sabato 2 dicembre 2017

«Utinam dirumperes caelos et descenderes!»

Today we begin a new liturgical year. In the three-year cycle of readings, 2017-2018 will be the “Year B,” during which we shall read the second of the synoptic gospels, namely Mark. The liturgical year opens with the Advent Season, which is a time of preparation for the commemoration of the first coming of the Lord, two thousand years ago, and likewise a time of expectation of his second coming, at the end of time. Advent usually lasts four weeks; this year it will be shorter—only three weeks—as the fourth Sunday falls on Christmas Eve, December 24. The first two weeks should especially turn us to the second coming of the Lord; the third week instead should be an immediate preparation for the solemnity of Christmas. Today’s readings emphasize some points of the first part of Advent. Saint Paul, in the second reading, says that we are waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is his second coming, and assures us that “he will keep us firm to the end.” The gospel is a call for watchfulness: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We know for certain that the Lord will come; when, we do not know. That is why we have to watch.

But there is a problem. If we consider only these two comings of Christ—the historical one and the so-called eschatological one—maybe we could live Advent lukewarmly: the first coming is a past event—it happened two thousand years ago; the second coming is a future event—most probably it will not take place before our death. Both events look far from us; so, we do not feel involved: Christ came; he will come back; but now he is not around. Maybe for this reason Saint Bernard mentions a third coming of Christ, which 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 the middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.” Intermediate between the past coming and the future coming, there is a present coming of Christ, that we should always desire and await. I think it is from this point of view that we should read the first reading of today’s liturgy. Prophets play an important role in the Advent Season: with their oracles, they predicted the coming of the Messiah. That is why the liturgy every day during this time proposes a passage from their writings. But I think that today’s selection from the prophet Isaiah, besides referring to the first coming of Christ, should be read as referring to the third coming, we were speaking of.

Isaiah is not only talking of the Jews of his time, but of people of every time; he is speaking of us. It is as if God abandoned us, because we abandoned him: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? … Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we are all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind … You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” It seems a description of today’s humankind. Fortunately, there is in those sinners a kind of nostalgia for the past: “You wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” The wonders wrought by God in the history of the Israelites have left a mark in their hearts. In spite of their sin, they still remember that God is their father and redeemer; and they are the work of his hands: “O Lord, you are our father, we are the clay and you are the potter.” It is precisely this awareness to give them the courage to cry out for God’s return: “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down! (Utinam dirumperes caelos et descenderes!)” I think this should become our own prayer: during this Advent, we should acknowledge our sin and our condition, remember the wonders of the Lord, and cry out for his coming: Come, Lord Jesus; come and save us!