If the vicissitudes of life make us feel lost and every certainty seems to crumble, we have a compass for finding direction
In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of what St. James writes: "Learn from the farmer, he awaits with constancy the precious fruit of the earth until it has received the first and the last rains. You too must be constant, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near" (James 5:7-8). 'If the vicissitudes of life make us feel lost and every certainty seems to crumble, we have a compass for finding direction.'
How can we strengthen our hearts? asks Pope Benedict. 'We do not lack help: The Word of God is there. Indeed, while everything passes and changes, the Word of the Lord does not pass.'
Pope Benedict observed that it is "more important than ever in our days to underscore the importance of constancy and patience, virtues that belonged to the generation of our fathers but which are less popular today in a world that instead exalts change and the capacity always to adapt to new situations.
"Without taking anything away from these latter, which are also qualities of the human being," continued the Pope, "Advent calls us to strengthen that interior tenacity, that resistance of the soul that permits us not to despair in waiting for some good thing that is late in coming, but to expect it, indeed, to prepare for its arrival with an active confidence."
How easy it is to fall into a type of desperation as we await the coming of our Lord: for the days can pass into weeks and years in which we often experience long periods of emotional, physical and spiritual trial. Met with what seems a great emptiness in the world, the darkness that "came over the whole land" (Mt 27:45) becomes a familiar experience within the mysteriously complex and unfathomable depths of the human soul. Thus we find ourselves crying out: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). Perhaps this darkness or despair we encounter weighs on us as it does because our thirst for God is of a magnitude that approaches the infinite. Yet Christ is this moment on his way: "Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds" (Rev 22:12).
Our Holy Father reminds us of what St. James writes: "Learn from the farmer, he awaits with constancy the precious fruit of the earth until it has received the first and the last rains. You too must be constant, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near" (James 5:7-8).
"The comparison with the farmer," noted the Pope, "is quite expressive: He who has sown seeds in the field has before him some months of patient and constant expectation, but he knows that in the meantime the seed goes through its cycle thanks to the autumn and spring rains. The farmer is not a fatalist, but is the model of a mentality that unites faith and reason in a balanced way because, on one hand, he knows the laws of nature and does his work well, and, on the other hand, he trusts in Providence, because certain basic things are not in his hands but in God's hands. Patience and constancy are precisely the synthesis between human effort and trust in God."
Indeed. Trust in Providence: "because certain basic things are not in [our] hands but in God's hands." How often we struggle to overcome, to conquer the unconquerable! When things fail to go well according to our desires, how often we begin despairing that we are overlooked, left out, that the Hope of hopes who is the Life of our hearts is far and distant. We begin to mistakenly think there is no place for us in Providence; that these circumstances we encounter in life are merely random, purposeless events. We think that the autumn rains are nothing but cold, detrimental downpours which signal the onset of winter. Yet these rains flow from Providence: within them is an unseen and life-giving purpose. God has a plan for his children; and, within this plan, he has a special, sweet and fragrant place for those who love him.
Scripture says "Strengthen your hearts."
"How can we do that?" asks the Pope. "How can we strengthen our hearts, which are already rather fragile, and made more unstable by the culture in which we are immersed?
"We do not lack help: The Word of God is there. Indeed, while everything passes and changes, the Word of the Lord does not pass. If the vicissitudes of life make us feel lost and every certainty seems to crumble, we have a compass for finding direction, we need not fear being adrift. And here the model that is offered to us by the prophets, that is, the model of those persons whom God called to speak in his name. The prophet finds his joy and his strength in the power of the Lord's Word and, while men often seek happiness along paths that turn out to be mistaken, he announces the true hope, the one that doesn't delude because it is founded on the fidelity of God. Every Christian, in virtue of his baptism, has received the prophetic dignity. May every Christian rediscover it and develop it with an assiduous listening to the Divine Word. May the Virgin Mary, whom the Gospel calls blessed because she believed that the Lord's words would be accomplished (cf. Luke 1:45), obtain this for us."
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever have. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Pope Benedict address Third Sunday of Advent, Pope's address from St. Peter's Square, Third Sunday of Advent
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