WATCH AND PRAY FOR THE LORD'S RETURN
Pope John Paul II
Homily, December 1, 1996 St. Jerome Emiliani parish, Rome

l. Regem venturum, Dominum, venite adoremus!

With this exhortation, the Advent liturgy brings us each day into the mystery of the God who comes. It speaks of a first and second coming of Christ: the first on the night of Bethlehem, when the Son of God became man and was born of the Virgin Mary, the second will be at the last judgement. Over time, the Church's reflection on the coming of God into the world has been further extended and has recognized a first coming in creation at the beginning of time, and a second in the Incarnation for the redemption of the world.

Both the first and second comings have already taken place, we live however, in expectation of the third coming of Christ, in which creation and redemption will find their definitive fulfilment. He, who redeemed the world once and for all, must achieve the great recapitulation of creation, and especially of human history, in order to bring all things to that fullness which can only be found in God. Regem venturum Dominum, venite adoremus!

2. In the first reading of today's liturgy, the prophet Isaiah announces this coming in a somewhat disturbing way: "Why do you let us wander, O Lord from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? ... Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.... Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags, we have all withered like leaves and our guilt carries us away like the wind" (Is 63:17, l9b, 64:4-5).

It is difficult not to grasp the extraordinary eloquence of this penetrating text that in a certain sense contains the whole theology of Advent. The prophet addresses God the Creator in the name of all creation; he speaks in the name of man, of this particular being created in the image and likeness of God, who is aware of the gifts he has received but also of his own sinfulness and of the deformation wrought in him by sin.

This awareness highlights the deep need of salvation that is in the heart of the human being. The cry for the coming of God is therefore the cry of expectation for the Saviour. The prophet voices it, aware of the fundamental truth of Advent. He knows the mystery of the creation and the elevation of man, he knows his dignity, but he does not forget the reality of his sin.

God wants to reach out to man as his Saviour

Isaiah believes that God wants to save man, he does not want to leave him in sin and in the situation of separation as a result of the original fall God wants to reach out to man as his Saviour. This is the state of mind expressed in today's Gospel acclamation: "Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation" (Ps 84 [85]:8).

3. Dear brothers and sisters of St Jerome Emiliani Parish. Last evening in St Peter's Basilica, I had the joy of inaugurating the preparatory phase of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. And this morning I am pleased to be able to meet your parish which, together with the whole Diocese, is preparing for that event through the great city mission. By carrying out the directives of the recent Diocesan Synod, the city mission is meant to help Romans to open, indeed to open wide, the doors of their hearts and lives to Christ.

I know that there are already over 10,000 men, women, young people and elderly who, in the context of the mission, are preparing to go into the homes and neighbourhoods of the city to announce the Gospel. Today I greet them and I encourage them in the formation they are receiving. The effectiveness of their pastoral task will depend on how they open their own hearts to Jesus the Saviour.

I hope that the programmes on the theme of faith and search for God, the consigning of the Gospel of Mark to every home and the spiritual exercises in parishes during Lent will encourage the acceptance of Jesus by so many who are seeking him perhaps without knowing it.

4. Dear brothers and sisters. I greet you all with affection. I greet the Cardinal Vicar, his Vicegerent, your zealous parish priest, Fr Vincenzo Gorga, and the dear Somaschan Fathers, his co-workers.

Your parish, established during the Holy Year of 1975, is placed under the protection of St Jerome Emiliani, who devoted his whole life to the poor and in particular to the Christian education of abandoned children and young people. Even if the beginnings of your community were not the easiest due to the lack of a suitable site, now, thanks to your extraordinarily generous commitment, you finally have a church and a good parish complex for your numerous pastoral activities. Persevere in your work of catechesis both with children and young people and with the parents of those who approach the sacraments, thus continuing the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to everyone.

'Watch' is the Church's insistent word during Advent

In this pastoral year, during which the Diocese of Rome is paying special attention to young people, I cannot fail to remember the young people who live in this area. Look after them, especially those who are most needy, following the charism of the Somaschan Fathers who were founded in the Church to be at the service of young people in difficulty. And in this regard how can we fail to appreciate the effort that you are making to offer financial assistance to 160 Brazilian children at risk? This initiative is a sign of a missionary sensitivity that spurs you to widen your hearts to the needs of all mankind.

5. Regem venturum, Dominum, venite adoremus! This cry is the first message of the Advent liturgy, which expresses expectation of God's coming; it is answered by the exhortation contained in the Gospel of Mark. Christ, the God who has come, says to those who await his final return: "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come" (Mk 13:33). Let us consider the parable of today's Gospel. It tells of the master who went on a journey and left his home; he entrusted his servants with the care of everything, assigning to each a specific task. Christ extends this task to everyone: "Watch ... for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow, or in the morning-lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch" (Mk 13:35-37).

"Watch": this is the word that the Church proclaims insistently in this liturgical season. It is not only a joyful expectation of the night of the Lord's birth, but of the accomplishment of the whole work of redemption begun in Bethlehem. The announcement of salvation is the mission entrusted to the Church and to men, who know that they were redeemed at the cost of Christ's sacrifice and thus brought into the eschatological dimension of God's kingdom.

This awareness should heighten their sense of special responsibility. This is exactly what the word "watch" means: watch because the Lord will come! On this earth human life has its temporal end but also its eschatological beginning. This is well emphasized by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium when it states that we are all called to prepare the final fulfilment which Christ will accomplish at the end of time (cf. n. 48).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us watch and pray to be ready; let us watch and pray together with the whole Church. We will thus be ready to welcome the Lord who comes.

Amen!


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