ROME – Opening the Church’s season of Advent, Pope Francis celebrated Mass Sunday with a crop of new cardinals he elevated yesterday, warning against temptations of mediocrity and indifference and touting prayer and charity as the remedy.

“Praying and loving, that is what it means to be watchful,” the pope said in his homily for the Nov. 29 Mass. “When the Church worships God and serves our neighbor, it does not live in the night. However weak and weary, she journeys towards the Lord.”

“Let us now call out to him. Come, Lord Jesus, we need you!” he said, praying, “Rouse us from the slumber of mediocrity; awaken us from the darkness of indifference. Come, Lord Jesus, take our distracted hearts and make them watchful. Awaken within us the desire to pray and the need to love.”

Marking the official opening of the Church’s liturgical season of Advent, which marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical new year, the private Mass was celebrated at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Due to ongoing restrictions on public gatherings related to the coronavirus pandemic, the event was not open to the public but was livestreamed on the Vatican’s social media networks.

Beyond the pope, the new cardinals and cardinals who are residents of Rome, there were around 100 others present who were either pastors or rectors of the titular churches where the cardinals have been assigned, or friends and family accompanying the new cardinals.

In total, the 13 prelates who got a red hat from Francis Saturday included nine electors eligible to vote in the next conclave and four who are over 80, meaning the title is honorary and they will hold no voting rights.

Among the new cardinals is Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, the only American in the group and the United States’ first-ever African American cardinal.

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In his homily, the pope said Advent is a time to reflect on God’s closeness to humanity, illustrated through his incarnation, and to remember humanity’s need of him.

“Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us and will come again at the end of time. Yet we can ask what those two comings mean, if he does not also come into our lives today? So let us invite him,” Francis said, urging faithful to make their own the traditional Advent prayer taken from the Book of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Pope Francis also stressed the need to be “watchful,” insisting that “one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a thousand things and not to notice God.”

“Drawn by our own interests, and distracted by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential,” he said, adding that Advent is also a time “to live in hope.”

“Just as before our birth, our loved ones expectantly awaited our coming into the world, so now Love in person awaits us. If we are awaited in Heaven, why should we be caught up with earthly concerns? Why should we be anxious about money, fame, success, all of which will fade away? Why should we waste time complaining about the night, when the light of day awaits us?” he said.

Noting that Jesus’s disciples also fell asleep when he asked them to stay awake and keep watch before his arrest, the pope warned that “that same drowsiness can overtake us.”

This drowsiness, he said, often manifests itself in mediocrity and indifference.

Mediocrity, he said, “comes when we forget our first love and grow satisfied with indifference, concerned only for an untroubled existence. Without making an effort to love God daily and awaiting the newness he constantly brings, we become mediocre, lukewarm, worldly.”

As time goes on, “this slowly eats away at our faith, for faith is the very opposite of mediocrity: it is ardent desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress,” he said, insisting that faith “is not a tranquilizer for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love! That is why Jesus above all else detests lukewarmness.”

Speaking of indifference, Francis said those who succumb to this attitude “see everything the same, as if it were night; they are unconcerned about those all around them. When everything revolves around us and our needs, and we are indifferent to the needs of others, night descends in our hearts.”

An indifferent person, he said, immediately begins “to complain about everything and everyone; we start to feel victimized by everyone and end up brooding about everything. Nowadays, that night seems to have fallen on people who only demand things for themselves, heedless of the needs of others.”

Pope Francis suggested prayer and acts of charity as remedies for these two spiritual ailments, insisting that consistency in prayer “rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord.”

“Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our solitude and gives us hope,” he said, adding, “just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”

Similarly, he said called charity the “beating heart of the Christian,” saying, “just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity.”

“Some people seem to think that being compassionate, helping and serving others is for losers,” the pope said. “Yet these are the only things that win us the victory, since they are already aiming towards the future, the day of the Lord, when all else will pass away and love alone will remain.”

“It is by works of mercy that we draw close to the Lord,” he said, adding, “Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity.”

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