First Sunday of Advent

1 December 2019
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

 

So stay awake. Matthew 24:42

1 December 2019, 1st Sunday of Advent

 

Readings:

Isaiah 2:1–5, Psalm 121 (122):1–2, 4–5, 6–9, Romans 13:11–14, Matthew 24:37–44

Practically every person who has followed the Lord has had to suffer his timing. Whether in discerning a call, sitting on a job offer, or considering end-of-life care—clarity and conviction are slow in coming. Though we be all ablaze with urgency, the Lord has us wait.

What is the sense in it? What is to be gained by tarrying? In a world where so few people ask anything of God, why isn’t he better disposed to meet the needs of those who do? It would seem that such is not his wisdom, for his plans are greater than mere satisfaction.

On the one hand, his delay is made to deepen our longing. He comes at an hour that we do not expect, precisely in order to increase our faith, our desire, and ultimately our fulfilment. Our nagging unrest is, itself, his gift, lest we settle for something short of everything.

And yet, that’s only a partial answer, for he could do so in a thousand less painful ways. Why this one?

On the other hand, his delay is made to conform us to himself. In the crucible of patience, we are made like him who suffered and died for love of us. In the end, we will be satisfied with nothing less than the Lord. And, if we will have him, it will be on his terms—terms that always mean suffering. For perfect conformity, we must meet him at his most vulnerable—in death—indeed, the death of delay. So, stay awake. Keep watch. Take heart.

Lord Jesus Christ, deepen in us the desire for your fulfilment, and in the suffering of patience, conform us to the pattern of your crucified love. Amen.

Fr Gregory Pine OP

 

Artwork Spotlight

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes – Giovanni Lanfranco (1582–1647)

“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes”, c. 1624–1625. Oil on canvas, 229 x 426 cm. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Bridgeman Images.

In the early days of the Church’s liturgy following the Peace of Constantine in the early fourth century, the length and purpose of Advent differed from place to place. Originally, it was six weeks and was almost a second Lent.

It was during the pontificate of Pope St Gregory the Great that the number of weeks was reduced to four and the theme more closely connected with Christmas. But, the weekday Gospels of this week and next, until the introduction of St John the Baptist, retain an almost Lenten character in that they present to our eyes Christ in all his power—almost a summary of our faith before we begin our preparation for Christ’s birth.

Wednesday of this week bears this out. The Church is already reminding us of the centrality of the Eucharist. Remember that Christ is born in Bethlehem—which means in Hebrew “the House of Bread”.

Since the fall of our first parents, mankind has hungered for God. Moses’ provision of manna from heaven to sustain the Israelites during their 40-year trek to the Promised Land was but a prelude to Christ, the new Moses, providing us with the true Bread—himself, on our journey to heaven.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes looks towards the Last Supper, for St Matthew is using Eucharistic language. Jesus “took” the loaves and fish, “gave thanks” to God, “broke” them, and “handed” them to the disciples (cf. Mt 14:19).

Beautiful in itself, Giovanni Lanfranco’s Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes was only one of a series of eight oil canvases and three frescoes commissioned for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel by the chapter of the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

This cycle is considered one of Lanfranco’s most successful achievements. Sadly, the paintings were removed in A.D. 1668 because of rising damp in the chapel. This particular painting now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Lanfranco was born in A.D. 1582 in Terenzo, close to Parma in Italy. He painted many religious decorations for Rome’s churches and palaces. He worked with Il Domenichino in the Church of San Andrea della Valle, made famous as one of the settings for the opera, Tosca.

He continued the Roman Baroque style in which volume was all-important as created by the play of light and shadows. His figures are clearly delineated, as can be seen in the figure here of Jesus. The wonderfully bright Jesus stands out against the darker tones of the people who have come to hear the Messiah.

Towering above all, Jesus shows the multiplied loaves to the people, reassuring them. The figure on the extreme right is indicating by his raised right arm that this is obviously a sign from heaven. In fact, the picture is full of movement, so much so that the scene seems “alive”. Every character is in a different pose.

St Matthew tells us that Jesus had left the shores of Lake Galilee and had gone into the nearby hills, thus alluding to Jesus as the new Moses who had taught from a mountain. This gave Lanfranco the occasion to add in the background a beautiful landscape of trees. The crowds are sitting there waiting to be fed.

Notice in today’s Gospel, and Lanfranco emphasises this, that Jesus does not hand out the food himself. He gives it to the disciples to hand out. They are to be his hands. We are his hands. It is amazing that God allows himself to need us.

The crowd ate until they were satisfied—and there was still more than enough. We are never told what happened to the leftovers—seven baskets full. No doubt they were distributed to the needy in the nearby towns.

God always gives abundantly. He gives us more than we need for ourselves so that we will have something to share with those who lack what they need.

We have become used to Project Compassion during Lent. Advent should also move us to share with the needy. In many places, the St Vincent de Paul Society takes up a collection for Christmas. Medieval England took up this theme with enthusiasm. We still call the day after Christmas “Boxing Day”, and many would have no idea where this comes from. On this day, the boxes holding gifts for the poor were opened in the churches and distributed. So grateful are we for God’s gift of himself to us that we give gifts to each other, especially to those who cannot return the favour.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer

 

Fr Gregory Pine OP is the assistant director for campus outreach with the Thomistic Institute in Washington, DC, USA. He served previously as an associate pastor at St Louis Bertrand Catholic Church in Louisville, KY, where he also taught as an adjunct professor at Bellarmine University. Raised in Philadelphia, PA, he attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Upon graduating, he entered the Order of Preachers in 2010 and was ordained a priest in 2016. He holds an STL from the Dominican House of Studies. He is a regular presenter on the podcasts: Pints with Aquinas, Godsplaining, and The Matt Fradd Show.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.

With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2019 reflections from their publication, The Way – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2019. You can read the reflections as they are published here.

 

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