El Greco – The Annunciation
Advent as Encounter With Christ by Meeting John the Baptist and Mary
Paris, December 06, 2013 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Meeting John to encounter Jesus
Thanks to the liturgy of the Roman Rite for the 2nd Sunday of Advent and to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we are called to meet two people that played a role in the preparation for the encounter of the Lord with humanity, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
The last Prophet of the Old Testament, in order to preach, went into the desert from where his voice called the Jews to penance. Let’s meet him in the silence of our heart to receive the announcement of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. To us too he “foresees” the coming of the Messiah scolding us sinners, who despite all go to him. Let’s recognize that the exterior cleansing done by the Baptist is almost the beginning of the interior purification.
The preaching of this magnetic and gruff person charmed many, even if he behaved in a not seductive way because he dressed poorly and spoke harshly. Despite that to his contemporaries he appeared as the last hope for a desperate people. Many understood the truth of his duty that was to “prepare the way of the Lord” announcing his imminent coming. He presented himself as the Voice speaking in the desert dressed with unrefined garments and with a leather belt around his waist. He didn’t invite men to be like him. To prepare the way of the Lord is something else. This is what John the Baptist was saying: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand… And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down.“ To meet and to imitate him means to have pure eyes just like his, to be able to say with him and like him “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.
There are two things that John says must be done urgently: to convert and not to remain in the illusory certitude of a belonging where we stay with humility and constant conversion. To convert is a word that demands the change of behavior and mind.
It is not only a change in the moral behavior, but also it is an intellectual change; I dare say a theological one because it implies a new way of thinking of God.
Conversion is not an exterior or partial change but a reorientation of the entire human being. It is a real transition from selfishness to love, from the defense of oneself to the donation of oneself. It is a passage so groundbreaking that it is incompatible with the old structures (mental, religious and social) in the same way in which the new wine cannot be put in the old caskets.
The evangelic conversion is also religiosity: it is not in the confrontation with him that man discovers the measure and the direction of his change but in the reference to the project of God. The first movement is not the one of man towards God, but the one of God towards man; it is the movement of grace that makes possible the change of man and offers the example of it.
Finally we must understand the profound humanity of the evangelic conversion: to convert means to return home, it is a recovery of humanity and a regain of identity. In converting man is not lost but is found and is freed from the alienations that destroy him.
The two first lectures of today’s liturgy in the Roman Rite offer concrete indication regarding conversion necessary to prepare oneself for the coming of the Lord: 1. to be poor 2. to be welcoming. Isaiah (first reading) prophesizes a new germ of humanity that “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted” (Is 1:3-4) and Saint Paul invites “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you” (Rm 15:17)
2) Meeting Mary to meet her Son
The person that made the new humanity arise and welcomes us as Christ did is the Virgin Mary. We celebrate her in the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the divine salvation that had been given to us.
What does “Conceived without sin” mean? Mary is the one who has welcomed the Gift from Heaven, the Son of God with complete and unlimited readiness, openness and availability that is without limits and without conditions. Mary’s “yes” has been freely and unconditionally said by an unblemished young woman to the unblemished God.
It is imperative also to answer to another question “What is original sin?” It is the moral deficiency of every man that is born as a member of humanity. Every one of us knows it and often we say ”It is human to make mistakes” and “We cannot do more than that, I do what I can.” In saying so we fall and desire to be able to do more and to be more. If we look at Mary we can see that this desire is not utopia.
It is true; she is the “All Holy,” the “Full of Grace.” In an exceptional way she is not involved even in the shade of sin because she must conceive, give birth and educate the child that has that burden to take away the sin from the world. She is the “Door to Heaven.” In the heart of Advent, in faith, Mary becomes the door through which the Word enters into the world then is united to Christ-Door that let us, repented sinners enter in Heaven.
Let’s love Mary of Nazareth, first fruit of the Christian virginity. Humble and poor, Mary became by a singular privilege and her faithfulness to God’s call, the virgin mother of the Son of God. In that let the consecrated Virgins be of example to others. During the Rite of Consecration the Bishop says, ”You have renounced marriage for the sake of Christ. Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the spirit” cooperating with love to the evangelization of man and to his promotion.
For the consecrated virgin, as Saint Leandro of Seville says, Christ is all, “spouse, brother, friend, part of the inheritance, prize, God and Lord” (Regula Sancti Leandri, Introduction). This is what the consecrated virgin reminds and teaches us in her daily life with a lifestyle of humility, charity, service and joyful availability, tireless love for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the entire humanity.
The entrance of the Messiah
From commentary on Isaiah
by Eusebius of Caesarea
(Cap. 40: PG 24, 366-367)
The voice in the wilderness
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.” The prophecy makes clear that it is to be fulfilled, not in Jerusalem but in the wilderness: it is there that the glory of the Lord is to appear, and God’s salvation is to be made known to all mankind. It was in the wilderness that God’s saving presence was proclaimed by John the Baptist, and there that God’s salvation was seen. The words of this prophecy were fulfilled when Christ and his glory were made manifest to all: after his baptism the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rested on him, and the Father’s voice was heard, bearing witness to the Son: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” The prophecy meant that God was to come to a deserted place, inaccessible from the beginning. None of the pagans had any knowledge of God, since his holy servants and prophets were kept from approaching them. The voice commands that a way be prepared for the Word of God: the rough and trackless ground is to be made level, so that our God may find a highway when he comes. “Prepare the way of the Lord”: the way is the preaching of the Gospel, the new message of consolation, ready to bring to all mankind the knowledge of God’s saving power. ”Climb on a high mountain, bearer of good news to Zion. Lift up your voice in strength, bearer of good news to Jerusalem.” These words harmonise very well with the meaning of what has gone before. They refer opportunely to the evangelists and proclaim the coming of God to men, after speaking of the voice crying in the wilderness. Mention of the evangelists suitably follows the prophecy on John the Baptist. What does Zion mean if not the city previously called Jerusalem? This is the mountain referred to in that passage from Scripture: Here is mount Zion, where you dwelt. The Apostle says: You have come to mount Zion. Does not this refer to the company of the apostles, chosen from the former people of the circumcision? This is the Zion, the Jerusalem, that received God’s salvation. It stands aloft on the mountain of God, that is, it is raised high on the only-begotten Word of God. It is commanded to climb the high mountain and announce the word of salvation. Who is the bearer of the good news but the company of the evangelists? What does it mean to bear the good news but to preach to all nations, but first of all to the cities of Judah, the coming of Christ on earth?