By Archbishop Francesco Follo

Roman Rite

2nd Sunday of Advent – Year B – December 6, 2020

Is 40, 1-5.9-11; Ps 85; Pt 3.8 to 14; Mk 1, 1-8

Ambrosian Rite

4th Sunday of Advent – The entrance of the Messiah.

Is 16.1 to 5; Ps 149; 1 Th 3.11 to 4.2; Mk 11.1 to 11

1) John the Baptist who invites us to convert to Someone and not to something.

On the first Sunday of Advent the Liturgy of the Word has invited us to be vigilant to be ready for the coming of God who wants to be close to us. Last Sunday, Christ repeated “to all: watch!” (Mk 13,37). If we need to keep watch it means that we are in the night. “Now we do not live in the day, but waiting for the day, between darkness and fatigue. The day will come when we are with the Lord. It will come, let us not be discouraged; keep watch, that is, wait for the Lord who makes himself neighbor. Waiting is not to be overwhelmed by discouragement; this is called living in hope “(Pope Francis).

The invitation that Christ addresses not only to his disciples, but to everyone: “Watch!” (Mt 13:37) is a useful reminder that life does not have only an earthly dimension but is projected towards a “beyond” like a little plant that sprouts from the earth and opens towards the sky. Man is a thinking plant, endowed with freedom and responsibility, and all of us will be called to account for how we lived and how we used our abilities: whether we kept them for ourselves or made them bear fruit also for the good of our brothers and sisters.

The Liturgy of the Word of this second Sunday of Advent presents us the figure of John the Baptist. Through today’s Gospel passage, the Precursor speaks to all of us. His clear and harsh words are especially healthy for us, men and women of our time, in which even the way of living and perceiving Christmas is unfortunately very often influenced by a materialistic mentality. The “voice” of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way for the Lord who comes in today’s deserts, exterior and interior deserts, thirsting for the living water that is Christ. May the Virgin Mary, whom in a few days we will celebrate as the Immaculate Conception, guide us. May she, who waited with love for the birth in time of the Love that she carried in her womb, guide us to a true conversion of heart and mind so that we can make the choices necessary to convert to the mentality of the Gospel.

Let us also look to John the Baptist because he was the man sent by God to invite to conversion, to prepare the way for the imminent coming of Jesus and to indicate him as the Lamb of God who forgives with infinite love. To learn from John’s teaching, I will briefly answer to three questions about him: “Where did he go, what did he say and do to fulfill his mission?”

He went into the desert. For us today that means to go in the “desert” of our hearts and pray listening to God who takes the beloved soul into the desert and speaks to its heart (see Hosea 2). The Precursor of Christ, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness“, preaches in the wilderness of the soul that is hungry for meaning, love and peace.

He said “Repent”, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that is given to us when, contrite, we ask for it.

He did: He gave the baptism of repentance where conversion means:

Reversal, a return to the previous relationship with God (the one before the fall) to take the road back home as did the Prodigal Son.

Straightening the way of the heart that forgiveness purifies and opens to Love.

This is not a physical path, but the path of the heart. The road of the heart has two entry points: sight and hearing. The purer the look the easier Jesus, who is light from light, enters in each of us. The more the ear is focused to listening the easier is to hear the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Isaiah 40.3). First, it is the voice that reaches the ears of the heart, then after the voice, or better together with the voice, it is the word that penetrates the heart through the hearing.

But with the birth of Jesus, the Word of God can not only be heard, it can also be seen (see G. d’Igny) as it was seen by the shepherds and the Magi in the cave of Bethlehem, by the penitents on the banks of the Jordan River, and by us today in the life of fraternal communion of the believers in Christ.

2) The entire life is an Advent.

As I wrote above, in this second Sunday of Advent the liturgy of the Word offers us the figure of John the Baptist the Precursor, the prophet of Fire.

Let us imitate John the Baptist by living as an Advent our entire life and not just the period before Christmas. Indeed, the Precursor lived his life as a witness of the Advent (see Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 37, 1-2 in Mt., page 57, 419-421) and as a preparation for the encounter with God. When Jesus came to him, he indicated Him to the others as the good News. Yes, because the Gospel, the Good News is Jesus himself, as the third reading of this Sunday reminds us: “Beginning of the gospel[1] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1, 1). The Evangelist St. Mark begins his story reminding us that the good news is Christ: He is the center of our lives and only expects that each of us opens the door for him. It is the beginning of real life; it begins even for us.

The most dramatic thing is that, if we are alone, we only learn that we must die. The good news is Christ/ Life that conquers death and whose Divine Love allows us to live human love in an everlasting and holy way, namely in the true way.

The gospel is God who comes bringing love; all that is “no-love” is “no-God, “no-life”, therefore, it is death. God comes and speaks to the human heart. He teaches to his prophets “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, tell her that the night is over” (Isaiah), but also reveals that Jesus is “the strongest” precisely because He is the only one who speaks to the heart tenderly and powerfully, satisfying the human thirst for justice (see Malachi 3,1ss), freedom (see Is 40, 1-11), and life.

How can we recognize Christ when He comes?

The figure of John is a privileged example of how to encounter God and how to recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, indicating him as the one who forgives our evil and gives us the true meaning of life and death.

Let us briefly contemplate the figure of John the Baptist, son of old age and of a miracle. Before his birth he was consecrated by the visit of Mary, who was carrying Jesus in her womb. Then, at birth, he was consecrated Nazarite (pure). Growing up, he never shaved his hair, never drank wine nor touched a woman. He knew no other love then the one for God. Still young, he left the home of his parents and hid in the desert. There he lived for many years alone, homeless, without a tent, with nothing beyond what he was wearing, a camel skin and a leather belt. He had a beard and long hair, piercing eyes, and a strong voice. His body was burned by the desert sun and his soul by the ardent desire of the Kingdom. He was able to announce the Fire of Love. To those who came to him, his magnetic “wild man “appeared as the last hope for a lost people.

Contemplating this great figure, this strength in passion, it is natural to ask: where does this life, this interiority so strong, so straight, so consistent, spent completely for God and preparing the way for Jesus, comes from? The answer is simple: from the relationship with God and from prayer, which is the main theme of his entire existence.

The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist came in the place of prayer, in the Temple of Jerusalem. Moreover, it occurred when Zechariah, his future father, was in the most sacred place of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, to burn incense to the Lord.

Even the birth of John the Baptist was marked by prayer: the song of joy, praise, and thanksgiving that Zechariah elevated to the Lord: the “Benedictus”. This song came out of the mouth and from the heart of Zechariah, and the Church does recite it every morning in the Lauds to enhance the action of God in history and to indicate the mission of his son John: to precede (this is why he is called the Precursor) the son of God made flesh to prepare the way for Him and to prepare the hearts of the people to meet the Lord.

The entire existence of the Precursor of Jesus, and in particular the period spent in deserted areas, were nourished by the relationship with God. This is because, if it is true that the desert is a place of temptation, it is also true that it is the place where man feels the poverty of lacking support and material security and understands that the only point of solid reference remains God.

John the Baptist was not only a man of prayer and of the permanent contact with God, but also a guide to prayer and to the recovery of the relationship with God, preaching repentance and pointing with his voice and with his index finger: “Here is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. “He was a guide to prayer in daily life, if Jesus’ disciples asked Him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (cf. Lk 11, 1). And the Son of God taught them the “Our Father”.

Praying is not time wasted or stolen to action. Prayer is the soul of our every act as it was for John the Baptist. Prayer is work, because, like or much more than human labor, transforms people and things. “Prayer is an exchange of life: God becomes man and takes upon himself our poverty, but we take of Him all that He is” (Divo Barsotti). God is Love. God is Word. He addresses people with a word of love, and we can “learn the heart of God in the Word of God” (Saint Gregory the Great).

Following the example of the consecrated Virgins, who on the day of their consecration received the breviary to pray with it every day and all day long, let us take the Word to turn to God. It is a Word full of all that we are, become flesh in us.

These consecrated, devoting themselves daily to the reading of the Word, make it the nutrient medium of prayer. Let us do the same.

These consecrated virgins, by listening daily to the Word, live in the Word as true disciples. At least during the period of Advent, let us dedicate a bit of time to listening to the Word so that it will take flesh in us.

Finally, let us learn from these people how to imitate John the Baptist: with humility. As the Precursor put into practice his words: “It is necessary that Christ will grow and I must become smaller”, the consecrated humbly do the same, indicating with their lives their Spouse and becoming small for Him.

Let us learn from these consecrated women to live as little humble people the feast of the Immaculate, which is celebrated on December 8th. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is tuned in the mercy of God who knows us all personally by name, one by one, and calls us to shine of his light. Those who in the eyes of the world are the first, to God are the last; those that are little, for God are as big as the Virgin Mary.

Following the example of Mary and her intercession “let us clean” our heart from all that is not perfect and keep it free for Christ who is descending among us as a “child”.

 

Patristic Reading

Saint John Chrysostom on John 6

HOMILY VI.

Jan 1,6

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

[1.] Having in the introduction spoken to us things of urgent importance1 concerning God the Word, (the Evangelist) proceeding on his road, and in order, afterwards comes to the herald of the Word, his namesake John. And now that thou hearest that he was “sent from God,” do not for the future imagine that any of the words spoken by him are mere man’s words; for all that he utters is not his own, but is of Him who sent him. Wherefore he is called2 “messenger” (Ml 3,1), for the excellence of a messenger is, that he say nothing of his own. But the expression “was,” in this place is not significative of his coming into existence, but refers to his office of messenger; for “‘there was’ a man sent from God,” is used instead of “a man ‘was sent’ from God.”

How then do some say,3 that the expression, “being in the form of God” (Ph 2,6) is not used of His invariable likeness4 to the Father, because no article is added?5 For observe, that the article is nowhere added here. Are these words then not spoken of the Father? What then shall we say to the prophet who says, that, “Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way” (Ml 3,1, as found in Mc 1,2)? for the expressions “My” and “Thy” declare two Persons.

Jn 1,7. “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of that Light.”

What is this, perhaps one may say, the servant bear witness to his Master? When then you see Him not only witnessed to by His servant, but even coming to him, and with Jews baptized by him, will you not be still more astonished and perplexed? Yet you ought not to be troubled nor confused, but amazed at such unspeakable goodness. Though if any still continue bewildered6 and confused, He will say to such art one what He said to John, “Suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3,15); and, if any be still further troubled, again He will say to him too7 what he said to the Jews, “But I receive not testimony from man.” (c. 5,34). If now he needs not this witness, why was Jn sent from God? Not as though He required his testimony —this were extremest blasphemy. Why then? Jn himself informs us, when he says,

“That all men through him might believe.”

And Christ also, after having said that “I receive not testimony from man” (c. 5,34), in order that He may not seem to the foolish to clash with8 Himself, by declaring at one time “There is another that beareth witness of Me and I know that his9 witness is true” (c. 5,32) (for He pointed to John;) and at another, “I receive not testimony from man” (c. 5,34); He immediately adds the solution of the doubt, “But these things I say” for your own sake, 10 “that ye might be saved.” As though He had said, that “I am God, and the really-Begotten 11 Son of God, and am of that Simple and Blessed Essence, I need none to witness to Me; and even though none would do so, yet am not I by this anything diminished in My Essence; but because I care for the salvation of the many, 12 I have descended to such humility as to commit the witness of Me to a man.” For by reason of the groveling nature and infirmity of the Jews, the faith in Him would in this way be more easily received, and more palatable. 13 As then He clothed Himself with flesh, that he might not, by encountering men with the unveiled Godhead, destroy them all; so He sent forth a man for His herald, that those who heard might at the hearing of a kindred voice approach more readily. For (to prove) that He had no need of that (herald’s) testimony, it would have sufficed that He should only have shown Himself who He was in His unveiled Essence, and have confounded them all. But this He did not for the reason I have before mentioned. He would have annihilated 14 all, since none could have endured the encounter of that unapproachable light. 15 Wherefore, as I said, He put on flesh, and entrusted the witness (of Himself) to one of our fellow-servants, since He arranged 16 all for the salvation of men, looking not only to His own honor, but also to what might be readily received by, and be profitable to, His hearers. Which He glanced at when He said, “These things I say” for your sake, “that ye might be saved.” (c. 5,34). And the Evangelist using the same language as his Master, after saying, “to bear witness of that Light,” adds,

“That all men through Him might believe.” All but saying, Think not that the reason why Jn the Baptist came to bear witness, was that he might add aught to the trustworthiness of his Master. No; (He came,) that by his means beings of his own class 17 might believe. For it is clear from what follows, that he used this expression in his anxiety to remove this suspicion beforehand, since he adds,

Jn 1,8. “He was not that Light.”

Now if he did not introduce this as setting himself against this suspicion, then the expression is absolutely superfluous, and tautology rather than elucidation of his teaching. For why, after having said that he “was sent to bear witness of that Light,” does he again say, “He was not that Light”? (He says it,) not loosely or without reason; but, because, for the most part, among ourselves, the person witnessing is held to be greater, and generally more trustworthy than the person witnessed of; therefore, that none might suspect this in the case of John, at once from the very beginning he removes this evil suspicion, and having torn it up by the roots, shows who this is that bears witness, and who is He who is witnessed of, and what an interval there is between the witnessed of, and the bearer of witness. And after havingdone this, and shown His incomparable superiority, he afterwards proceeds fearlessly to the narrative which remains; and after carefully removing whatever strange (ideas) might secretly harbor 18 in the minds of the simpler sort, so instills into all 19 easily and without impediment the word of doctrine in its proper order.

Let us pray then, that henceforth with the revelation of these thoughts and rightness of doctrine, we may have also a pure life and bright conversation, 20 since these things profit nothing unless good works be present with us. For though we have all faith and all knowledge of the Scriptures, yet if we be naked and destitute of the protection derived from (holy) living, there is nothing to hinder us from being hurried into the fire of hell, and burning for ever in the unquenchable flame. For as they who have done good shall rise to life everlasting, so they who have dared the contrary shall rise to everlasting punishment, which never has an end. Let us then manifest all eagerness not to mar the gain which accrues to us from a right faith by the vileness of our actions, but becoming well-pleasing to Him by these also, boldly to look on Christ. No happiness can be equal to this. And may it come to pass, that we all having obtained 21 what has been mentioned, may do all to the glory of God; to whom, with the Only-Begotten Son and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 ta; katepeivgonta.

2 al). prohgovreutai, “is foretold.”

3 Vid. supra, Hom. 4,3).

4 ajparallaxiva vid. supra, Hom. 3,4 ad fin.

5 i.e. to Qeou`.

6 ijliggiw`n, “dizzy.”

7 [kai; pro;” aujto;n], perhaps “and with reference to him (the Baptist), Sav. al). kai; pro;” sev.

8 peripivptein.

9 aujtou`. h(n marturei` peri; ejmou` G. T.

10 diAE uJma`” (not in G. T).

11 gnhvsio”, “genuine.”

12 tw`n pollw`n.

13 eujkolwtevra.

14 hjfavnise.

15 Lit. “unapproachable encounter of that light.”

16 ejpragmateuvsato.

17 oJmovfuloi.

18 uJformou`n).

19 al. “goes on and instills.”

20 politeia.

21 al. “living worthily of.”

[1] In the first century the word gospel (from the Greek euangelion, good news) did not indicate the literary genre of which the work of Mark is perhaps the first example, followed  later by the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, but the announcement of Jesus by the apostles and then by the Christian community. It is a source of joy because announces salvation. The specification of Jesus may refer to both the subject and object of the announcement.

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