The Fall of the Damned – Bosch, Venice
With Open Eyes, Astonished and New
Paris, November 29, 2013 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Vigilance and discernment
In the Canticle of the Sun (recited in the liturgy of the Hours during Advent), Saint Francis of Assisi expresses his contemplation of the world and elevates his praise to God calling Him “Most high, all powerful, all good.” In Revelation God calls himself with a name that better explains what Advent is: God is “The One that is, was and will be.”
It is very important to meditate on the aspect of the God “that comes” because he did get in touch with men and continues to do so with constant love. We are waiting for the coming of the Lord and, maybe, we believe that it will happen only when we die or at the end of the world. However we should know that God comes always, today, tomorrow and forever in eternity. For this reason our soul should always live the continuous surprise of the encounter with the Lord.
The first thing we should do is a vivid attention, a constant waiting for the Lord and a perseverant tension toward Him who is the loving Truth of our life.
This is why today’s liturgy invites us to be vigil by proposing the text from the Gospel of Matthew. We are reminded that we cannot plan our encounter with Christ but must wait for it leaving in our life room also for His presence.
Christian vigilance if done with eyes open and capable of wonder, allows us to read into the events so to discover through discernment the “coming” of the Lord.
To be vigilant doesn’t mean to go inside oneself but to go outside oneself to meet a God, who comes and donates himself and, I dare say, abandons himself to us.
The word “vigilance’ doesn’t indicate something to do, but a way of living and observing. We don’t know when the master is coming and consequently we cannot plan neither the imminence of his return or the tardiness of it. It is silly to act as the wicked servant who, thinking that the master was delayed, began “to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with the drunkards” (Mt 24:44). In this narration the lack of vigilance is indicated having two characteristics: a dissolute life and abuse of other men. If we are satisfied with material things we close our eyes with a sleepiness that makes us miss the appointment with God. If we lord others we become slaves of power and even if our eyes are open, our heart is closed. If we are clear-headed and awake, our eyes are open, full of wonder, new and able to see Christ our joy who comes to live with us.
The joy of Advent is the joy of the waiting for the encounter of love with the Love that has wrapped us with his warm even before we were born and, through our mother, has given us life.
We are not like the ones that hopelessly and nostalgically let the Saturday evening disappear because they do not remember the coming Sunday. The Christian knows that the eternal Sunday is near. The Christian has the joyful prediction in the certitude that comes from the participation to the supernatural life through the sacraments and the life of communion with the Church.
We are happy because we know that the Loved One comes; in fact he goes before us. The waiting for Christ is not like the uncertain waiting of the loved one. In the human love there is uneasiness in waiting often because of the angst that he will not come or that he doesn’t love us any more or that he has gone away because of another person.
The Christian waiting is the waiting full of the certain hope that the Loved One loves us fully and always.
2 See, walk, illuminate
One must wait for the Lord persevering and being a witness, not speculating over the end of the world. The life of the consecrated Virgins is an example of this.
Be vigilant, says Jesus. It happens that we are asleep to what concerns God, even the Virgins in the parable were asleep, and this is why our Christian life then is very poor. If God comes we don’t see it. One of the most severe faults of the spiritual life is that we are asleep. The soul must be awake, attentive and vigilant in prayer to be able to recognize the coming of Christ among us. If we open our eyes, purified from the sin that makes us obtuse, we can recognize the good and loving face of Destiny, even if outside it is still dark.
The key word of Advent is “vigilance” which I think is the fundamental attitude of a consecrated person. The one that in the waiting falls asleep is closed in on himself and doesn’t perceive the reality outside but only the reflected shades of his mind. However, if at the cry of “The bridegroom is coming”, he wakes up and perceives the reality surrounding him, he opens himself to it, abandons the boundaries of the road where he had fallen asleep and puts himself on the Way. This is what the consecrated Virgins do.
In our times we are convinced to be very “awake”, much more than our predecessors because we have a better knowledge of the world and our eye reaches the most far away distances either spatial or temporal. At the same time we can enter into the deepest corner of matter, up to the last particles that make it up. The horizon has been enlarged enormously as are our possibilities of action in this world. Despite this, however, we should say that this world, in a deeper sense, sleeps. It is closed on itself because it sees only what it can do or have and stops at the exterior facade of reality, at the material things that we hold in our hands.
The virginal consecration above all, but already the baptismal one, makes us able to see the transparence of divine light inside the created matter and inside ourselves.
Thanks to Advent, the Church makes us listen to the word of the Lord that urges us to wake up, to get out from this jail of the material and the ephemeral, to open our eyes of our heart and to begin seeing the greatest reality, the sign of God in the world and God’s presence in Jesus Christ the Lord, in his words and in the sacraments.
The consequence of this invitation is to proceed on the Way that is Christ opening the eyes of the heart and helping our friends, our enemies and our peers so that they can start seeing the true depth and the true greatness of reality.
To see means also to “start walking” and consequently from the word vigilance comes the other one typical of Advent: “to meet the Lord” as did the Virgins in the parable. Faith is not the acceptance of ideas but an adventure of life, a journey, a walk towards the Lord. The journey outward should be above all an inner journey, going out of oneself to meet God, true reality, love and our neighbor.
The third thing to do during Advent is: to illuminate. The word of God who is called Light, invites us to light the lamps of our being to reach the Lord. What does that mean? If we look at the history of the Church and at the one of the saints, we see that these people are lighted “lamps’’ that illuminate the world. They not only illuminate our time, but also will be light in the eternal feast of God’s love.
The consecrated Virgins are truly lighted lamps that brighten, let us see that there is light and
that mankind is not a failed creature but can be similar to God. We are similar to God if we walk along the path of love because God is love. Let’s pray Jesus the Lord to illuminate us, to let us listen and to fulfill his Word. Doing so we will be more and more aware to be his sons and daughters and we will do his works of wisdom and divine charity.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Excerpt from Sermo 5 In Adventum Domini
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.
From a commentary of St Augustine on Psalm 95
Then all the trees of the forest will exult before the face of the Lord, for he has come, he has come to judge the earth. He has come the first time, and he will come again. At his first coming, his own voice declared in the gospel: Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds. What does he mean by hereafter? Does he not mean that the Lord will come at a future time when all the nations of the earth will be striking their breasts in grief? Previously he came through his preachers, and he filled the whole world. Let us not resist his first coming, so that we may not dread the second.
What then should the Christian do? He ought to use the world, not become its slave. And what does this mean? It means having, as though not having. So says the Apostle: My brethren, the appointed time is short: from now on let those who have wives live as though they had none; and those who mourn as though they were not mourning; and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing; and those who buy as though they had no goods; and those who deal with this world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I wish you to be without anxiety. He who is without anxiety waits without fear until his Lord comes. For what sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? Brothers, do we not have to blush for shame? We love him, yet we fear his coming. Are we really certain that we love him? Or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins and love him who will exact punishment for them. He will come whether we wish it or not. Do not think that because he is not coming just now, he will not come at all. He will come, you know not when; and provided he finds you prepared, your ignorance of the time of his coming will not be held against you.
All the trees of the forest will exult. He has come the first time, and he will come again to judge the earth; he will find those rejoicing who believed in his first coming, for he has come.
He will judge the world with equity and the peoples in his truth. What are equity and truth? He will gather together with him for the judgement his chosen ones, but the others he will set apart; for he will place some on his right, others on his left. What is more equitable, what more true than that they should not themselves expect mercy from the judge, who themselves were unwilling to show mercy before the judge’s coming. Those, however, who were willing to show mercy will be judged with mercy. For it will be said to those placed on his right: Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. And he reckons to their account their works of mercy: For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you gave medrink.
What is imputed to those placed on his left side? That they refused to show mercy. And where will they go? Depart into the everlasting fire. The hearing of this condemnation will cause much wailing. But what has another psalm said? The just man will be held in everlasting remembrance; he will not fear the evil report. What is the evil report? Depart into the everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. Whoever rejoices to hear the good report will not fear the bad. This is equity, this is truth.
Or do you, because you are unjust, expect the judge not to be just? Or because you are a liar, will the truthful one not be true? Rather, if you wish to receive mercy, be merciful before he comes; forgive whatever has been done against you; give of your abundance. Of whose possessions do you give, if not from his? If you were to give of your own, it would be largess; but since you give of his, it is restitution. For what do you have, that you have not received? These are the sacrifices most pleasing to God: mercy, humility, praise, peace, charity. Such as these, then, let us bring and, free from fear, we shall await the coming of the judge who will judge the world in equity and the peoples in his truth.
The Canticle of the Sun
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms,
and all the weather, through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve Him with great humility.