POPE FRANCIS ON THE 4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT C.
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 19 December 2021
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The Gospel of the Liturgy of today, fourth Sunday of Advent, tells of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1: 39-45). After receiving the annunciation of the angel, the Virgin does not stay at home, thinking over what has happened and considering the problems and pitfalls, which were certainly not lacking: because, poor girl, she did not know what to do with this news, with the culture of that age… She did not understand… On the contrary, she first thinks of someone in need; instead of being absorbed in her own problems, she thinks about someone in need, she thinks about Elizabeth, her relative, who was of advanced years and with child, something strange and miraculous. Mary sets out on with generosity, without letting herself be put off by the discomforts of the journey, responding to an inner impulse that called her to be close and to help. A long road, kilometre after kilometre, and there was no bus to go there: she went on foot. She went out to help. How? By sharing her joy. Mary gives Elizabeth the joy of Jesus, the joy she carried in her heart and in her womb. She goes to her and proclaims her feelings, and this proclamation of feelings then became a prayer, the Magnificat, which we all know. And the text says that Our Lady “arose and went with haste” (v. 39).
She arose and went. In the last stretch of the journey of Advent, let us be guided by these two verbs. To arise and to go in haste: these are the two movements that Mary made and that she invites us also to make as Christmas approaches. First of all, arise. After the angel’s announcement, a difficult period loomed ahead for the Virgin: her unexpected pregnancy exposed her to misunderstandings and even severe punishment, even stoning, in the culture of that time. Imagine how many concerns and worries she had! Nevertheless, she did not become discouraged, she was not disheartened: she arose. She did not look down at her problems, but up to God. And she did not think about whom to ask for help, but to whom to bring help. She always thinks about others: that is Mary, always thinking of the needs of others. She will do the same later, at the wedding in Cana, when she realizes that there is no more wine. It is a problem for other people, but she thinks about this and looks for a solution. Mary always thinks about others. She also thinks of us.
Let us learn from Our Lady this way of reacting: to get up, especially when difficulties threaten to crush us. To arise, so as not to get bogged down in problems, sinking into self-pity or falling into a sadness that paralyses us. But why get up? Because God is great and is ready to lift us up if we reach out to Him. So let us cast away the negative thoughts, the fears that block every impulse and that prevent us from moving forward. And then let’s do as Mary did: let’s look around and look for someone to whom we can be of help! Is there an elderly person I know to whom I can give a little help, company? Everyone, think about it. Or to offer a service to someone, a kindness, a phone call? But who can I help? I get up and I help. By helping others, we help ourselves to rise up from difficulties.
The second movement is to go in haste. This does not mean to proceed with agitation, in a hurried manner, no, it does not mean this. Instead, it means conducting our days with a joyful step, looking ahead with confidence, without dragging our feet, as slaves to complaints – these complaints ruin so many lives, because one starts complaining and complaining, and life drains away. Complaining leads you always to look for someone to blame. On her way to Elizabeth’s house, Mary proceeds with the quick step of one whose heart and life are full of God, full of his joy. So, let us ask ourselves, for our benefit: how is my “step”? Am I proactive or do I linger in melancholy, in sadness? Do I move forward with hope or do I stop and feel sorry for myself? If we proceed with the tired step of grumbling and talking, we will not bring God to anyone, we will only bring bitterness and dark things. Instead, it does great good to cultivate a healthy sense of humour, as did, for example, Saint Thomas More or Saint Philip Neri. We can also ask for this grace, this grace of a healthy sense of humour: it does so much good. Let us not forget that the first act of charity we can do for our neighbour is to offer him a serene and smiling face. It is to bring them the joy of Jesus, as Mary did with Elizabeth.
May the Mother of God take us by the hand, and may she help us to arise and to go in haste towards Christmas!
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 23 December 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The liturgy of this Fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on the figure of Mary, the Virgin Mother, expecting the birth of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Let us fix our gaze upon her, a model of faith and of charity; and we can ask ourselves: what were her thoughts in the months while she was expecting? The answer comes precisely from today’s Gospel passage, the narrative of Mary’s visit to her elderly relative Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1:39-45). The Angel Gabriel had revealed that Elizabeth was expecting a son and was already in her sixth month (cf. Lk 1:26, 36). So the Virgin, who had just conceived Jesus by the power of God, set out with haste for Nazareth, in Galilee, to reach the mountains of Judea, and visit her cousin.
The Gospel states: “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (v. 40). Surely she congratulated her on her maternity, as in turn Elizabeth congratulated Mary, saying: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vv. 42-43). And she immediately lauds Mary’s faith: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45). The contrast is obvious between Mary, who had faith, and Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, who doubted, and did not believe the angel’s promise and therefore is left dumb until John’s birth. It is a contrast.
This episode helps us to interpret the mystery of man’s encounter with God in a very special light. An encounter that is not characterized by astonishing miracles, but rather, is characterized by faith and charity. Indeed, Mary is blessed because she believed: the encounter with God is the fruit of faith. Zechariah, however, who doubted and did not believe, was left deaf and dumb. To grow in faith during the long silence: without faith one remains inevitably deaf to the consoling voice of God; and incapable of speaking words of consolation and hope to our brothers and sisters. We see it every day: when people who have no faith, or who have very little faith, have to approach a person who is suffering, they speak words suited to the occasion, but they do not manage to touch the heart because they have no strength. They have no strength because they have no faith, and if they have no faith they do not find the words that can touch others’ hearts. Faith, in its turn, is nourished by charity. The Evangelist recounts that “Mary arose and went with haste” (v. 39) to Elizabeth: with haste, not with distress, not anxiously, but with haste, in peace. “She arose”: a gesture full of concern. She could have stayed at home to prepare for the birth of her son, but instead she takes care of others before herself, showing through her deeds that she is already a disciple of that Lord whom she carries in her womb. The event of Jesus’ birth began in this way, with a simple gesture of charity; after all, authentic charity is always the fruit of God’s love.
The Gospel passage about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, which we heard at Mass today, prepares us to experience Christmas properly, by communicating to us the dynamism of faith and charity. This dynamism is the work of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of Love who made Mary’s virginal womb fruitful and who spurred her to hasten to the service of her elderly relative. A dynamism full of joy, as seen in the encounter between the two mothers, which is entirely a hymn of joyful exultation in the Lord, who does great things with the little ones who trust in him.
May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace to experience an ‘extroverted’ Christmas, but not a scattered one: extroverted. May our ‘I’ not be at the centre, but rather the ‘You’ of Jesus and the ‘you’ of brothers and sisters, especially of those who need a hand. Then we will leave room for the Love that, even today, seeks to become flesh and to come to dwell in our midst.
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 20 December 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The Gospel for this Sunday of Advent highlights the figure of Mary. We see her when, just after having conceived in faith the Son of God, she makes the long trip from Nazareth, in Galilee, to the hill country of Judah, to visit and help her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel had revealed to her that her elderly relative, who did not have children, was in her sixth month of pregnancy (cf. Lk 1:26-36). That’s why Our Lady, who carried within her a gift and an even greater mystery, goes to see Elizabeth and stays with her for three months. In the meeting between these two women — one old and the other young — it is the young one, Mary, who offers the first greeting. The Gospel says: “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:40). After this greeting, Elizabeth feels enveloped in great astonishment — don’t forget this word, astonishment. Astonishment. Elizabeth feels enveloped in great astonishment which is echoed in these words: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). And they embrace and kiss each other, joyfully, these two women. The elderly woman and the young one, both pregnant.
To celebrate Christmas in a fruitful manner, we are called to pause in “places” of astonishment. And what are these places of astonishment in everyday life? There are three. The first place is the other, in whom we recognize a brother or sister, because since the birth of Jesus occurred, every face is marked with a semblance to the Son of God. Above all when it is the face of the poor, because God entered the world poor, and it was to the poor, in the first place, that he allowed himself to draw near.
Another place of astonishment — the second place in which, if we look with faith, we actually feel astonishment, is history. So many times we think we see it the right way, and instead we risk reading it backwards. It happens, for example, when history seems to us to be determined by the market economy, regulated by finance and business, dominated by the powers that be. The God of Christmas is instead a God who “shuffles the cards” — he likes doing so! As Mary sings in the Magnificat, it is the Lord who puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of low degree, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (cf. Lk 1:52-53). This is the second type of astonishment, astonishment in history.
The third place of astonishment is the Church. To look on her with the astonishment of faith means not limiting oneself to consider her only as a religious institution, which she is, but to feel her as a mother who, despite her blemishes and wrinkles — we have so many of them! — allows the features of the beloved bride purified by Christ the Lord to shine through. A Church that is able to recognize the many signs of faithful love that God continuously sends her. A Church for which the Lord Jesus will never be a possession to be jealously protected; those who do this err. The Lord Jesus will always be the One who comes to meet her and whom she knows how to await with trust and joy, giving voice to the hope of the world. The Church that calls to the Lord, “Come Lord Jesus”. The Mother Church that always has her doors open wide, and her arms open to welcome everyone. Moreover, Mother Church goes out from her own doors to seek with a mother’s smile all those who are far and bring them to the mercy of God. This is the astonishment of Christmas.
At Christmas, God gives us all of himself by giving his Only Son, who is all his joy. It is only with the heart of Mary, the humble and poor daughter of Zion, who became the Mother of the Son of the Most High, that it is possible to rejoice and be glad for the great gift of God and for his unpredictable surprise. May she help us to perceive the astonishment — these three wonders: the other, history and the Church — through the birth of Jesus, the gift of gifts, the undeserved gift who brings us salvation. The encounter with Jesus will enable us too to feel this great astonishment. We cannot have this astonishment, however, we cannot encounter Jesus, if we do not encounter him in others, in history and in the Church.
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