio, means “to come to”. First, advent refers to the waiting till we liturgically celebrate Christ’s birth at the Christmas solemnity. Second, advent then refers us to the daily coming of Christ in our lives mainly through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as well as through our constantly meeting him in our brothers and sisters, the other fellow human beings. Thirdly, advent takes us at the end of the journey, particularly to Christ’s second coming at the end of time.
In his homily in the First Sunday of Advent, on 29 November 2020, whilst concelebrating with the newly created cardinals who were officially made the day before, Pope Francis spoke of two verbs which are so important during the Advent season, namely: “closeness and watchfulness.”
On closeness the Holy Father observed: “We often begin our prayers with the invocation: ‘God, come to my assistance’. The first step of faith is to tell God that we need him, that we need him to be close to us. This is also the first message of Advent and the liturgical year: we need to recognize God’s closeness and to say to him: ‘Come close to us once more!’ God wants to draw close to us, but he will not impose himself; it is up to us to keep saying to him: ‘Come!’ This is our Advent prayer: ‘Come!’ Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us and will come again at the end of time. Yet we can ask what those two comings mean, if he does not also come into our lives today? So let us invite him. Let us make our own the traditional Advent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20). The Book of Revelation ends with this prayer: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. We can say that prayer at the beginning of each day and repeat it frequently, before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every more important or difficult moment in our lives: Come, Lord Jesus! It is a little prayer, yet one that comes from the heart. Let us say it in this Advent season. Let us repeat it: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’”
It is interesting noting that the word closeness really features quite often in the Medjugorje messages. Our Lady said to Ivan on September 1 1981: Do not be afraid. I am close to you and I watch over you. On 29 November 1981 Our Heavenly Mother assured Vicka of her closeness to all of us to support us in our fight against the evil one. The Devil tries to impose his power on you. But you must remain strong and persevere in your faith. You must pray and fast. I will be always close to you. Moreover, on May 23 of this year, the Gospa encouraged us to be close to God through prayer since only in this way can we really grow in holiness. Also today, little children, I call you to look deeply into your hearts and to decide to try to be closer to God in prayer. Be converted, dear children, my little children. Leave sin and evil and everything that hinders you on your way to holiness. Decide for the love for God. Mary’s closeness to each and everyone of us is a strong impetus for us all to keep longing for prayer and fervently approach the sacrament of confession with that docility which only the Holy Spirit can endow us with. In a message to Ivan while at a conference in the United States on November 9, 2019, Our Lady said: Open your hearts, dear children, to the sacrament of confession, make your soul ready for God. So that little Jesus may be born in your heart, especially now in this time of grace. May your heart long for prayer. I am very close to you. I am interceding before My Son for each one of you.
During his homily Pope Francis mentioned the second key word for the Advent season, in other words watchfulness. On this foundational advent term the Pope thus commented:
“It is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a thousand things and not to notice God. Saint Augustine said: ‘Timeo Iesum transeuntem’ (Sermons, 88, 14, 13), ‘I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed’. Caught up in our own daily concerns (how well we know this!), and distracted by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential. That is why today the Lord repeats: ‘To all, I say: be watchful!’ (Mk 13:37). Be watchful, attentive. Having to be watchful, however, means it is now night. We are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled, and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope. Just as before our birth, our loved ones expectantly awaited our coming into the world, so now Love in person awaits us. If we are awaited in Heaven, why should we be caught up with earthly concerns? Why should we be anxious about money, fame, success, all of which will pass away? Why should we waste time complaining about the night, when the light of day awaits us? Why should we look for ‘patrons’ to help advance our career? All these things pass away. Be watchful, the Lord tells us.”
In Medjugorje’s messages Our Heavenly Mother assures us of her constant watch upon us. On March 1 1984 she said to Maria that she is protecting the parish of Medjugorje. Dear children, I have chosen particularly this parish because I wish to guide it; I watch over it with love, I would like for all of you to be mine. On July 19 1984 Mary also reassured us that God is watching over us, particularly when we are tempted. It is precisely at that crucial moment when Mary is supporting us throughout these ordeals. Do not be afraid of these temptations. God watches over you always. I am with you in the least of trials.
It is a result of God and her loving and faithful watch over us that we can be vigilant in our prayer. On November 25 1988 she said: I am with you and I intercede for you in front of God, so watch in vigil, so that every encounter in prayer be the joy of your contact with God. This very message by itself speaks volumes because Our Lady is inviting us to view prayer as a joyous meeting with God. And, as the collect of the First Sunday of Advent tells us so well, such a meeting necessarily bears the abundant good fruit of fraternal service to our brothers and sisters who need our love and care while we are waiting for Our Lord to come. Hence, in that initial collect of the First Advent Sunday we pray: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom”.
In his homily in the Mass of the First Week of Advent Pope Francis commented on this particular collect by the following words: “Some people seem to think that being compassionate, helping and serving others is for losers. Yet these are the only things that win us the victory, since they are already aiming towards the future, the day of the Lord, when all else will pass away and love alone will remain. It is by works of mercy that we draw close to the Lord. This is what we asked for in today’s opening prayer: ‘Grant [us]… the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming’. The resolve to run forth to meet Christ with good works. Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity.”
And if someone may doubt Pope Francis’ words, here is what Mary herself tells us in Medjugore, as a wise mother would surely advise her children to do, as to how we can live our advent: Do what the Church tells you. This is the surest way for us to the Heavenly Jerusalem when wholeheartedly and humbly, as faithful and caring children, we obey Mother Church as it is clearly indicated to us by Pope Francis’ homily on the First Sunday of Advent.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap