It’s always a pleasure on this day, the first Sunday of Advent, to turn both the Missal and the Lectionary from the very last page back to the very first page, to begin the celebration of the paschal mystery all over again.
Today is a Mass of beginnings.
Firstly we begin a new liturgical year. There are three of them: Year A when we read the Gospel of Matthew; Year B when we read the Gospel of Mark; and Year C when we read the Gospel of Luke.
Today we begin the three year cycle again from the very beginning - Year A – and, in another sense, we are also beginning the journey of the rest of our life.
And so, from all the different areas of the parish, from many different walks of life, and from a great variety of human situations you and I have joined the long procession of Catholics who, throughout the world, have gathered in their own local church to celebrate these three new beginnings as disciples of Christ.
In this context the opening words of our celebration are especially significant. Hundreds of millions of Catholics will begin the Mass with these words: To you, I lift up my soul, O my God. In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame. Nor let my enemies exult over me; and let none who hope in you be put to shame. (Entrance Antiphon)
To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
What beautiful words! We gather for this new season of Advent and the first thing the Church asks us to do is to say together: To you, I lift up my soul, O my God. This is the essence and definition of prayer - raising my soul to God.
There seems to me a special significance in the fact that we were not asked to say this in a plural form today, that is: To you, we lift up our souls, O our God. I wonder if it was intentional? In any event, the use of the singular is very appropriate here. As the millions of believers gather to pray it is fitting that together, each one should address God in a personal way.
Only I can lift my soul to God. It’s a very personal thing. You cannot lift my soul to God. You cannot trust God for me. Your wife or husband can pray for you at Mass but they cannot take your place before God.
Interestingly, the revised Mass translation makes the same point. We no longer say: We believe in one God. We have returned to the original Latin: I believe in one God. You cannot believe for me; I cannot believe for you. I have to believe for myself – as an individual. And we might add here, that even though we make the journey of Advent together, no one can make it for us. You have to make if for yourself; I have to make it for myself.
So let us continue with the Entrance Antiphon. Having lifted my soul to God I now tell him: In you, I have trusted...
Of all the prayers we can say to God this surely must be one of the most pleasing; telling him that we trust him. Saint Faustina confirms this for us in her Diary when she writes that trust in God will unlock the door of his mercy. It was the signature Jesus wanted placed under the image of Divine Mercy - Jesus, I trust in you.
Recognising our own weakness, however, we acknowledge that it can cause us to come to grief and so we plead: let me not be put to shame. No let my enemies exult over me.
And our enemies do exult, they do gloat over us. That’s what enemies do, that’s their job, they can’t help it. And to the degree that they cause us to turn to God we should be grateful to them.
The best kind of enemy to have is one who opposes you for the sake of the name of Christ; as we heard in our readings two weeks ago; You will be hated by all men on account of my name. Jesus then told us: Not a hair of your head will be lost, and that’s why we can pray with confidence, as in the conclusion of our Entrance Antiphon: let none who hope in you be put to shame.
So our themes are clear. Advent will be for us, or should I just say, for me?
- A time for gathering with the Church for the Sunday Mass.
- A time of looking forward to and waiting for the coming of Christ.
- A time of prayer, of lifting my soul to God every day, as often as possible.
- A time of renewed trust.
- A time of faith, of knowing that no one who waits for God is ever put to shame.