Third Sunday of Advent, Year A – Gaudete Sunday.
In his moving homily for the Inauguration of his Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke these words:
The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. […] The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.
The deserts of our lives
The geography of salvation
Isaiah 35:1-10 announces the end of the Babylonian captivity, presenting a stirring vision of deliverance, freedom, and salvation. The prophet recalls the joyous memories of the exodus from Egypt. A second exodus is in store, symbolized by the healing granted to the blind, the dead, the lame, and the mute. Isaiah, Israel’s singer of hope, captured the paradox of barrenness and rejoicing – the paradox of Advent – as no other poet has. Scanning the southern Negev desert’s gnarled surface he saw a vision of God’s new creation: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…” (35:1).
God has revealed himself to us not only in specific periods of time, but also in very particular places in creation. For many Christians, these very places conjure up images of shepherds and olive trees, high walls and enclosed, ancient cities and towns as they existed in the age of King David or Bethlehem at the time of Jesus. The Holy Land is a land without history, its people and places frozen in a biblical time frame, or locked in an unending political battle. As Catholics, we have a double obligation to thaw out the frozen biblical time frame and make it accessible and inviting for Christians.
A visit to the Holy Land reminds us that we are caught up not only in the History of Salvation but also in the Geography of Salvation. Both the story of our own lives, coupled with the biblical stories, show us how God can write straight with our crooked lines. The best-selling Holy Land Guides do not bear witness. They merely indicate. Only people, not stones and marbles can bear the most authentic and eloquent witness that at one shining moment in history, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. And we continue in our day to behold his glory.
As we call to mind the Word of God who became flesh in the womb of Mary of Nazareth, our heart now turns to the land where the mystery of our salvation was accomplished, and from which the word of God spread to the ends of the earth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word became flesh in a specific time and place, in a strip of land on the edges of the Roman Empire. The more we appreciate the universality and the uniqueness of Christ’s person, the more we look with gratitude to that land where Jesus was born, where he lived and where he gave his life for us. The stones on which our Redeemer walked are still charged with his memory and continue to “cry out” the Good News. For this reason, the Synod Fathers recalled the felicitous phrase that speaks of the Holy Land as “the Fifth Gospel.” How important it is that in those places there be Christian communities, notwithstanding any number of hardships! The Synod of Bishops expressed profound closeness to all those Christians who dwell in the land of Jesus and bear witness to their faith in the Risen One. Christians there are called to serve not only as “a beacon of faith for the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom, and equilibrium in the life of a society which traditionally has been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.”
The Holy Land today remains a goal of pilgrimage for the Christian people, a place of prayer and penance, as was testified to in antiquity by authors like Saint Jerome. The more we turn our eyes and our hearts to the earthly Jerusalem, the more will our yearning be kindled for the heavenly Jerusalem, the true goal of every pilgrimage, along with our eager desire that the name of Jesus, the one name which brings salvation, may be acknowledged by all (cf. Acts 4:12).
The Sunday of rejoicing