(Vatican Radio) Marking the first week of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical
year, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his general audience catechesis to living the season
as an act of faith in God’s benevolent plan for humanity. Emer McCarthy reports listen:
a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis
At the beginning of his letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf.
1, 3-14), the apostle Paul raises a prayer of blessing God, the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ – a prayer that we have just heard - that introduces us to live the season
of Advent, in the context of the faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God's
plan for man, defined in terms full of joy, wonder and gratitude, as a "benevolent
plan" (see 9), mercy and love.
Why does the Apostle raise this blessing God,
from the depths of his heart? Because he looks at his work in the history of salvation,
culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and he contemplates
how Heavenly Father has chosen us even before the creation of the world, to be his
sons in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 8:14 s.; Gal 4:4 f.). Therefore
we exist from eternity in God, in a major project that God has kept within himself
and decided to implement and to reveal in "the fullness of time" (cf. Eph 1:10). St.
Paul helps us to understand, then, how all creation and, in particular, man and woman
are not the result of chance, but a loving plan to respond to the eternal reason of
God with the creative and redemptive power of his Word which creates the world. This
first statement reminds us that our vocation is not simply to exist in the world,
being inserted in history, or even just being a creature of God, it is something greater:
it is being chosen by God, even before the creation of the world, in the Son, Jesus
Christ. In Him we exist, so to speak, already. God contemplates us in Christ, as adopted
children. The "benevolent plan" of God, which is qualified by the Apostle as a "loving
plan" (Eph 1:5), is called "the mystery" of Divine will (v. 9), hidden and now revealed
in the Person and work of Christ. The divine initiative precedes any human response:
it is a free gift of His love that surrounds us and transforms us.
is the ultimate goal of this mysterious plan? What is the centre of God's will? It
is - Saint Paul tells us - to "bring all things back to Christ, the only head" (v.
10). In this expression we find one of the central formulations of the New Testament
that make us understand the plan of God, his plan of love for humanity, a formulation
in the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons placed at the core of his Christology
: "to restore " all reality in Christ. Perhaps some of you remember the formula used
by Pope St. Pius X for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
"Instaurare omnia in Christo", a formula that refers to this Pauline expression,
and that was also the motto of this holy Pontiff . The Apostle, however, speaks more
specifically of restoring the universe in Christ, and this means that in the great
design of creation and history, Christ stands as the center of the entire journey
of the world, the central pillar, that attracts the whole of reality to itself, to
overcome dispersion and limitation and lead everything to the fullness desired by
God (cf. Eph 1:23).
This "benevolent plan" has not been kept, so to speak,
in the silence of God in the height of his heaven, but He has made it known by engaging
with the man, to whom He has not only revealed something, but His very self. He has
not simply communicated a set of truths, but He communicated Himself to us, to the
point of becoming one of us, to being incarnate. The Second Vatican Council in its
Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum affirms: " In His goodness and wisdom God
chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see
Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit
have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature "(n. 2). God not
only says something, He communicates with us, draws us into the divine nature, so
that we are involved in the divine nature, deified. God reveals His great plan of
love engaging with man approaching him to the point of becoming himself is a man.
The Council continues: "The invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks
to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38),
so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself "(ibid.). By his
intelligence and abilities alone man could not have reached this illuminating revelation
of God’s love, it is God who has opened up His heaven and lowered himself to lead
man into the abyss of his love.
As St. Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth:
"What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human
heart, what God has prepared for those who love him," this God has revealed to us
through the Spirit.For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God"(2:9-10).
And St. John Chrysostom, in a famous comment on the beginning of the Letter to the
Ephesians, invites us to enjoy all the beauty of this "benevolent plan" of God revealed
in Christ, and St. John Chrysostom says: " What are you lacking? You have become immortal,
you have become free, you have become a child, you have become righteous, you are
a brother, you have become a joint heir, to reign with Christ, with Christ you are
glorified. Everything is given to us, and - as it is written - "how will he not also
give us everything else along with him?" (Rom 8:32). Your firstfruits (cf. 1 Cor 15,20.23)
is adored by angels [...]: what do you miss? "(PG 62.11).
This communion in
Christ through the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men with the light of Revelation,
is not something that overlaps with our humanity, but it is the fulfilment of the
deepest human longings, of the desire for infinity and fullness that dwells in the
depths of the human being, and opens it up not to a temporary and limited happiness,
but eternal. St. Bonaventure, referring to God who reveals Himself and speaks to us
through Scripture to lead us to Him, says this: "Sacred Scripture is [...] the book
in which the words of eternal life are written so that not only we believe, but may
also possess eternal life, in which we shall see, we shall love and all our wishes
shall be realized "(Breviloquium, Ext., Opera Omnia V, 201S.). And finally, Blessed
Pope John Paul II recalled also that - and I quote - " Revelation has set within history
a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be
known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human
mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith "(Encyclical Fides et
In this perspective, what is then, the act of faith? It is
man's response to God's Revelation, which is made known, which shows His loving plan
for humanity, and is, to use an expression of St. Augustine, allowing ourselves be
grasped by the truth that is God, a truth that is love . This is why St. Paul emphasizes
that we owe God, who has revealed His mystery, "obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26; see
1.5, 2 Cor 10: 5-6), the attitude with which man commits his whole self freely to
God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely
assenting to the truth revealed by Him” (Dei Verbum, 5). Obedience is not an act of
coercion, it letting go, surrendering to the ocean of God's goodness All this leads
to a fundamental change in the way we deal with the whole of reality, everything appears
in a new light, it is therefore a true "conversion," faith is a "change of mentality"
because the God who has revealed Himself in Christ, and has made known His plan, seizes
us, draws us to Himself, becomes the meaning that supports life, the rock on which
it can find stability. In the Old Testament we find an intense expression on faith,
which God entrusts the prophet Isaiah to communicate to the king of Judah, Ahaz. God
says: "Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm" (Is 7.9 b). There is therefore
a link between being and understanding that expresses how faith is a
welcoming into our lives God’s vision of reality, letting God guide us through His
Word and Sacraments to understand what we must do, the path we must take, how to live.
At the same time, however, it is precisely understanding according to God, seeing
with His eyes that makes our lives more solid, which allows us to "stand", not to
Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical season that we have just begun
and that prepares us for Christmas, places us before a the luminous mystery of the
coming of the Son of God, the great "Benevolent Plan" with which he wants to draw
us to Himself, to help us live in full communion of joy and peace with Him Advent
invites us once again, in the midst of many difficulties, to renew our awareness that
God is present: He came into the world, becoming a man like us , to bring His plan
of love to fullness. And God demands that we become a sign of his action in the world.
Through our faith, our hope, our love, He wants to enter the world again and again
He wants to shine His light in our night. Thank you.