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Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a Mass with new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 29, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Gregorio Borgia, Reuters pool

First African-American cardinal in latest batch of red hats

Concelebrating Mass with newly created cardinals, Pope Francis said Advent is a time to be vigilant, hopeful and helpful.

People of faith who believe in the heaven that awaits them should not be caught up with earthly concerns, he said during a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on 29 November, the first Sunday of Advent, which marks the start of a new liturgical year.

“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 asked.

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The Mass was celebrated the day after Pope Francis created 13 new cardinals from eight different nations. The new cardinals included the first African-American cardinal, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington.

Wearing purple vestments, the 11 new cardinals who were able to travel to Rome concelebrated the Mass with Pope Francis. Cardinals Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, Philippines, and Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei, did not attend the consistory because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

New Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington attends a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis with new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 29 November, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Gregorio Borgia, Reuters pool

The congregation at the Altar of the Chair of St Peter included a number of Rome-based cardinals, 12 pastors or rectors of the 13 Rome churches to which the new cardinals were associated and about 100 others who had been invited by the new cardinals.

In his homily, Pope Francis said the two key phrases for the Advent season were God’s closeness and people’s vigilance against indifference and mediocrity.

Advent reminds people that God came down “to dwell in our midst” and that they must always call for his assistance, he said.

“The first step of faith is to tell God that we need him” and to ask that he “come close to us once more,” the pope said. “God wants to draw close to us, but he will not impose himself; it is up to us to keep saying to him, ‘Come!'”

People should repeat this short prayer frequently throughout the day — “before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every important or difficult moment of our lives — ‘Come, Lord Jesus!'” the pope said.

People must be watchful and focused on what is essential in life, the pope said, because “one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a thousand things and not to notice God”.

People must not let themselves “be overcome by discouragement,” but live in hope, he said.

“If we are awaited in heaven, why should we be caught up with earthly concerns?” he asked. “Why should we be anxious about money, fame, success, all of which will fade away?” Waiting and being watchful are difficult, though, he said, and everyone is vulnerable to dangerous kinds of “drowsiness”.

There is the “slumber of mediocrity,” he said, “when we forget our first love and grow satisfied with indifference, concerned only for an untroubled existence”.

This “lukewarm, worldly” life slowly eats away at faith, which must not be lukewarm, but a fire that burns, “a desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress,” he said.

Faith “is not a tranquiliser for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love!”

Another danger is “the slumber of indifference” when people show no concern for those around them and “everything revolves around us and our needs,” he said.

“We immediately begin to complain about everything and everyone; we start to feel victimised by everyone” and then end up believing everything is part of a conspiracy, he said.

Instead, Pope Francis said, people must stay awake and remain vigilant through charity and compassionate service to others. “When the church worships God and serves our neighbour, it does not live in the night. However weak and weary, she journeys toward the Lord,” he said.

A lit candle is seen on an Advent wreath. Photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review
Advent is a time to reach out to others, said Pope Francis. PHOTO: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review

Before praying the Angelus at noon with people in St Peter’s Square, the pope again spoke of the importance of believing in a God who comes to dwell among his people.

“We are well aware that life is made up of highs and lows, of lights and shadows,” and life has been especially difficult for so many because of the pandemic, he said.

The worry, fear and discouragement so many people feel actually risk turning into “pessimism, closure and apathy”. People should remember the Lord “is our help and our shield,” the pope said; he is “present in history to lead it to its ultimate goal and to its fullness, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

For Christians, God is the “God-with-us,” who “walks beside us to support us” and to help people discover the meaning of life, “to give us courage when we are under duress or when we suffer,” he said. “In the midst of life’s storms, God always extends his hand to us and frees us from threats.”

The pope asked that people use this time of great difficulty to pray simply as a family, live more moderately and to reach out to help their neighbours in a way that is respectful and discreet.

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