St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the liturgy invited us to turn our gaze to Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, Star of Hope for every person. Today, the Second Sunday of Advent, it presents to us the austere figure of the Precursor, whom the Evangelist Matthew introduces as follows: "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea: "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 3: 1-2). His mission was to prepare and clear the way for the Lord, calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins and to correct every injustice. John the Baptist, with demanding words, announced the imminent judgement: "Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3: 10). Above all, John put people on guard against the hypocrisy of those who felt safe merely because they belonged to the Chosen People: in God's eyes, he said, no one has reason to boast but must bear "fruit that befits repentance".
While the Advent journey continues, while we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ, John the Baptist's appeal for conversion rings out in our communities. It is a pressing invitation to open our hearts to receive the Son of God, who comes among us to make manifest the divine judgement. The Father, writes John the Evangelist, judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son because he is the Son of Man (cf. John 5: 22, 27). And it is today, in the present, that our future destiny is being played out. It is our actual conduct in this life that decides our eternal fate. At the end of our days on earth, at the moment of death, we will be evaluated on the basis of our likeness - or lack of it - to the Child who is about to be born in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, because he is the criterion of the measure that God has given to humanity. The Heavenly Father, who expressed his merciful love to us through the birth of his Only-Begotten Son, calls us to follow in his footsteps, making our existence, as he did, a gift of love. And the fruit of love is that fruit which "befits repentance", to which John the Baptist refers while he addresses cutting words to the Pharisees and Sadducees among the crowds who had come for Baptism.
Through the Gospel, John the Baptist continues to speak down the centuries to every generation. His clear, harsh words are particularly salutary for us, men and women of our time, in which the way of living and perceiving Christmas unfortunately all too often suffers the effects of a materialistic mindset. The "voice" of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way of the Lord, who comes in the external and internal wildernesses of today, thirsting for the living water that is Christ. May the Virgin Mary guide us to true conversion of heart, so that we may make the necessary choices to harmonize our mentalities with the Gospel.
After the Angelus:
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Angelus. In this holy season of Advent, I pray that the glory of the Lord's coming will fill your hearts with redeeming hope. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ!
I wish you all a good Sunday!
St Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel of this Second Sunday of Advent (Matthew 3:1-12), presents to us the figure of St John the Baptist, who, a famous prophecy of Isaiah says (cf. 40:3), withdrew to the desert of Judaea and, with his preaching, called the people to convert so as to be ready for the coming of the Messiah, now at hand.
St Gregory the Great commented that John the Baptist “preaches upright faith and good works… so that the force of grace may penetrate, the light of the truth shine out, the paths to God be straightened and honest thoughts be born in the mind after hearing the word that guides us to goodness” (Hom. in Evangelia, XX, 3, CCL 141, 155).
The Precursor of Jesus, situated between the Old Covenant and the New, is like a star that heralds the rising of the Sun, of Christ, the One, that is, upon whom — according to another of Isaiah’s prophecies — “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest... the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).
In the Season of Advent we too are called to listen to God’s voice, that cries out in the desert of the world through the Sacred Scriptures, especially when they are preached with the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, faith grows all the stronger the more it allows itself to be illumined by the divine word, by “whatever”, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “was written in former days [and] written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The model of listening is the Virgin Mary: “As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. Every Christian believer, St Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 28).
Dear friends, “Our salvation rests on a coming”, as Romano Guardini wrote (La santa notte. Dall’Avvento all’Epifania, Brescia 1994, p. 13). “The Saviour came from God’s freedom…. Thus the decision of faith consists... in welcoming the One who draws near” (ibid., p. 14).
“The Redeemer”, he added, “comes to every human being: in his joy and his anguish, in his clear knowledge, in his perplexities and temptations, in all that constitutes his nature and his life” (ibid., p. 15).
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, in whose womb the Son of the Most High dwelled and whom we shall be celebrating next Wednesday, 8 December, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to sustain us on this spiritual journey to welcome with faith and with love the coming of the Saviour.
Holy Father's appeal
In this Advent Season, in which we are called to foster our expectation of the Lord and to welcome him among us, I ask you to pray for all the situations of violence, of intolerance and of suffering that exist in the world, so that the coming of Jesus may bring us consolation, reconciliation and peace. I am thinking of many difficult situations, such as the constant attacks against Christians and Muslims that are occurring in Iraq, of the clashes in Egypt in which people were killed and injured, of the victims of traffickers and criminals, such as the drama of the Eritrean hostages and those of other nationalities in the Sinai Desert. Respect for the rights of all is the indispensable condition for civil co-existence. May our prayers to the Lord and our solidarity bring hope to all those who are suffering.
After the Angelus:
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus prayer. The Liturgy of the Second Sunday in Advent invites us to prepare our hearts for the great mystery of the Incarnation. May Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, grant us his grace so that during this time of Advent we may grow ever more faithful to his unfailing love. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome, and a blessed Sunday!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homilies of Pope Benedict XVI, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.