In his Angelus address in 2010 to begin the season of Advent and a new liturgical year for the Church, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of waiting.
“One could say,” he said, “that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations, man recognizes himself: Our moral and spiritual ‘stature’ can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.”
The Holy Father then proposed a very important question.
“Every one of us,” he asked, “especially in this season which prepares us for Christmas, can ask himself: What am I waiting for? What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for? And this same question can be posed at the level of the family, of the community, of the nation. What are we waiting for together? What unites our aspirations? What brings them together?”
Heeding the pope emeritus, we ought to assess our moral and spiritual “stature” by asking: What is it exactly we are awaiting? What are we hoping for?
For Catholics, the last several months have seemed a very somber time of waiting and hoping. We have been waiting for Pope Francis and the Holy See to take steps publicly and forcefully to deal with the scandal surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. We have been hoping for the U.S. bishops also to act decisively and transparently. The meeting of the U.S. bishops in November in Baltimore ended with their inability to address the scandal, due to the still-shocking request by the Vatican that they not vote on several proposed ideas for holding themselves accountable for failures of leadership, oversight and moral rectitude among their own.
Few hold out much hope for the February meeting in Rome, with its aim of dealing with the sex-abuse crisis.
The waiting continues for Western culture to abandon its embrace of the culture of death that has grown worse with every passing year and to rediscover the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. That means an end to the scourge of abortion, which claims more than 1 million unborn lives every year, a contraceptive mentality and the disposability of the elderly, the sick and the unwanted.
And we are waiting for the dystopian fever to break that is destroying our nation’s understanding of authentic marriage and imposing a totalitarian gender ideology that, as Pope Francis has written, “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family” (Amoris Laetitia, 56).
We wait and we work toward resolutions to all of these moral and spiritual crises in the Church and our nation. Catholics do so, however, with an added understanding of what Advent brings to us.
The journey from this sacred time of Advent into Christmas culminates in the coming of Christ into the world. This fulfillment of salvation history that cannot be separated from the second coming of Christ is the answer to all of our hopes and expectations.
In the Incarnation, we find all of the answers we seek and the solutions to all of our problems, crises and scandals.
All of humanity seeks this answer, even unknowingly.
As Pope Benedict said in a general audience in Advent 2006, “Humanity today seeks a path of renewal, of salvation; it seeks a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Savior, who renews the world and our life, the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer of man and of the whole of man.”
How can we help guide a longing humanity to see and embrace that fulfillment?
We can start by not just waiting, but by being, as the Gospel commands us, “watchful.” Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed at midnight Mass in 2008 that in the Gospel of Luke, the shepherds — those deemed unimportant by the society of the time — were “keeping watch” in the fields around Bethlehem.
In this, they were faithful to what Benedict calls a central theme of Jesus’ message: the call to stay awake, to be watchful.
“The shepherds,” Benedict said, “were truly ‘watchful’ people, with a lively sense of God and of his closeness. They were waiting for God and were not resigned to his apparent remoteness from their everyday lives.”
By being watchful Christians, we do not wait in darkness, filled with anxiety and distracted by our own anger and expectations. Rather, the watchful heart awaits with hope and with joy the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world and for our own lives. We need not fear, because God is not remote from us; he is truly Emmanuel, “God with us.”
A watchful people understand that God remains faithful to us even as we struggle with our sins and those of our brothers and sisters, including our shepherds. Being watchful and awake, we can speak out to our bishops, encouraging them and urging them for clarity in teaching, courage and transparency in governing and fidelity in sanctifying.
A watchful people grasp that God’s Son has shown us how to be faithful to him and his Church in proclaiming the truth of the human person, made as male and female in the image and likeness of God. That means following the example of Our Lord to proclaim the truth in the face of a culture that will scorn and mock us.
Finally, the words of the pope emeritus assure us of one last important aspect of watchfulness.
“To a watchful heart,” he teaches, “the news of great joy can be proclaimed: For you this night the Savior is born. Only a watchful heart is able to believe the message. Only a watchful heart can instill the courage to set out to find God in the form of a baby in a stable. Let us now ask the Lord to help us, too, to become a ‘watchful’ people.”
May we help all of humanity to be watchful and to know what it is truly waiting for.
Best wishes and prayers for a joyous and blessed Christmas season from all of us at the National Catholic Register and the EWTN News team.