Christmas


Pope Francis  24.12.13  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica   Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A    Isaiah 9: 1-6,    Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis Chritsmas Midnight Mass 24.12.13

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. Because he is faithful, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11). A people who walk, but as a pilgim people who do not want to go astray.

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. The pilrim is bound by duty to keep watch and the shepherds did just that. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). As the angels said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”. And I also repeat to all of you: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: our Father always forgives us. He is our peace. Amen.





Pope Francis  24.12.16  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica   Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A    Isaiah 9: 1-6,      Titus 2: 11-14     Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis  24.12.16 Christmas Midnight Mass

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Tit 2:11). The words of the Apostle Paul reveal the mystery of this holy night: the grace of God has appeared, his free gift. In the Child given to us, the love of God is made visible.

It is a night of glory, that glory proclaimed by the angels in Bethlehem and by ourselves as well, all over the world. It is a night of joy, because henceforth and for ever, the infinite and eternal God is God with us. He is not far off. We need not search for him in the heavens or in mystical notions. He is close at hand. He became man and he will never withdraw from our humanity, which he has made his own. It is a night of light. The light prophesied by Isaiah (cf. 9:1), which was to shine on those who walked in a land of darkness, has appeared and enveloped the shepherds of Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:9).

The shepherds discover simply that “a child has been born to us” (Is 9:5). They realize that all this glory, all this joy, all this light, converges to a single point, the sign that the angel indicated to them: “You will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This is the enduring sign for all who would find Jesus. Not just then, but also today. If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the frail simplicity of a tiny new-born child, the meekness with which he is placed in a manger, the tender affection with which he is wrapped in his swaddling clothes. That is where God is.

With this sign, the Gospel reveals a paradox. It speaks of the emperor, the governor, the high and mighty of those times, yet God does not make himself present there. He appears not in the splendour of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable; not in pomp and show, but in simplicity of life; not in power, but in astonishing smallness. In order to meet him, we need to go where he is. We need to bow down, to humble ourselves, to make ourselves small. The new-born Child challenges us. He calls us to leave behind fleeting illusions and to turn to what is essential, to renounce our insatiable cravings, to abandon our endless yearning for things we will never have. We do well to leave such things behind, in order to discover, in the simplicity of the divine Child, peace, joy and the luminous meaning of life.

Let us allow the Child in the manger to challenge us, but let us also be challenged by all those children in today’s world who are lying not in a crib, caressed with affection by their mothers and fathers, but in squalid “mangers that devour dignity”. Children who hide underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of large cities, in the hold of a boat overladen with immigrants… Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by those children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one relieves their hunger, by those who hold in their hands not toys, but weapons.

The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, challenges and unsettles us, because it is at once a mystery of hope and of sadness. It has a taste of sadness, inasmuch as love is not accepted, and life discarded. Such was the case with Joseph and Mary, who met with closed doors, and placed Jesus in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7). Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. Today too, that same indifference can exist, whenever Christmas becomes a holiday with ourselves at the centre rather than Jesus; when the lights of shop windows push the light of God into the shadows; when we are enthused about gifts but indifferent to our neighbours in need. This worldliness has kidnapped Christmas; we need to liberate it!

Yet Christmas has above all a taste of hope because, for all the darkness in our lives, God’s light shines forth. His gentle light does not frighten us. God, who is in love with us, draws us to himself with his tenderness, by being born poor and frail in our midst, as one of us. He is born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread”. In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters our life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. He does not come to devour or to lord it over us, but instead to feed and serve us. There is a straight line between the manger and the cross where Jesus will become bread that is broken. It is the straight line of love that gives and saves, the love that brings light to our lives and peace to our hearts.

That night, the shepherds understood this. They were among the marginalized of those times. Yet no one is marginalized in the sight of God, and that Christmas, they themselves were the guests. People who felt sure of themselves, self-sufficient, were at home with their possessions. It was the shepherds who “set out with haste” (cf. Lk 2:16). Tonight, may we too be challenged and called by Jesus. Let us approach him with trust, starting from all those things that make us feel marginalized, from our limitations and our sins. Let us be touched by the tenderness that saves. Let us draw close to God who draws close to us. Let us pause to gaze upon the crib, and relive in our imagination the birth of Jesus: light and peace, dire poverty and rejection. With the shepherds, let us enter into the real Christmas, bringing to Jesus all that we are, our alienation, our unhealed wounds, our sins. Then, in Jesus, we will enjoy the taste of the true spirit of Christmas: the beauty of being loved by God. With Mary and Joseph, let us pause before the manger, before Jesus who is born as bread for my life. Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us simply tell him: Thank you. Thank you because you have done all this for me.




Pope Francis             03.12.18 Holy Mass Santa Marta     Matthew 8: 5-11
https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-12/pope-francis-homily-daily-mass-advent-purifying-faith.html

Advent, which began on Sunday, is a good time for purifying the spirit, for making the faith grow with this purification. Even today, it can happen that faith can become a habit for us; we can get used to it, forgetting its “liveliness.” When the faith becomes a habit, we lose that strength of the faith, that newness of the faith that is always renewed.

The first dimension of Advent is the past, “the purification of memory”: We have to remember that Christmas is not about the birth of a Christmas tree, but about the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Lord is born, the Redeemer who has come to save us. Yes, it is a celebration…but we always face the danger, we will always have within us the temptation to make Christmas mundane, worldly… When the celebration stops being about contemplation—a beautiful family celebration with Jesus at the centre—it begins to be a worldly celebration: all about shopping, presents, this and that… and the Lord remains there, forgotten. Even in our own life: yes, He is born, at Bethlehem, but then what?… Advent is a time for purifying the memory of this time past, of that dimension.

Advent also serves to purify hope, preparing us for the definitive encounter with the Lord.

Because the Lord who came then will return! He will return! He will return to ask us: “How did your life go?” It will be a personal encounter. We have a personal encounter with the Lord, today, in the Eucharist; we cannot have such a personal with the Christmas of 2000 years ago: we have the memorial of that. But when He will return, we will have that personal encounter. It is purifying hope.

I invite everyone to cultivate the daily dimension of the faith, despite so many cares and worries, taking custody of our own interior home. Our God, in fact, is the God of surprises, and Christians must constantly discern what the heavenly Father is saying to us today.

The third dimension is more daily: purifying our watchfulness. Vigilance and prayer are two words for Advent: Because historically the Lord came in Bethlehem; and He will come, at the end of the world and also at the end of our individual lives. But every day, every moment, He comes into our hearts, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.


https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-12/pope-francis-christmas-mass-at-night-bethlehem.html

The location of Jesus’ birth marks a turning point in the course of history.

Bethlehem means “house of bread”, and that Mary laid Jesus in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: ‘Here I am, as your food.

Jesus gives us his very self, teaching us to live our lives in a new way: “not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving.” We feed on Jesus, the bread of life, and are reborn in love, breaking the vicious cycle of grasping and greed.

In Scripture, humanity’s original sin was to take and eat a forbidden food. Mankind became greedy and voracious. Even today, a few people often eat splendid meals while a great many others go without even enough bread to survive.

Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

Jesus knows we need to be fed daily, so he offered himself every day of his life. Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us.

If we welcome God into our hearts and allow Him to dwell there, history changes. For once Jesus dwells in our heart, the centre of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love.

Jesus invites us at Christmas to rise quickly from the table and to serve others, sharing our bread with those who have none.

Bethlehem is also called the “city of David”. Before becoming king, David was a shepherd whom God chose to shepherd and lead His people.

On Christmas night, shepherds welcomed Jesus in the world. An angel appeared and said to them: “Be not afraid.” We hear that phrase so often in the Gospels because God knows we are afraid due to our sin.

Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated ‘no’, God constantly says ‘yes’. He will always be God-with-us.” God, makes Himself a little child so as not to frighten us.

The shepherds were not sleeping when the angel came; they were keeping watch. Our life can either be marked by waiting or by wanting. If we await the Lord amid the gloom of our problems we will receive his life.

But if we only spend our lives in selfish want, where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities our heart then remains barred to God’s light.

The shepherds set out immediately and take a risk for God by leaving their flocks unguarded. After seeing Jesus, they go off to proclaim his birth. To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love,

At Christmas, we all want to go up to Bethlehem. Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism.

So we entrust ourselves to the Lord, “Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand."



Pope Francis       01.12.19  Apostolic Letter  Admirabile Signum   On the meaning and importance of the Nativity Scene

Pope Francis 01.12.19 Nativity Scene

1. The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder. The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.

With this Letter, I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares. Great imagination and creativity is always shown in employing the most diverse materials to create small masterpieces of beauty. As children, we learn from our parents and grandparents to carry on this joyful tradition, which encapsulates a wealth of popular piety. It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.

2. The origin of the Christmas crèche is found above all in certain details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, as related in the Gospels. The evangelist Luke says simply that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7). Because Jesus was laid in a manger, the nativity scene is known in Italian as a presepe, from the Latin word praesepium, meaning “manger”.

Coming into this world, the Son of God was laid in the place where animals feed. Hay became the first bed of the One who would reveal himself as “the bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). Saint Augustine, with other Church Fathers, was impressed by this symbolism: “Laid in a manger, he became our food” (Sermon 189, 4). Indeed, the nativity scene evokes a number of the mysteries of Jesus’ life and brings them close to our own daily lives.

But let us go back to the origins of the Christmas crèche so familiar to us. We need to imagine ourselves in the little Italian town of Greccio, near Rieti. Saint Francis stopped there, most likely on his way back from Rome where on 29 November 1223 he had received the confirmation of his Rule from Pope Honorius III. Francis had earlier visited the Holy Land, and the caves in Greccio reminded him of the countryside of Bethlehem. It may also be that the “Poor Man of Assisi” had been struck by the mosaics in the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major depicting the birth of Jesus, close to the place where, according to an ancient tradition, the wooden panels of the manger are preserved.

The Franciscan Sources describe in detail what then took place in Greccio. Fifteen days before Christmas, Francis asked a local man named John to help him realize his desire “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he was laid upon a bed of hay”.[1] At this, his faithful friend went immediately to prepare all that the Saint had asked. On 25 December, friars came to Greccio from various parts, together with people from the farmsteads in the area, who brought flowers and torches to light up that holy night. When Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. At Greccio there were no statues; the nativity scene was enacted and experienced by all who were present.[2]

This is how our tradition began: with everyone gathered in joy around the cave, with no distance between the original event and those sharing in its mystery.

Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Saint Francis, notes that this simple and moving scene was accompanied by the gift of a marvellous vision: one of those present saw the Baby Jesus himself lying in the manger. From the nativity scene of that Christmas in 1223, “everyone went home with joy”.[3]

3. With the simplicity of that sign, Saint Francis carried out a great work of evangelization. His teaching touched the hearts of Christians and continues today to offer a simple yet authentic means of portraying the beauty of our faith. Indeed, the place where this first nativity scene was enacted expresses and evokes these sentiments. Greccio has become a refuge for the soul, a mountain fastness wrapped in silence.

Why does the Christmas crèche arouse such wonder and move us so deeply? First, because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. The gift of life, in all its mystery, becomes all the more wondrous as we realize that the Son of Mary is the source and sustenance of all life. In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend ever at our side. He gave us his Son who forgives us and frees us from our sins.

Setting up the Christmas crèche in our homes helps us to relive the history of what took place in Bethlehem. Naturally, the Gospels remain our source for understanding and reflecting on that event. At the same time, its portrayal in the crèche helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts.

In a particular way, from the time of its Franciscan origins, the nativity scene has invited us to “feel” and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation. Implicitly, it summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross. It asks us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

4. I would like now to reflect on the various elements of the nativity scene in order to appreciate their deeper meaning. First, there is the background of a starry sky wrapped in the darkness and silence of night. We represent this not only out of fidelity to the Gospel accounts, but also for its symbolic value. We can think of all those times in our lives when we have experienced the darkness of night. Yet even then, God does not abandon us, but is there to answer our crucial questions about the meaning of life. Who am I? Where do I come from? Why was I born at this time in history? Why do I love? Why do I suffer? Why will I die? It was to answer these questions that God became man. His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadow of suffering (cf. Lk 1:79).

The landscapes that are part of the nativity scene also deserve some mention. Frequently they include the ruins of ancient houses or buildings, which in some instances replace the cave of Bethlehem and become a home for the Holy Family. These ruins appear to be inspired by the thirteenth-century Golden Legend of the Dominican Jacobus de Varagine, which relates a pagan belief that the Temple of Peace in Rome would collapse when a Virgin gave birth. More than anything, the ruins are the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays and disappoints. This scenic setting tells us that Jesus is newness in the midst of an aging world, that he has come to heal and rebuild, to restore the world and our lives to their original splendour.

5. With what emotion should we arrange the mountains, streams, sheep and shepherds in the nativity scene! As we do so, we are reminded that, as the prophets had foretold, all creation rejoices in the coming of the Messiah. The angels and the guiding star are a sign that we too are called to set out for the cave and to worship the Lord.

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk 2:15). So the shepherds tell one another after the proclamation of the angels. A beautiful lesson emerges from these simple words. Unlike so many other people, busy about many things, the shepherds become the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation. The shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet him with love, gratitude and awe. Thanks to Jesus, this encounter between God and his children gives birth to our religion and accounts for its unique beauty, so wonderfully evident in the nativity scene.

6. It is customary to add many symbolic figures to our nativity scenes. First, there are the beggars and the others who know only the wealth of the heart. They too have every right to draw near to the Infant Jesus; no one can evict them or send them away from a crib so makeshift that the poor seem entirely at home. Indeed, the poor are a privileged part of this mystery; often they are the first to recognize God’s presence in our midst.

The presence of the poor and the lowly in the nativity scene remind us that God became man for the sake of those who feel most in need of his love and who ask him to draw near to them. Jesus, “gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29), was born in poverty and led a simple life in order to teach us to recognize what is essential and to act accordingly. The nativity scene clearly teaches that we cannot let ourselves be fooled by wealth and fleeting promises of happiness. We see Herod’s palace in the background, closed and deaf to the tidings of joy. By being born in a manger, God himself launches the only true revolution that can give hope and dignity to the disinherited and the outcast: the revolution of love, the revolution of tenderness. From the manger, Jesus proclaims, in a meek yet powerful way, the need for sharing with the poor as the path to a more human and fraternal world in which no one is excluded or marginalized.

Children – but adults too! – often love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts. Yet, each in its own way, these fanciful additions show that in the new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for whatever is truly human and for all God’s creatures. From the shepherd to the blacksmith, from the baker to the musicians, from the women carrying jugs of water to the children at play: all this speaks of the everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way, born whenever Jesus shares his divine life with us.

7. Gradually, we come to the cave, where we find the figures of Mary and Joseph. Mary is a mother who contemplates her child and shows him to every visitor. The figure of Mary makes us reflect on the great mystery that surrounded this young woman when God knocked on the door of her immaculate heart. Mary responded in complete obedience to the message of the angel who asked her to become the Mother of God. Her words, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), show all of us how to abandon ourselves in faith to God’s will. By her “fiat”, Mary became the mother of God’s Son, not losing but, thanks to him, consecrating her virginity. In her, we see the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only to herself, but invites everyone to obey his word and to put it into practice (cf. Jn 2:5).

At Mary’s side, shown protecting the Child and his Mother, stands Saint Joseph. He is usually depicted with staff in hand, or holding up a lamp. Saint Joseph plays an important role in the life of Jesus and Mary. He is the guardian who tirelessly protects his family. When God warned him of Herod’s threat, he did not hesitate to set out and flee to Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-15). And once the danger had passed, he brought the family back to Nazareth, where he was to be the first teacher of Jesus as a boy and then as a young man. Joseph treasured in his heart the great mystery surrounding Jesus and Mary his spouse; as a just man, he entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice.

8. When, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things. It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all.

The birth of a child awakens joy and wonder; it sets before us the great mystery of life. Seeing the bright eyes of a young couple gazing at their new-born child, we can understand the feelings of Mary and Joseph who, as they looked at the Infant Jesus, sensed God’s presence in their lives.

“Life was made manifest” (1 Jn 1:2). In these words, the Apostle John sums up the mystery of the Incarnation. The crèche allows us to see and touch this unique and unparalleled event that changed the course of history, so that time would thereafter be reckoned either before or after the birth of Christ.

God’s ways are astonishing, for it seems impossible that he should forsake his glory to become a man like us. To our astonishment, we see God acting exactly as we do: he sleeps, takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like every other child! As always, God baffles us. He is unpredictable, constantly doing what we least expect. The nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life. It invites us to become his disciples if we want to attain ultimate meaning in life.

9. As the feast of Epiphany approaches, we place the statues of the Three Kings in the Christmas crèche. Observing the star, those wise men from the East set out for Bethlehem, in order to find Jesus and to offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These costly gifts have an allegorical meaning: gold honours Jesus’ kingship, incense his divinity, myrrh his sacred humanity that was to experience death and burial.

As we contemplate this aspect of the nativity scene, we are called to reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel. Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love.

The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route. Men of wealth, sages from afar, athirst for the infinite, they set out on the long and perilous journey that would lead them to Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:1-12). Great joy comes over them in the presence of the Infant King. They are not scandalized by the poor surroundings, but immediately fall to their knees to worship him. Kneeling before him, they understand that the God who with sovereign wisdom guides the course of the stars also guides the course of history, casting down the mighty and raising up the lowly. Upon their return home, they would certainly have told others of this amazing encounter with the Messiah, thus initiating the spread of the Gospel among the nations.

10. Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up. These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged: it can always be the same or it can change from year to year. What matters is that it speaks to our lives. Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Christmas crèche is part of the precious yet demanding process of passing on the faith. Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with him, his children, brothers and sisters all, thanks to that Child who is the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary. And to realize that in that knowledge we find true happiness. Like Saint Francis, may we open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise: a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who wished to share with us his all, and thus never to leave us alone.

FRANCISCUS

Given in Greccio, at the Shrine of the Nativity, on 1 December in the year 2019, the seventh of my Pontificate.





Pope Francis                              18.12.19  General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall
Pope Francis at General Audience: If life is reborn it's really Christmas

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!

In a week it's going to be Christmas. These days, as we rush to make preparations for the feast, we can ask ourselves, "How am I preparing for the birth of the Celebrated One?" A simple but effective way to prepare is to make the nativity scene. I also followed this path this year: I went to Greccio, where St. Francis made the first nativity scene, with the locals. And I wrote a letter to remember the meaning of this tradition, what the nativity scene means in the time of Christmas.

The nativity scene is like a living Gospel (Lett. ap. Admirable signum, 1). It brings the Gospel to the places where you live: in homes, schools, workplaces and gathering places, hospitals and nursing homes, prisons and squares. And there where we live, it reminds us of one essential thing: that God did not remain invisible in Heaven, but he came to Earth, he became a man, a child. Making the nativity scene is celebrating God's closeness. God has always been close to his people, but when he was incarnated and born, he was very close, very close. To make the crib is to celebrate God's closeness, it is to rediscover that God is real, concrete, alive and throbbing. God is not a distant lord or a detached judge, but He is a humble love, descended down to us. The child in the crib conveys His tenderness to us. Some figurines depict the child with open arms, to tell us that God has come to embrace our humanity. It is good to stand in front of the nativity scene and there to confide in the Lord about our lives, to talk to Him about the people and situations we care about, to make a balance with Him of the year that is ending, to share our expectations and concerns.

Next to Jesus we see Our Lady and St. Joseph. We can imagine the thoughts and feelings they had as the child was born into poverty: joy, but also dismay. And we can also invite the Holy Family into our home, where there are joys and worries, where every day we wake up, eat and sleep close to loved ones. The nativity scene is a domestic Gospel. The word crib literally means manger, while the city of the nativity scene, Bethlehem, means "house of bread". Manger and House of Bread: The nativity scene that we make at home, where we share food and affection, reminds us that Jesus is the essential nourishment, the bread of life (cf. John 6:34). It is He who feeds our love, He gives our families the strength to move forward and forgive each other.

The nativity scene offers us another teaching of life. In today's sometimes hectic rhythms it is an invitation to contemplation. It reminds us of the importance of stopping. Because it's only when we know how to gather ourselves in silence that we know how to receive what most matters in life. Only if we leave the noise of the world outside of our homes do we open ourselves up to listening to God, who speaks in silence. The nativity scene is more than ever current, it is the topicality of every family. Yesterday someone gave me a very small nativity scene, a little girl, which was called: "Let's let Mom rest". There was Our Lady asleep and Joseph with the little boy there, who made him fall asleep. How many of you have to divide the night between husband and wife for the child or the little girl who cries, cries, cries. "Let Mom rest" is the tenderness of a family, of a marriage.

The nativity scene is more relevant than ever, while every day many weapons and many violent images are created in the world, which enter the eyes and heart. The
nativity scene is instead a hand crafted image of peace. That's why it's a living Gospel.

Dear brothers and sisters, from the nativity scene we can finally learn a lesson about the very meaning of life. We see daily scenes: the shepherds with sheep, the blacksmiths beating the iron, the millers making bread; sometimes we enter landscapes and situations from our territories. It is the right thing, because the nativity scene reminds us that Jesus comes into our concrete life. And, that's important. We should always make a little nativity scene at home to remember that Jesus came to us, He was born for us, He accompanies us in life, He was a man like us, He became a man like us. In everyday life we are no longer alone, He lives with us. He doesn't magically change things, but if we accept Him, everything can change. I hope then that making the nativity scene might be an opportunity to invite Jesus into your life. When we make the nativity scene at home, it is like opening the door and saying: "Jesus, come in!", it is to make this closeness concrete, this invitation to Jesus to come into our lives. Because if He lives in our lives, life is reborn. And if life is reborn, it's really Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone!





Pope Francis Christmas Greetings to Vatican Employees 21.12.19

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am happy to be with you for our Christmas appointment. Thank you for coming, and with your families. Thank you!

My wish this time can be summed up in one word:
smile.

I was inspired by one of the last countries I visited last month
: Thailand. It is called the country of the smile, because there people smile a lot, they have a special kindness, very noble, which is summed up in this facial feature, which is reflected in all their bearing. This experience impressed me, and makes me think of the smile as an expression of love and affection, typically human.

When we look at a new-born baby, we are led to smile at it, and if a smile blossoms on its small face, then we feel a simple, naive emotion. The child responds to our gaze, but his smile is much more "powerful", because it is new, pure, like spring water, and in us adults it awakens an intimate nostalgia for childhood.

This happened in a unique way between Mary and Joseph and Jesus. The Virgin and her husband, with their love, made a smile blossom on the lips of their new-born child. But when this happened, their hearts were filled with a new joy, from Heaven. And the little stable in Bethlehem was illuminated.

Jesus is the smile of God. He came to reveal to us the love of our Heavenly Father, His goodness, and the first way He did so was to smile at His parents, like every newborn child in this world. And they, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, because of their great faith, were able to accept that message, they recognized in Jesus’ smile God’s mercy for them and for all those who were waiting for His coming, the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel.

Behold, dearly beloved, in the manger we too relive this experience: to look at the Child Jesus and feel that God is smiling at us there, and smiling at all the poor of the earth, at all those who await salvation, who hope for a more fraternal world, where there is no more war and violence, where every man and woman can live in his or her dignity as son and daughter of God.

Here too, in the Vatican and in the various Roman offices of the Holy See, we always need to let ourselves be renewed by the smile of the Child Jesus. Let His defenceless goodness purify us from the waste that often encrusts our hearts, and prevents us from giving the best of ourselves. It is true, work is work, and there are other places and moments in which each person expresses himself in a fuller and richer way; but it is also true that we spend a good part of our days in the work environment, and we are convinced that the quality of work goes hand in hand with the human quality of relationships, of lifestyle. This is especially true for us, who work in the service of the Church and in the name of Christ.

Sometimes it becomes difficult to smile, for many reasons. Then we need God’s smile: Jesus, only He can help us. Only He is the Saviour, and sometimes we experience this in our lives.

Other times things go well, but then there is the danger of feeling too safe and forgetting about others who are struggling. Then too we need God’s smile to strip us of false security and bring us back to the taste for simplicity and gratuitousness.

So, dear friends, today let us exchange this wish: at Christmas, participating in the Liturgy, and also contemplating the manger, let us wonder at God’s smile, which Jesus came to bring. It is He Himself, this smile. Like Mary, like Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us welcome Him, let us allow ourselves to be purified, and we too can bring others a humble, simple smile.

Thank you all! Take this wish to your loved ones at home, especially the sick and the elderly. And let us remain united in prayer. Merry Christmas!






Pope Francis   24.12.19  Midnight Mass, Vatican Basilica    Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Year A        Isaiah 9: 1-6,      Titus 2: 11-14     Luke 2: 1-14

Pope Francis 24.12.19 Midnight Mass Nativity of Jesus

"Upon those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness a light has shone"(Is 9:1). This prophecy of the first Reading was fulfilled in the Gospel: in fact, as the shepherds kept watch over their flocks at night, "the glory of the Lord shone around them"(Luke 2:9). In the midst of our earthly night a light appeared from heaven. What does this light that appeared in darkness mean? The Apostle Paul suggests this to us, who told us: "God's grace has appeared." The grace of God, who "brings salvation to all men"(Titus 2:11), has shone on our world tonight.

But what is this grace? It is divine love, love that transforms life, renews history, frees from evil, instils peace and joy. Tonight the love of God has shown itself to us: it is Jesus. In Jesus the highest became small, to be loved by us. In Jesus God became a child, to be embraced by us. But, we can still ask ourselves, why does St. Paul call the coming into God's world "grace"? To tell us it's completely free. While here on earth everything seems to respond to the logic of giving to get, God comes free. His love is non-negotiable: we have done nothing to deserve it and we can never reward Him.

God's grace has appeared. Tonight we realize that, while we were not up to it, He made himself small for us; as we went about our own deeds, He came among us. Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. To me, to you, to each of us he says today: "I love you and I will always love you, you are precious in my eyes". God does not love you because you think right and behave well; he just loves you. His love is unconditional, it's not up to you. You may have misconceptions, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord does not give up loving you. How often do we think that God is good if we are good and that He punishes us if we are bad. It's not like that. In our sins, He continues to love us. His love does not change, He is not fickle; He's faithful, He's patient. This is the gift we find at Christmas: we discover with amazement that the Lord is absolute gratuity, absolute tender love. His glory does not dazzle us, His presence does not frighten us. He was born in utter poverty, to win our hearts with the wealth of His love.

God's grace has appeared. Grace is synonymous with beauty. Tonight, in the beauty of God's love, we also rediscover our beauty, because we are God's beloved. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, happy or sad, in his eyes we look beautiful: not for what we do, but for what we are. There is in us an indelible, intangible beauty, an irrepressible beauty that is the core of our being. Today God reminds us of this, lovingly taking our humanity and making it His own, marrying it forever.

Indeed, the great joy announced tonight to the shepherd is indeed for all the people. In those shepherds, who were certainly not saints, we are also there, with our frailties and weaknesses. As He called them, God also calls us, because He loves us. And, in the dark nights of life, He says to us as to them: "Do not be afraid"(Lc 2:10). Take courage, do not lose confidence, do not lose hope, do not think that loving is wasted time! Tonight love has overcome fear, a new hope has arrived, the gentle light of God has overcome the darkness of human arrogance. Humanity, God loves you and for your sake He became man, you are no longer alone!

Dear brothers and sisters, what are we to do with this grace? Only one thing: to accept the gift. Before we go in search of God, let us allow ourselves be sought by Him, who seeks us first. Let us not begin with our abilities, but with His grace, because He, Jesus, is the Saviour. Let us contemplate the Child and let ourselves be enveloped by His tenderness. We have no more excuses not to let ourselves be loved by Him: whatever goes wrong in life, whatever doesn't work in the Church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse. It will become secondary, because in the face of Jesus' extravagant love, a love utter meekness and closeness, there is no excuse. The question at Christmas is, "Do I let myself be loved by God? Do I abandon myself to His love that comes to save me?"

Such a great gift deserves so much gratitude. To accept this grace means being ready to give thanks in return. But often we live our lives with such little gratitude. Today is the right day to get closer to the tabernacle, the crib, the manger, to say thank you. Let us receive the gift that is Jesus, in order then to become a gift like Jesus. Becoming a gift is giving meaning to life. And it is the best way to change the world: we change, the Church changes, history changes when we stop trying to change others but try to change ourselves, making our lives a gift.

Jesus shows us this tonight: He did not change history by pressuring anyone or by the force of words, but with the gift of His life. He didn't wait for us to become good before He loved us, but He gave Himself freely to us. May we not wait for our neighbours to become good before we do good for them, for the Church to be perfect before we love her, for others to respect us before we serve them. Let's begin with ourselves. This is what it means freely to accept the gift of grace. And holiness is nothing more than to preserve this freedom.

A charming legend relates that at the birth of Jesus, the shepherds hurried to the stable with various gifts. Each one brought what he had, some brought the fruits of their own work, some brought something precious. But, as they were presenting their gift, there was one shepherd who had nothing. He was very poor, he had nothing to offer. As the others competed in to give their gifts, he stood on the side-lines, embarrassed. At one point St. Joseph and Our Lady found it hard to receive all the gifts, many, especially Mary, who was holding the Baby. Then, seeing that shepherd with empty hands, she asked him to come closer. And she put Jesus in his arms. That shepherd, in accepting Him, realized that he had received what he did not deserve, that he had in his arms the greatest gift in history. He looked at his hands, those hands that always seemed empty to him: they had become the cradle of God. He felt loved, and overcoming the embarrassment, he began to show Jesus to the others, because he could not keep for himself the gift of gifts.

Dear brother, dear sister, if your hands look empty to you, if you think your heart is poor in love, tonight is for you. God's grace has appeared to shine in your life. Embrace it and the light of Christmas shines in you.





Pope Francis Urbi et Orbi 25.12.19

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1) 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Merry
Christmas!

From the womb of Mother Church, the incarnate Son of God is born anew this night. His name is Jesus, which means: “God saves”. The Father, eternal and infinite
Love, has sent him into the world not to condemn the world but to save it (cf. Jn 3:17). The Father has given him to us with great mercy. He has given him to everyone. He has given him forever. The Son is born, like a small light flickering in the cold and darkness of the night.

That Child, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word of God made flesh. The Word who guided Abraham’s heart and steps towards the promised land, and who continues to draw to himself all those who trust in God’s promises. The Word who led the Hebrews on the journey from slavery to freedom and who continues to call the enslaved in every age, including our own, to come forth from their prisons. He is the Word brighter than the sun, made incarnate in a tiny son of man: Jesus the light of the world.

This is why the prophet cries out: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). There is darkness in human hearts, yet the light of Christ is greater still. There is darkness in personal, family and social relationships, but the light of Christ is greater. There is darkness in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts, yet greater still is the light of Christ.

May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world. May he bring comfort to the beloved Syrian people who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade. Today may he stir the consciences of men and women of good will. May he inspire governments and the international community to find solutions to allow the peoples of that region to live together in peace and security, and put an end to their unspeakable sufferings. May he sustain the Lebanese people and enable them to overcome the current crisis and rediscover their vocation to be a message of freedom and harmonious coexistence for all.

May the Lord Jesus bring light to the Holy Land, where he was born as the Saviour of mankind, and where so many people – struggling but not discouraged – still await a time of peace, security and prosperity. May he bring consolation to Iraq amid its present social tensions, and to Yemen, suffering from a grave humanitarian crisis.

May the tiny Babe of Bethlehem bring hope to the whole American continent, where a number of nations are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval. May he encourage the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions, and ensure that they receive the aid they need. May he bless the efforts of those who spare no effort to promote justice and reconciliation and to overcome the various crises and the many forms of poverty that offend the dignity of each person.

May the Redeemer of the world bring light to beloved Ukraine, which yearns for concrete solutions for an enduring peace.

May the new-born Lord bring light to the people of Africa, where persistent social and political situations often force individuals to migrate, depriving them of a home and family. May he bring peace to those living in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, torn by continuing conflicts. May he bring consolation to all who suffer because of violence, natural disasters or outbreaks of disease. And may he bring comfort to those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and to the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

May the Son of God, come down to earth from heaven, protect and sustain all those who, due to these and other injustices, are forced to emigrate in the hope of a secure life. It is injustice that makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries. It is injustice that forces them to ensure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps. It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference.

May Emmanuel bring light to all the suffering members of our human family. May he soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of his love. May he bring his smile, through our poor faces, to all the children of the world: to those who are abandoned and those who suffer violence. Through our frail hands, may he clothe those who have nothing to wear, give bread to the hungry and heal the sick. Through our friendship, such as it is, may he draw close to the elderly and the lonely, to migrants and the marginalized. On this joyful Christmas Day, may he bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world.




      
Pope Francis  05.01.20  Angelus, St Peter's Square     Second Sunday after Christmas Year A       Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-18

Pope Francis Angelus 05.01.20

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

On this second Sunday of Christmas Time, the Scripture Readings help us to broaden our gaze, in order to have a full awareness of the meaning of Jesus' birth.
The Gospel, with the Prologue of St. John, shows us the shocking novelty: the eternal Word, the Son of God, "became flesh" (v. 14). Not only did he come to live among the people, but he became one of the people, one of us! After this event, to guide our lives we no longer have only a law, an institution, but a Person, a divine Person, Jesus, who guides our lives, makes us go on the right path because He has done it before. 

St. Paul blesses God for his design of love made in Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:3-6, 15-18). In this plan each of us finds our fundamental vocation. What is it? So Paul says: we are predestined to be children of God by the work of Jesus Christ. The Son of God became a man to make us, men, children of God. For this reason the Eternal Son has made himself flesh: to introduce us into his filial relationship with the Father. 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we continue to contemplate the admirable sign of the Nativity scene, today's Liturgy tells us that the Gospel of Christ is not a fairy tale, it is not a myth, an uplifting tale, no. The Gospel of Christ is the full revelation of God's plan, of God's plan for human beings and the world. It is a message that is both simple and grandiose, that prompts us to ask ourselves: what concrete project has the Lord placed in me, as He continues to make His birth present among us?

It is the Apostle Paul who suggests the answer: "God has chosen us. To be holy and without blemish before him. In love" (v. 4). That's what Christmas means. If the Lord continues to come among us, if he continues to give us his Word, it is for each of us to respond to this call: to become saints in love. Holiness is belonging to God, it is communion with him, and becoming a manifestation of his infinite goodness. Holiness is to preserve the gift that God has given us. Only this: to guard the gratuitousness. This is being holy. Therefore, those who accept holiness as a gift of grace cannot fail to translate it into concrete action in everyday life. This gift, this grace that God has given me, I translate it into concrete actions in everyday life, in the encounter with others. This charity, this mercy towards our neighbour, is a reflection of God's love, and at the same time purifies our hearts and gives us forgiveness, making us "without blemish" day after day. But without blemish not in the sense that I take a stain off: immaculate in the sense that God enters us, the gift, the gratuitousness of God enters us and we guard it and give it to others. 

May the Blessed Virgin Mary helps us to welcome with joy and gratitude the divine design of love realized in Jesus Christ.










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