Luke Chapter 2
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"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.
In the readings of today’s Mass, three verbs find their fulfilment in the Mother of God: to bless, to be born and to find.
To bless. In the Book of Numbers, the Lord tells his sacred ministers to bless his people: “Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you’” (6:23-24). This is no pious exhortation; it is a specific request. And it is important that, today too, priests constantly bless the People of God and that the faithful themselves be bearers of blessing; that they bless. The Lord knows how much we need to be blessed. The first thing he did after creating the world was to say that everything was good (bene-dicere) and to say of us that that we were very good. Now, however, with the Son of God we receive not only words of blessing, but the blessing itself: Jesus is himself the blessing of the Father. In him, Saint Paul tells us, the Father blesses us “with every blessing” (Eph 1:3). Every time we open our hearts to Jesus, God’s blessing enters our lives.
Today we celebrate the Son of God, who is “blessed” by nature, who comes to us through his Mother, “blessed” by grace. In this way, Mary brings us God’s blessing. Wherever she is, Jesus comes to us. Therefore, we should welcome her like Saint Elizabeth who, immediately recognizing the blessing, cried out: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42). We repeat those words every time we recite the Hail Mary. In welcoming Mary, we receive a blessing, but we also learn to bless. Our Lady teaches us that blessings are received in order to be given. She, who was blessed, became a blessing for all those whom she met: for Elizabeth, for the newlyweds at Cana, for the Apostles in the Upper Room… We too are called to bless, to “speak well” in God’s name. Our world is gravely polluted by the way we “speak” and think “badly” of others, of society, of ourselves. Speaking badly corrupts and decays, whereas blessing restores life and gives the strength needed to begin anew each day. Let us ask the Mother of God for the grace to be joyful bearers of God’s blessing to others, as she is to us.
The second verb is to be born. Saint Paul points out that the Son of God was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). In these few words, he tells us something amazing: that the Lord was born like us. He did not appear on the scene as an adult, but as a child. He came into the world not on his own, but from a woman, after nine months in the womb of his Mother, from whom he allowed his humanity to be shaped. The heart of the Lord began to beat within Mary; the God of life drew oxygen from her. Ever since then, Mary has united us to God because in her God bound himself to our flesh, and he has never left it. Saint Francis loved to say that Mary “made the Lord of Majesty our brother” (Saint Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, 9, 3). She is not only the bridge joining us to God; she is more. She is the road that God travelled in order to reach us, and the road that we must travel in order to reach him. Through Mary, we encounter God the way he wants us to: in tender love, in intimacy, in the flesh. For Jesus is not an abstract idea; he is real and incarnate; he was “born of a woman”, and quietly grew. Women know about this kind of quiet growth. We men tend to be abstract and want things right away. Women are concrete and know how to weave life’s threads with quiet patience. How many women, how many mothers, thus give birth and rebirth to life, offering the world a future!
We are in this world not to die, but to give life. The holy Mother of God teaches us that the first step in giving life to those around us is to cherish it within ourselves. Today’s Gospel tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19). And goodness comes from the heart. How important it is to keep our hearts pure, to cultivate our interior life and to persevere in our prayer! How important it is to educate our hearts to care, to cherish the persons and things around us. Everything starts from this: from cherishing others, the world and creation. What good is it to know many persons and things if we fail to cherish them? This year, while we hope for new beginnings and new cures, let us not neglect care. Together with a vaccine for our bodies, we need a vaccine for our hearts. That vaccine is care. This will be a good year if we take care of others, as Our Lady does with us.
The third verb is to find. The Gospel tells us that the shepherds “found Mary and Joseph and the child” (v. 16). They did not find miraculous and spectacular signs, but a simple family. Yet there they truly found God, who is grandeur in littleness, strength in tenderness. But how were the shepherds able to find this inconspicuous sign? They were called by an angel. We too would not have found God if we had not been called by grace. We could never have imagined such a God, born of a woman, who revolutionizes history with tender love. Yet by grace we did find him. And we discovered that his forgiveness brings new birth, his consolation enkindles hope, his presence bestows irrepressible joy. We found him but we must not lose sight of him. Indeed, the Lord is never found once and for all: each day he has to be found anew. The Gospel thus describes the shepherds as constantly on the lookout, constantly on the move: “they went with haste, they found, they made known, they returned, glorifying and praising God” (vv. 16-17.20). They were not passive, because to receive grace we have to be active.
What about ourselves? What are we called to find at the beginning of this year? It would be good to find time for someone. Time is a treasure that all of us possess, yet we guard it jealously, since we want to use it only for ourselves. Let us ask for the grace to find time for God and for our neighbour – for those who are alone or suffering, for those who need someone to listen and show concern for them. If we can find time to give, we will be amazed and filled with joy, like the shepherds. May Our Lady, who brought God into the world of time, help us to be generous with our time. Holy Mother of God, to you we consecrate this New Year. You, who know how to cherish things in your heart, care for us, bless our time, and teach us to find time for God and for others. With joy and confidence, we acclaim you: Holy Mother of God! Amen.
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is also known as the Feast of the Encounter: the Liturgy says at the beginning that Jesus goes to meet his people. Thus, this is the encounter between Jesus and his people, when Mary and Joseph brought their child to the Temple in Jerusalem; the first encounter between Jesus and his people, represented by Simeon and Anna, took place.
It was also the first encounter within the history of the people, a meeting between the young and the old: the young were Mary and Joseph with their infant son and the old were Simeon and Anna, two people who often went to the Temple.
Let’s observe what the evangelist Luke tells us of them, as he describes them. He says four times that Our Lady and St Joseph wanted to do what was required by the Law of the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22, 23, 24, 27). One almost feels and perceives that Jesus’ parents have the joy of observing the precepts of God, yes, the joy of walking according to the Law of the Lord! They are two newlyweds, they have just had their baby, and they are motivated by the desire to do what is prescribed. This is not an external fact; it is not just to feel right, no! It’s a strong desire, a deep desire, full of joy. That’s what the Psalm says: “In the way of thy testimonies I delight…. For thy law is my delight” (119 :14, 77).
And what does St Luke say of the elderly? He underlines, more than once, that they were guided by the Holy Spirit. He says Simeon was a righteous and devout man, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and that “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). He says that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit” that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26); and finally that he went to the Temple “inspired by the Spirit “(v. 27). He says Anna was a “prophetess” (v. 36); that is she was inspired by God and that she was always “worshipping with fasting and prayer” in the Temple (v. 37). In short, these two elders are full of life! They are full of life because they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, obedient to his action, sensitive to his calls....
And now there is the encounter between the Holy Family and the two representatives of the holy people of God. Jesus is at the centre. It is he who moves everything, who draws all of them to the Temple, the house of his Father.
It is a meeting between the young, who are full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord, and the elderly who are full of joy in the action of the Holy Spirit. It is a unique encounter between observance and prophecy, where young people are the observers and the elderly are prophets! In fact, if we think carefully, observance of the Law is animated by the Spirit and the prophecy moves forward along the path traced by the Law. Who, more than Mary, is full of the Holy Spirit? Who more than she is docile to its action?
In the light of this Gospel scene, let us look at consecrated life as an encounter with Christ: it is he who comes to us, led by Mary and Joseph, and we go towards him guided by the Holy Spirit. He is at the centre. He moves everything, he draws us to the Temple, to the Church, where we can meet him, recognize him, welcome him, embrace him.
Jesus comes to us in the Church through the foundational charism of an Institute: it is nice to think of our vocation in this way! Our encounter with Christ took shape in the Church through the charism of one of her witnesses. This always amazes us and makes us give thanks.
And in the consecrated life we live the encounter between the young and the old, between observation and prophecy. Let’s not see these as two opposing realities! Let us rather allow the Holy Spirit to animate both of them, and a sign of this is joy: the joy of observing, of walking within a rule of life; the joy of being led by the Spirit, never unyielding, never closed, always open to the voice of God that speaks, that opens, that leads us and invites us to go towards the horizon.
It’s good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young; and it’s good for the young people to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom, and to carry it forward, not so as to safeguard it in a museum, but to carry it forward addressing the challenges that life brings, to carry it forward for the sake of the respective religious orders and of the whole Church.
May the grace of this mystery, the mystery of the Encounter, enlighten us and comfort us on our journey. Amen.
Forty days after Christmas, we celebrate the Lord who enters the Temple and comes to encounter his people. In the Christian East, this feast is called the “Feast of Encounter”: it is the encounter between God, who became a child to bring newness to our world, and an expectant humanity, represented by the elderly man and woman in the Temple.
In the Temple, there is also an encounter between two couples: the young Mary and Joseph, and the elderly Simeon and Anna. The old receive from the young, while the young draw upon the old. In the Temple, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their people. This is important, because God’s promise does not come to fulfilment merely in individuals, once for all, but within a community and throughout history. There too, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their faith, for faith is not something learned from a book, but the art of living with God, learned from the experience of those who have gone before us. The two young people, in meeting the two older people, thus find themselves. And the two older people, nearing the end of their days, receive Jesus, the meaning of their lives. This event fulfils the prophecy of Joel: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28). In this encounter, the young see their mission and the elderly realize their dreams. All because, at the centre of the encounter, is Jesus.
Let us look to our own lives, dear consecrated brothers and sisters. Everything started in an encounter with the Lord. Our journey of consecration was born of an encounter and a call. We need to keep this in mind. And if we remember aright, we will realize that in that encounter we were not alone with Jesus; there was also the people of God, the Church, young and old, just as in today’s Gospel. It is striking too, that while the young Mary and Joseph faithfully observe the Law – the Gospel tells us this four times – and never speak, the elderly Simeon and Anna come running up and prophesy. It seems it should be the other way around. Generally, it is the young who speak enthusiastically about the future, while the elderly protect the past. In the Gospel, the very opposite occurs, because when we meet one another in the Lord, God’s surprises immediately follow.
For this to occur in the consecrated life, we have to remember that we can never renew our encounter with the Lord without others; we can never leave others behind, never pass over generations, but must accompany one another daily, keeping the Lord always at the centre. For if the young are called to open new doors, the elderly hold the keys. An institute remains youthful by going back to its roots, by listening to its older members. There is no future without this encounter between the old and the young. There is no growth without roots and no flowering without new buds. There is never prophecy without memory, or memory without prophecy. And constant encounter.
Today’s frantic pace leads us to close many doors to encounter, often for fear of others. Only shopping malls and internet connections are always open. Yet that is not how it should be with consecrated life: the brother and the sister given to me by God are a part of my history, gifts to be cherished. May we never look at the screen of our cellphone more than the eyes of our brothers or sisters, or focus more on our software than on the Lord. For whenever we put our own projects, methods and organization at the centre, consecrated life stops being attractive; it no longer speaks to others; it no longer flourishes because it forgets its very foundations, its very roots.
Consecrated life is born and reborn of an encounter with Jesus as he is: poor, chaste and obedient. We journey along a double track: on the one hand, God’s loving initiative, from which everything starts and to which we must always return; on the other, our own response, which is truly loving when it has no “ifs” or “buts”, when it imitates Jesus in his poverty, chastity and obedience. Whereas the life of this world attempts to take hold of us, the consecrated life turns from fleeting riches to embrace the One who endures forever. The life of this world pursues selfish pleasures and desires; the consecrated life frees our affections of every possession in order fully to love God and other people. Worldly life aims to do whatever we want; consecrated life chooses humble obedience as the greater freedom. And while worldly life soon leaves our hands and hearts empty, life in Jesus fills us with peace to the very end, as in the Gospel, where Simeon and Anna come happily to the sunset of their lives with the Lord in their arms and joy in their hearts.
How good it is for us to hold the Lord “in our arms” (Lk 2:28), like Simeon. Not only in our heads and in our hearts, but also “in our hands”, in all that we do: in prayer, at work, at the table, on the telephone, at school, with the poor, everywhere. Having the Lord “in our hands” is an antidote to insular mysticism and frenetic activism, since a genuine encounter with Jesus corrects both saccharine piety and frazzled hyperactivity. Savouring the encounter with Jesus is also the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. The secret to fanning the flame of our spiritual life is a willingness to allow ourselves to encounter Jesus and to be encountered by him; otherwise we fall into a stifling life, where disgruntlement, bitterness and inevitable disappointments get the better of us. To encounter one another in Jesus as brothers and sisters, young and old, and thus to abandon the barren rhetoric of “the good old days” – a nostalgia that kills the soul – and to silence those who think that “everything is falling apart”. If we encounter Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the everyday events of our life, our hearts will no longer be set on the past or the future, but will experience the “today of God” in peace with everyone.
At the end of the Gospels, there is another encounter with Jesus that can inspire the consecrated life. It is that of the women before the tomb. They had gone to encounter the dead; their journey seemed pointless. You too are journeying against the current: the life of the world easily rejects poverty, chastity and obedience. But like those women, keep moving forward, without worrying about whatever heavy stones need to be removed (cf. Mk 16:3). And like those women, be the first to meet the Lord, risen and alive. Cling to him (cf. Mt 28:9) and go off immediately to tell your brothers and sisters, your eyes brimming with joy (cf. v. 8). In this way, you are the Church’s perennial dawn. You, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, are the Church’s perennial dawn! I ask you to renew this very day your encounter with Jesus, to walk together towards him. And this will give light to your eyes and strength to your steps.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
A few days after Christmas, the liturgy invites us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is good to reflect on the fact that the Son of God wanted to be in need of the warmth of a family, like all children. Precisely for this reason, because it is Jesus’ family, the family of Nazareth is the model family, in which all families of the world can find their sure point of reference and sure inspiration. In Nazareth, the springtime of the human life of the Son of God began to blossom at the moment he was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit in the virginal womb of Mary. Within the welcoming walls of the House of Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood unfolded in joy, surrounded by the maternal attention of Mary and the care of Joseph, in whom Jesus was able to see God’s tenderness (cf. Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, 2).
In imitation of the Holy Family, we are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit: it must be founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope. Within the family one can experience sincere communion when it is a house of prayer, when the affections are serious, profound, pure, when forgiveness prevails over discord, when the daily harshness of life is softened by mutual tenderness and serene adherence to God's will. In this way, the family opens itself to the joy that God gives to all those who know how to give joyfully. At the same time, it finds the spiritual energy to be open to the outside world, to others, to the service of brothers and sisters, to collaboration in building an ever new and better world; capable, therefore, of becoming a bearer of positive stimuli; the family evangelises by the example of life.
It is true, in every family there are problems, and at times arguments. “And, Father, I argued…” but we are human, we are weak, and we all quarrel within the family at times. I would like to say something to you: if you quarrel within the family, do not end the day without making peace. “Yes, I quarrelled”, but before the end of the day, make peace. And do you know why? Because cold war, day after day, is extremely dangerous. It does not help. And then, in the family there are three words, three phrases that must always be held dear: “Please”, “Thank you”, and “I am sorry”. “Please”, so as not to be intrusive in the life of others. Please: may I do something? Is it alright with you if I do this? Please. Always, so as not to be intrusive. Please, the first word. “Thank you”: so much help, so much service is granted to us in the family: always say thank you. Gratitude is the lifeblood of the noble soul. “Thank you”. And then, the hardest to say: “I am sorry”. Because we always do bad things and very often someone is offended by this: “I am sorry”, “I am sorry”. Do not forget the three worlds: “please”, “thank you”, and “I am sorry”. If in a family, in the family environment there are these three words, the family is fine.
Today's feast reminds us of the example of evangelising with the family, proposing to us once again the ideal of conjugal and family love, as underlined in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, promulgated five years ago this coming 19 March. And it will be a year of reflection on Amoris laetitia and it will be an opportunity to focus more closely on the contents of the document. These reflections will be made available to ecclesial communities and families, to accompany them on their journey. As of now, I invite everyone to take part in the initiatives that will be promoted during the Year and that will be coordinated by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life. Let us entrust this journey, with families all over the world, to the Holy Family of Nazareth, in particular to Saint Joseph, the devoted spouse and father.
May the Virgin Mary, to whom we now address the Angelus prayer, grant that families throughout the world world be increasingly fascinated by the evangelical ideal of the Holy Family, so as to become a leaven of new humanity and of a genuine and universal solidarity.
In the Temple of Jerusalem, Mary offers the baby Jesus to the aged Simeon, who takes him in his arms and acknowledges him as the Messiah sent for the salvation of Israel. Here we see Mary for who she truly is: the Mother who gives us her son Jesus. That is why we love her and venerate her. In this National Shrine of Šaštín, the Slovak people hasten to her with faith and devotion, for they know that she brings us Jesus. The logo of this Apostolic Journey depicts a winding path within a heart surmounted by the cross: Mary is the path that guides us to the Heart of Christ, who gave his life for love of us.
In the light of the Gospel we have just heard, we can contemplate Mary as a model of faith. And we can discern three dimensions of faith: it is journey, prophecy and compassion.
First, Mary’s is a faith that sets her on a journey. The young woman of Nazareth, after hearing the message of the angel, “went with haste into the hill country” (Lk 1:39) to visit and assist Elizabeth, her cousin. She did not consider it a privilege to be chosen as the Mother of the Saviour; she did not lose the simple joy of her humility after the visit of the angel; she did not keep thinking about herself within the four walls of her house. Rather, she experienced the gift she had received as a mission to be carried out; she felt urged to open the door and go out; she became completely caught up in God’s own “haste” to reach all people with his saving love. That is why Mary set out on her journey. She chose the unknowns of the journey over the comfort of her daily routines, the weariness of travel over the peace and quiet of home; the risk of a faith that makes our lives a loving gift to others over a placid piety.
Today’s Gospel likewise presents Mary as she sets out on a journey: this time towards Jerusalem, where together with Joseph her spouse, she presents Jesus in the Temple. The rest of her life will be a journey in the footsteps of her Son, as the first of his disciples, even to Calvary, to the foot of the cross. Mary never stops journeying.
For you, the Slovak people, the Blessed Virgin is a model of faith: a faith that involves journeying, a faith inspired by simple and sincere devotion, a constant pilgrimage to seek the Lord. In making this journey, you overcome the temptation to a passive faith, content with this or that ritual or ancient tradition. Instead, you leave yourselves behind and set out, carrying in your backpacks the joys and sorrows of this life, and thus make your life a pilgrimage of love towards God and your brothers and sisters. Thank you for this witness! And please, always persevere on this journey! Do not stop! And I would like to add something else. I said: “Do not stop”, for when the Church stops, it becomes sick. When the Bishops stop, they make the Church sick. When priests stop, they make the people of God sick.
Mary’s faith is also prophetic. By her very life, the young woman of Nazareth is a prophetic sign pointing to God’s presence in human history, his merciful intervention that confounds the logic of the world, lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty (cf. Lk 1:52). Mary embodies the “poor of the Lord”, who cry out to him and await the coming of the Messiah. She is the Daughter of Sion proclaimed by Israel’s prophets (cf. Zeph 3:14-18), the Virgin who was to conceive Emmanuel, God-with-us (cf. Is 7:14). As the Immaculate Virgin, Mary is the icon of our own vocation, for, like her, we are called to be holy and blameless in love (cf. Eph 1:4), images of Christ.
Israel’s prophetic tradition culminates in Mary, because she bears in her womb Jesus, the incarnate Word who brings to complete and definitive fruition God’s saving plan. Of Jesus, Simeon says to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel… a sign that will be opposed” (Lk 2:34).
Let us never forget this: faith cannot be reduced to a sweetener to make life more palatable. Jesus is a sign of contradiction. He came to bring light to the darkness, exposing the darkness for what it is and forcing it to submit to him. For this reason, the darkness always fights against him. Those who accept Christ in their lives will rise; those who reject him remain in the darkness, to their own ruin. Jesus told his disciples that he came to bring not peace but a sword (cf. Mt 10:34): indeed, his word, like a two-edged sword, pierces our life, separating light from darkness and demanding a decision. His word demands of us: “Choose!” Where Jesus is concerned, we cannot remain lukewarm, with a foot in both camps; we cannot. When I accept him, he reveals my contradictions, my idols, my temptations. He becomes my resurrection, the one who always lifts me up when I fall, the one who takes me by the hand and lets me start anew. He always lifts me up.
Slovakia today needs such prophets. I urge you, the Bishops: be prophets who follow this path. This has nothing to do with hostility toward the world, but with being “signs of contradiction” within the world. Christians who can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel by the way they live. Christians who are weavers of dialogue where hostility is growing; models of fraternal life where society is experiencing tension and hostility; bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns.
Mary, the Mother of the journey, set out on the journey. Mary is also the Mother of prophecy. Finally, Mary is the Mother of compassion. Her faith is compassionate. She, “the servant of the Lord” (cf. Lk 1:38) who, with a mother’s care, ensured that the wine at the wedding feast of Cana would be sufficient (cf. Jn 2:1-12), shared in her Son’s mission of salvation, even to the foot of the Cross. At Calvary, in her overwhelming grief, she understood the prophecy of Simeon: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:35). The suffering of her dying Son, who had taken upon himself the sins and infirmities of humanity, pierced her own heart. Jesus suffered in the flesh, the man of sorrows, disfigured by evil (cf. Is 53:3ff). Mary suffered in spirit, as the compassionate Mother who dries our tears, comforts us and points to Christ’s definitive victory.
Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot the cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief. Here is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her Son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.
In contemplating the Sorrowful Mother, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering and forced to bear heavy crosses. A faith that does not remain abstract, but becomes incarnate in fellowship with those in need. A faith that imitates God’s way of doing things, quietly relieves the suffering of our world and waters the soil of history with salvation.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord always preserve in you wonderment and gratitude for the great gift of faith! And may Mary Most Holy obtain for you the grace of a faith that ever sets out anew, is deeply prophetic and abounds in compassion.