.- In the Vatican Basilica at 5 p.m. on Saturday, the Pope presided at the celebration of the first Vespers of the first Sunday of Advent.
The Holy Father began his homily by recalling how "Advent is the time of hope par excellence" and how Christians, "as they prepare to celebrate the great feast of the birth of Christ the Savior, revitalize their expectation of His glorious return at the end of time."
"It was to the subject of hope," he said," that I dedicated my second Encyclical, which was published yesterday. And today I am happy to present it ideally to the entire Church on this first Sunday of Advent so that, while preparing for Christmas, the community and the individual faithful may read and meditate upon it, and so rediscover the beauty and profundity of Christian hope."
After underlining how "true and certain hope is founded on faith in God- Love, the merciful Father," Benedict XVI made it clear that Advent is a "favorable time for the rediscovery of hope, a hope that is not vague and illusory but sure and trustworthy because it is 'anchored' in Christ, God-made-man and the rock of our salvation."
In his Letter to them, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians "that before embracing faith in Christ they had no hope and were 'without God in the world'," said the Pope. "This expression seems more valid than ever," he added, "because of the paganism of our own day. In particular we may refer it to contemporary nihilism which corrodes hope in man's heart, causing him to think that emptiness reigns within him and around him: emptiness before birth, emptiness after death. The truth is that without God, hope fades."
"What is at stake," he said, "is the relationship between existence in the here and now, and what we call the 'beyond:' this is not a place in which we will 'end up' after death, but rather the reality of God, the fullness of life to which each human being is, so to say, reaching out. To this expectation of mankind God responded in Christ with the gift of hope.
"Man," the Pope added, "is the only creature who is free to say yes or no to eternity, in other words to God. Human beings can extinguish hope in themselves, eliminating God from their lives. ... God knows man's heart. He knows that those who refuse Him have not known His true face, and for this reason He never ceases to knock at our door like a humble pilgrim seeking welcome. This is why the Lord grants new time to humanity: so that everyone may come to know Him! And this too is the significance of a new liturgical year that begins: it is a gift of God Who wishes once more to reveal Himself in the mystery of Christ, through the Word and the Sacraments."
Benedict XVI highlighted how "God loves us and for this reason expects us to return to Him, to open our hearts to His love, to put our hand in His and remember that we are His children. This expectation of God's always precedes our own hope, just as His love always reaches us first."
"All human beings are called to hope, thus responding to God's expectation in them," the Pope concluded. "Hope is indelibly written in man's heart because God our Father is life, and we were made for eternal and blessed life."