“Advent … reminds us again and again that God is not removed from the world, He is not absent, we were not left to ourselves, but He comes to us in different ways, which we need to learn to discern”, said Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday. During his general audience, the Holy Father spoke of the season of preparation for Christmas and what it teaches us about our faith. “With our faith, our hope and our charity, are called every day to see and bear witness to this presence, in an often superficial and distracted world, to reflect in our lives the light that illuminated the cave of Bethlehem”.
Below is a translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis:
God Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in the last catechesis I spoke of God's revelation as His communicating of Himself and His loving plan. This Revelation of God is inserted into human time and history: a history that becomes "the arena where we see what God does for humanity. God comes to us in the things we know best and can verify most easily, the things of our everyday life, apart from which we cannot understand ourselves"(John Paul II, Enc. Fides et Ratio, 12).
The Evangelist Mark reports, clearly and synthetically, the initial moments of Jesus' preaching: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). What illuminates and gives full meaning to the history of the world and man begins to shine in the cave of Bethlehem; it is the mystery that we will soon contemplate at Christmas: Salvation which is realized in Jesus Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth, God shows his face and asks man to decide to recognize and follow Him. God’s revealing Himself in history in order to enter into a relationship of loving dialogue with man, gives new meaning to the entire human journey. History is not just a succession of centuries, years, days, but it is the time of a presence that gifts it full meaning and opens it up to a solid hope.
Where can we read the stages of this revelation of God? Sacred Scripture is the best place to discover the events of this journey, and I - once again - invite everyone, in this Year of Faith, to take up the Bible more often and meditate on it and pay more attention to the readings in Sunday Mass, all of which is valuable nourishment for our faith.
Reading the Old Testament we see how God's intervention in the history of the people he has chosen and with whom he establishes a covenant are not actions that pass and are forgotten, but become "memory", constituting the "history of salvation" kept alive in the consciousness of the people of Israel through the celebration of the salvific events. Thus, in the Book of Exodus, the Lord tells Moses to celebrate the great moment of liberation from slavery in Egypt, the Passover, with these words: "This day will be a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD; you will celebrate it as a statute forever"(12:14). For all the people of Israel remembering what God has done becomes a sort of permanent imperative so much so that the passage of time is marked by the living memory of past events so that day by day they form the new history and remain present. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses spoke to the people, saying, "be on your guard and be very careful not to forget the things your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart as long as you live, but make them known to your children and to your children’s children"(4.9). And so he says to us: "Be careful not to forget the things that God has done for us”. Faith is fuelled by the discovery and the memory of the God who is always faithful, who guides history and is the sure and stable foundation on which to build their lives. The Magnificat, which the Virgin Mary raies to God, is one of the highest examples of the history of salvation. Mary praises God’s merciful action within the concrete journey of His people, fidelity to the covenant promises made to Abraham and his seed, and all of this is living memory of the Divine presence that never fails (cf. Luke 1:46-55 ).
For Israel, the Exodus is the central historical event in which God reveals his powerful action. God frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt so that they can return to the Promised Land and worship Him as the one true God. Israel does not start out to be a people like other people, to have a national independence, but to serve God in worship and in life, to create a place where God is present and adored in the world and man is obedient to Him, and of course not only for them but in the midst of other peoples. And the celebration of this event is a way of making Him present and actual, because God's work is never lacking. He is faithful to his plan of liberation and continues to pursue it, so that man can recognize and serve his Lord and respond with faith and love to His actions.
God thus reveals Himself not only in the primordial act of creation, but entering in our history, in the history of a small nation that was neither the largest nor the strongest. And this revelation of God culminates in Jesus Christ: God, the Logos, the creative Word which is the origin of the world, became incarnate in Jesus and showed the true face of God. Jesus fulfils every promise, God's history with humanity culminates in him. When we read the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as told by St. Luke, we clearly see how the person of Christ illuminates the Old Testament, the whole history of salvation and shows the great unified design of the two Testaments. In fact, Jesus explains to the two lost and disappointed travellers that He is the fulfilment of every promise: "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures" (24:27). The Evangelist describes the exclamation of the two disciples after recognizing that their companion was the Lord: "Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us" ( 32).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the stages of Divine Revelation synthetically showing its development (cf. nn. 54-64): God invited man from the beginning to intimate communion with Him and even when man disobeyed Him and lost His friendship, God never abandoned him to the power of death, but again and again offered a covenant to man ( Roman Missal, Euc. Prayer IV). The Catechism retraces the path of God’s journey with man from His alliance with Noah after the flood, to His call to Abraham to leave his land become father to a multitude of nations. God formed Israel as His people, through the event of the Exodus, the Covenant of Sinai and the gift, through Moses, of the Law to be recognized and served as the one true and living God. With the prophets, God leads his people in the hope of salvation, through the second Isaiah we know of the second exodus, the return from exile in Babylon, the promised land, the re-establishment of the people and at the same time many remain dispersed and so begins the universality of this faith. In the end they are no longer waiting for just a king, David, a son of David, but the son of man, the salvation of all peoples, intercultural encounters take place first with Babylon and Syria, and then also with the Greek multitude. Thus we see how God’s journey is growing, becoming more open to the mystery of Christ, King of the universe. Finally, in Christ the Revelation in its fullness is realized, God’s loving plan in which He becomes one of us.
I have reflected on remembering the action of God in human history, to show the stages of this great plan of love demonstrated in the Old and New Testament: one plan of salvation addressed to all humanity, progressively revealed and realized by the power of God This is crucial for our journey of faith. We are in the liturgical season of Advent which prepares us for Christmas. As we all know, the word "Advent" means "coming", "presence", and once upon a time indicated the arrival of the king or emperor to a particular province. For us Christians it possesses a truly wonderful and stirring meaning : God has left His Heaven and come down to earth for man; forged an alliance with him coming into the history of a people, He is the king who came down to this poor province that is the earth, and gifted us with His visit, taking on human flesh and becoming man like us. Advent invites us to follow the path of this presence and reminds us again and again that God is not removed from the world, He is not absent, we were not left to ourselves, but He comes to us in different ways, which we need to learn to discern. And we, with our faith, our hope and our charity, are called every day to see and bear witness to this presence, in an often superficial and distracted world, to reflect in our lives the light that illuminated the cave of Bethlehem!
I offer a cordial welcome to the newly professed Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. My greeting also goes to the group of visitors from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Finally, a thought for the young, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization. Dear young people, learn to love and hope at the school of Mary, dear sick people, the Blessed Virgin is comfort and companionship in your suffering and you, dear newlyweds, entrust to the Mother of Jesus, your marital journey. Upon all pilgrims present at today’s Audience I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.