St. John the Baptist reminds us that Advent is a privileged time to turn back toward God — something it is never too late to do, Pope Francis said Sunday.
“And let us remember one thing: with Jesus, there is always the possibility of beginning again. It’s never too late,” the pope said in his Angelus message Dec. 4.
“Let us listen to John the Baptist’s appeal to return to God,” he continued. “And let us not let this Advent go by like days on the calendar, because this is a moment of grace, a grace for us too, here and now.”
In his speech before the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the message of St. John the Baptist to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“There is always the possibility to begin again. Be courageous,” the pope urged, adding that Jesus “is near to us and this is the time of conversion.”
Pope Francis said “everyone might think: ‘I have this situation inside, this problem that I am ashamed of.’ But Jesus is next to you. Begin again. There is always the possibility of taking a step forward. He is waiting for us and never gets tired of us. He never gets tired.”
The pope’s message, spoken from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, focused on the day’s Gospel from St. Matthew.
He explained that St. John the Baptist, who “wore a garment of camel’s hair” and ate “locusts and wild honey,” was inviting everyone to conversion.
John the Baptist “was an austere and radical man, who at first sight might appear to be harsh and could instill a certain fear,” Francis said.
“But then again, we can ask ourselves why the Church proposes him each year as our primary traveling companion during this Season of Advent. What is hidden underneath his severity, behind his apparent harshness? What is John’s secret? What is the message the Church gives us today with John?”
John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, was “allergic to duplicity,” he said, pointing out that when the Pharisees and Sadducees, known for their hypocrisy, approach him, John had a strong “allergic reaction.”
St. John the Baptist’s response to the Pharisees can give us a lot to think about, Pope Francis said, including asking ourselves if we are like the Pharisees, who judge others, and think we have our lives under control, who think “that we don’t need God, or the Church, or our brothers or sisters on a daily basis.”
“Advent,” the pope continued, “is a moment of grace to take off our masks — every one of us has them — and line up with those who are humble, to be liberated from the presumption of the belief of being self-sufficient, to go to confess our sins, the hidden ones, and to welcome God’s pardon, to ask forgiveness from those whom we have offended.”
“This is how to begin a new life. There is only one way, the way of humility — to be purified from the sense of superiority, from formalism and hypocrisy, to see ourselves, along with our brothers and sisters, as sinners, and to see Jesus as the Savior who comes for us, not for the others, for us, just as we are, with our poverty, misery and failings, above all with our need to be raised up, forgiven and saved,” he said.