First Sunday of Advent

29 November 2020
"The Calling of the Apostles" by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–1494). Image: Wikimedia Commons


First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 63: 16-17, 64: 1, 3-8; Psalm 70 (80): 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

29 November 2020


“Lord, let us see your face and we shall be saved” – Psalm 80:3

The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus meaning “coming or arrival”. It can also mean “new birth or new beginning”, hence its use for this time given to us to prepare for Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

Ah, another Christmas! What immediately comes to mind? Be honest. Do we think of God’s love for each of us? A divine love so perfect that he sent his only Son to save us; a Son who, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, is truly God-made-Flesh? Do we think of how we will spiritually and sacramentally prepare to welcome the Creator God who humbled himself to become one of us in the form of a creature, a baby, before whom we adore on bended knee?

Or, are our first thoughts about the Christmas tree, the presents to be bought and wrapped, the cards to be written and sent, the food to be prepared, beating the last-minute traffic rush? “Oh yes, and where will I most conveniently fit in Christmas Mass this year?” Well, I think we can all relate to this, can’t we?

But in doing all these things, which really are important and need to be attended to, let’s not forget the very reason why we do them: we are celebrating the new birth, the new beginning of Jesus, our Lord and our salvation. So, while still doing all these other things over the next four weeks, please also take the time to stop, to remember, and to pray:

Jesus, Lord, Son of God, I adore you! Jesus, son of Mary, I adore you! Jesus, God made Flesh, I adore you! Jesus, only Saviour of the world, I adore you! Jesus, still present with us in the Blessed Sacrament, I adore you! Jesus, my Lord, my Redeemer, my Love, my Friend, I adore you and I thank you! Lord, let me see your face and I shall be saved! Amen!

Fr Christopher G Sarkis 


Artwork Spotlight

The Calling of the Apostles – Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–1494)

“The Calling of the Apostles”, c. 1481–82. Fresco, 349 x 570 cm. Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Eric Vandeville / akg-images.

Domenico Ghirlandaio was born in 1448 in Florence, the son of a silk dealer. He showed an interest in painting at an early age, as he would paint portraits of passers-by outside his father’s shop. He began to paint frescoes and was highly admired for his skill. Pope Sixtus IV brought him to Rome in 1483 and commissioned him to paint a fresco on the wall of what we now call the Sistine Chapel. The Calling of the Apostles, on the north wall, is a parallel to the painting on the opposite wall, The Crossing of the Red Sea—Moses, as God’s intermediary, delivering God’s people from their past imprisonment into a new life. Ghirlandaio shows Jesus calling the disciples from their past lives to lead God’s people into the life of the New Covenant.

The Calling of the Apostles is a clever composition of three scenes. On the left, in the background, Jesus stands on the shore and calls Peter and Andrew with outstretched hand to follow him as they sit in their fishing boat setting out a net. Ghirlandaio shows his technical skill as he uses the mountains on the left to form a line drawing the spectator’s eye to this first scene.

In the centre is the second scene. Peter and Andrew have obeyed Christ’s call and now kneel before him as he spells out their vocation—from being fishermen they are to become “fishers of men”! Peter is clothed in traditional yellow and orange, and Andrew in green.

Centre-right is the third scene. The newly called Peter and Andrew stand behind Jesus as he goes on to call two more apostles, James and John. They are sitting in their father Zebedee’s boat bringing in the nets. Their activity in the lake is in the very centre of the entire scene. Having been called ourselves, we cannot keep this to ourselves. We must encourage others to join us. “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest” (Mt 9:37).

One of the principal features of this fresco is the group of portraits of the Florentine community in Rome who resided near the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (behind the Pantheon). They are in contemporary clothing, a vehicle that artists used to illustrate the fact that the Gospel is forever contemporary. In other words, the scene portrayed must speak to the viewer. Christ is calling me, too.

Experts can identify some of the crowd. The white-bearded man on the left was also used by Ghirlandaio as a model for his St Jerome in His Study, painted for the Church of Ognissanti (All Saints) in Florence. In the centre, just behind Jesus, is a portrait of Diotisalvi Neroni who had taken refuge in Rome after plotting against Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici. Characters on the right are members of the Tornabuoni family. (As a little postscript, Ghirlandaio is credited as the teacher of Michelangelo.)

Our commentary is accompanying the Gospel of Advent’s first Saturday which provides us with a summary of Jesus’ missionary activity. He called the apostles because when he saw the crowd, “He felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected” (Mt 9:36) – harassed by cruel Roman rule and by an oppressive interpretation of God’s law by the scribes and Pharisees. So that his ministry might continue through time, Jesus trains and empowers his apostles. They are to live and preach and act like Jesus himself. They are to continue his work of compassion and reconciliation.

In a baptismal instruction about the year A.D. 200, St Clement of Alexandria reminded new Christians that it was their mission to call sinners to repentance, to care for those who are sick in mind and body, to seek in all things the will of him who sent them, and as far as possible to save the world by their teaching and their prayer.

A large mission. There is a temptation for us either to aim too high, and be frustrated when we fail, or to aim too low and be content with a minimal Christianity. Somewhere in the middle is the role Christ has chosen for me. Let us “ask the Lord of the harvest” this Advent to show us what our role is. We may not be able to cure, but it is within our power to care—and caring is healing.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer


Fr Christopher G Sarkis is the parish priest at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Rosemeadow, NSW. He was ordained in 1985 and has served in a number of parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong including the Cathedral, Campbelltown and Rosemeadow. His recent diocesan appointments include member of the College of Consultors, Council of Priests, Diocesan Finance Council and Diocesan Property Committee.

In March 2019, Fr Christopher and the parishioners of Rosemeadow opened the doors on their new parish church that is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for Catholics. He recently published a 136-page hardcover book titled Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church: A Walk Through, which combines stunning photography of the church and its art, accompanied by a beautiful treatise written by Fr Christopher on the theological and artistic vision behind the church. You can purchase the book at

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 2020 reflections from their publication, Adore – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2020.


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