At Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts you look at Tintoretto’s 16th century painting of the Nativity of Jesus. As curators restored the canvas, they made a discovery. Beneath this painting of the birth of Jesus is a crucifixion scene. Yes, the artist had recycled and re-used the canvas. He painted over the crucifixion to produce a Nativity scene. For Renaissance patrons and consumers of art, Jesus’ Nativity was perhaps more appealing than his death on the cross. This artistic discovery is suggestive. Even in festive and happy times, the cross of Jesus is near.
Friends, we spend all our days beneath the shadow of the cross of Jesus Christ. At Baptism, the Church claimed us for Jesus Christ by tracing the cross on our foreheads. One Sunday afternoon, a child within the extended family instructed me, "Be gentle when you touch the baby." Yes, friends, most days the cross feels that gentle and light. At other times we need the help of others in carrying our cross. We understand ourselves best when we imagine ourselves as companions at the side of Jesus. We carry our share in the one cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus is now and forever risen up as our mighty Savior. Here in our new response to the mystery of faith, we pray to Jesus, "Save us, Savior of the world, for by your cross and resurrection you have set us free."
Long ago in the desert John the Baptist announced the good news, the imminent arrival of the mightier, the stronger one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Now here’s a fresh and new way to give praise to Jesus Christ - Jesus is mightier than his cousin John the Baptist. That is the humble confession of John the Baptist today. Keep reading along in Saint Mark’s gospel story and you will discover that Jesus claims extraordinary strength over the strong man Satan. Jesus is the mightier one, the stronger one who is able to bind Satan and to plunder Satan’s house. (Mark 3:27)
One prayer in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy recalls the chant of the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday; "Holy God, Holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world." Let us admit our occasional weakness, sluggishness, and forgetfulness in doing good deeds. We need Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Pope Benedict frequently repeats the foundational lesson of Catholic faith. "Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior for the whole world and for people - of every age and place."
Friends, this lesson gives us the Catholic perspective on life. We have inherited this teaching of the Catholic faith from the apostles. We estimate the worth of this heavenly wisdom as beyond calculation. Long ago Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father and the Word of God “now in flesh appearing” as man, arrived to reveal the face of God - to men and women. In today’s opening prayer, the Collect, we describe ourselves as students who seek entry into a distinguished group at the side of Jesus. Listen again to our Advent hopes. "Almighty and merciful God, may no earthy undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."
Friends, Catholics always pray for the dead at Mass. "To our departed brothers and sisters, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from life, give kind admittance to your Kingdom. There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good." (Eucharistic Prayer 3)
As we join in Advent’s annual acknowledgment of the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, we confess together that salvation is a precious and costly gift because God has accomplished for us what we could never have done all by ourselves, all alone. May Jesus Christ be praised, now and forever.