VATICAN CITY – On Sunday Pope Francis kicked off the Church’s Advent season saying it is a time to let go of the worldly distractions that take us away from God, and focus on growing closer to him through prayer and concern for others.
Referring to the day’s readings, which stress the importance of being vigilant, the pope said “the watchful person is one who, in the noise of the world, does not let themselves be overwhelmed by distraction or superficiality, but lives in a full and conscious way, with a concern above all for others.”
With this attitude, we quickly become aware “of the tears and necessity of our neighbor and we can also welcome the human and spiritual qualities and capacities,” he said, adding that an attentive person, “also turns to the world, trying to counteract indifference and the cruelty of it, rejoicing in the treasures of beauty that also exist and must be preserved.”
Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address, which took place on the first Sunday of Advent.
He focused his address on the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, in which Jesus tells his disciples to “Be watchful! Be alert!,” because “you do not know when the time will come.”
Advent, he said, is a time given to us “to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us, to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare ourselves for the return of Christ.”
Christ will return again at Christmas, when we remember how he came to us “in the humility of the human condition.” However, Christ also comes to each of us “every time we are disposed to receive him,” Francis said, and “he will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.
“Because of this, we must always be watchful and attentive to the Lord with the hope of meeting him.”
Turning to the Gospel, when Jesus urges his disciples, and each of us, to “be watchful and alert,” Francis said the person who is vigilant and alert is the one “who welcomes the invitation to watch, that is, not to let themselves be overwhelmed by the sleep of discouragement, the lack of hope, or by delusions.”
At the same time, this person also rejects “the solicitation of the vanities of which the world overflows and behind which, at times, personal and familiar serenity are sacrificed.”
Francis then turned to the day’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah, in which the prophet described how for the people of Israel, it seemed that God had left them alone to wander on paths that were far from his own.
However, “this was an effect of the infidelity of the people themselves,” he said, explaining that we often find ourselves in the same state of infidelity to God’s call: “he shows us the good path, the path of faith and love, but we look for our happiness somewhere else.”
So to be watchful and alert, then, “are the presuppositions” to stop wandering on paths that are far from God, “lost in our sins and in our infidelity.
“They are the conditions that allow God to interrupt our existence, to restore meaning to it and to value his presence, full of goodness and tenderness,” he said, and closed his address praying that Mary, the model and icon of vigilant expectation, would guide us to an encounter with her son Jesus, “reviving our love for him.”
After reciting the traditional Angelus prayer, Francis noted how just yesterday he returned from a six-day visit to Burma – also called Myanmar – and Bangladesh, and voiced his gratitude for being able to meet the people in both countries, especially the small Catholic populations of each.
The pope said he was “edified” by their witness, and the many faces “tried by life,” but who were still “noble and smiling,” made a big impression.
He also voiced concern and prayer for Honduras, praying that the country would be able to “peacefully overcome” a recent escalation of political unrest and violent protests surrounding the country’s elections after a key candidate was accused of voter fraud.