At the Angelus on the First Sunday of Advent, 28 November, Pope Francis calls us to “be vigilant” and to persevere in prayer, which “reawakens the soul from sleep” and helps us focus on what is most important in life. Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading which speaks about the Lord’s coming at the end of time, the Holy Father said we are invited to be hopeful and to await for him joyfully, even in the midst of life’s trials and tribulations. The following is a translation of the Pope’s reflection which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel of today’s liturgy, the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in preparation for Christmas, speaks to us about the Lord’s coming at the end of time. Jesus announces bleak and distressing events, but precisely at this point he invites us not to be afraid. Why? Because everything will be okay? No, but because He will come. Jesus will return. He will come. He promised. This is what he says: “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). It is nice to hear this encouraging Word: to stand up straight and raise our heads because right in those moments when everything seems to be ending, the Lord comes to save us; joyfully waiting for him, even in the midst of tribulations, during life’s crises and the dramatic events of history. Waiting for the Lord.
But how do we raise our heads and not become absorbed with difficulties, suffering and defeat? Jesus points the way with a strong reminder: “take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation.... But watch at all times, praying” (Lk 21:34, 36).
“Be vigilant”: vigilance. Let us focus on this important aspect of Christian life. From the words of Christ, we see that vigilance is tied to alertness: be alert, be vigilant, do not get distracted, that is, stay awake! Vigilance means this: not to allow our hearts to become lazy or our spiritual life to soften into mediocrity. Be careful because we can become “sleepy Christians” — and we know there are many Christians who are asleep, Christians who are anaesthetised by spiritual worldliness — Christians without spiritual fervour, without intensity in prayer, — they pray like parrots — without enthusiasm for mission, without passion for the Gospel; Christians who always look inwards, incapable of looking to the horizon. And this leads to “dozing off”: to moving things along by inertia, to falling into apathy, indifferent to everything except what is convenient to us. This is a sad life, going forward this way... there is no happiness there.
We need to be vigilant so that our daily life does not become routine, and, as Jesus says, so we are not weighed down by life’s anxieties (cf. v. 34). Life’s anxieties weigh us down. Today is thus a good moment to ask ourselves: what weighs on my heart? What weighs on my spirit? What makes me settle down on the lazy chair? It is sad to see Christians “in their armchairs”! What are the mediocrities that paralyze me, the vices that crush me to the ground and prevent me from raising my head? And regarding the burdens that weigh on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters, am I attentive to them or indifferent to them? These questions are good for us because they help guard our hearts against sloth. But Father, tell us: what is sloth? It is a great enemy of spiritual life and also of Christian life. Sloth is a type of laziness that makes us fall, and slip into sadness, that takes away the zest for life and the will to do things. It is a negative spirit that traps the soul in apathy, robbing it of joy. It starts with that sadness, one slides and slides downwards and there is no joy. The Book of Proverbs says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23). To guard your heart: this means to be vigilant, to be vigilant! Stay awake and guard your heart.
And let us add an essential ingredient: the secret to being vigilant is prayer. In fact, Jesus says: “watch at all times, praying” (Lk 21:36). Prayer is what keeps the lamp of the heart lit. This is especially true when we feel that our enthusiasm has cooled down. Prayer re-lights it, because it brings us back to God, to the centre of things. Prayer reawakens the soul from sleep and focuses it on what matters, on the purpose of existence. Even during our busiest days, let us not neglect prayer. Recently, I was watching a beautiful reflection on prayer on the [television] programme: “A Sua Immagine” (In his image): it will help us, watching it will be good for us. The prayer of the heart can be helpful for us, repeating often brief invocations. For example, during Advent, we could make a habit of saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Only these words, but saying them: “Come, Lord Jesus”. This time of preparation leading to Christmas is beautiful: let us think of the nativity scene, let us think about Christmas, and let us say from the heart: “Come, Lord Jesus”. Let us repeat this prayer throughout the day and the soul will remain vigilant! “Come, Lord Jesus”, is a prayer we can all say together three times. “Come, Lord Jesus”, “Come, Lord Jesus”, “Come, Lord Jesus”.
And now let us pray to Our Lady: may she who awaited the Lord with a vigilant heart accompany us during our Advent journey.
After the Angelus, the Pope continued:
Dear brothers and sisters, yesterday I met members of associations and groups of migrants, and people who share their journey in a spirit of fraternity. They are here in the Square with that large banner! Welcome! But how many migrants — let us think of this — how many migrants are exposed, even during these days, to great dangers, and how many lose their lives at our borders! I feel sorrow hearing the news about the situation in which so many of them find themselves: those who have died in the English Channel; those on the borders of Belarus, many of whom are children; those who drown in the Mediterranean. There is so much sorrow when thinking about them: of those who were repatriated, in Northern Africa, captured by traffickers who turn them into slaves. They sell the women and torture the men... those who, this week too, have tried to cross the Mediterranean seeking a better land, finding instead their grave there; and so many others. I assure my prayers to the migrants who find themselves in these crisis situations, and also my heart: Prayer and action. I thank all the institutions both of the Catholic Church and elsewhere, especially the national Caritas agencies and all those who are committed to alleviating their suffering. I renew my heartfelt appeal to those who can contribute to the resolution of these problems, especially civil and military authorities, so that understanding and dialogue may finally prevail over any kind of exploitation and guide the will and efforts towards solutions that respect the humanity of these people. Let us remember migrants, their suffering, and let us pray together in silence... (moment of silence).
I greet all of you, pilgrims from Italy and from various countries. There are many flags of various nations. I greet the families, parish groups, and associations. In particular, I greet the faithful from East Timor — I see the flag there — from Poland and from Lisbon; as well as those from Tivoli.
I wish everyone a happy Sunday and a good Advent journey, a good journey towards Christmas, towards the Lord. Please do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch. Arrivederci!