Luke Chapter 2
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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 pilgrim 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 pilgrim 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.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9:1). “An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.
We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light”. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.
The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. God was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples. The patience of God. How difficult it is to comprehend this: God’s patience towards us.
Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns; and every day, with patience. The patience of God.
Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). The “sign” is in fact the humility of God, the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.
On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to seek me, find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?
More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.
The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.
Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). People who were unassuming, people open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: “O Mary, show us Jesus!”.
Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the sceptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.
Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.
So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).
In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8)
“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.
Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). In these plain and clear words, Luke brings us to the heart of that holy night: Mary gave birth; she gave us Jesus, the Light of the world. A simple story that plunges us into the event that changes our history for ever. Everything, that night, became a source of hope.
Let us go back a few verses. By decree of the Emperor, Mary and Joseph found themselves forced to set out. They had to leave their people, their home and their land, and to undertake a journey in order to be registered in the census. This was no comfortable or easy journey for a young couple about to have a child: they had to leave their land. At heart, they were full of hope and expectation because of the child about to be born; yet their steps were weighed down by the uncertainties and dangers that attend those who have to leave their home behind.
Then they found themselves having to face perhaps the most difficult thing of all. They arrived in Bethlehem and experienced that it was a land that was not expecting them. A land where there was no place for them.
And there, where everything was a challenge, Mary gave us Emmanuel. The Son of God had to be born in a stable because his own had no room for him. “He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). And there, amid the gloom of a city that had no room or place for the stranger from afar, amid the darkness of a bustling city which in this case seemed to want to build itself up by turning its back on others… it was precisely there that the revolutionary spark of God’s love was kindled. In Bethlehem, a small chink opens up for those who have lost their land, their country, their dreams; even for those overcome by the asphyxia produced by a life of isolation.
So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones. In many cases this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many others this departure can only have one name: survival. Surviving the Herods of today, who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood.
Mary and Joseph, for whom there was no room, are the first to embrace the One who comes to give all of us our document of citizenship. The One who in his poverty and humility proclaims and shows that true power and authentic freedom are shown in honouring and assisting the weak and the frail.
That night, the One who had no place to be born is proclaimed to those who had no place at the table or in the streets of the city. The shepherds are the first to hear this Good News. By reason of their work, they were men and women forced to live on the edges of society. Their state of life, and the places they had to stay, prevented them from observing all the ritual prescriptions of religious purification; as a result, they were considered unclean. Their skin, their clothing, their smell, their way of speaking, their origin, all betrayed them. Everything about them generated mistrust. They were men and women to be kept at a distance, to be feared. They were considered pagans among the believers, sinners among the just, foreigners among the citizens. Yet to them – pagans, sinners and foreigners – the angel says: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).
This is the joy that we tonight are called to share, to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy, has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the same.
The faith we proclaim tonight makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent. He is present in the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors.
This same faith impels us to make space for a new social imagination, and not to be afraid of experiencing new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this earth. Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity, into power for a new imagination of charity. The charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage, amid tensions and conflicts, to make itself a “house of bread”, a land of hospitality. That is what Saint John Paul II told us: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ” (Homily for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, 22 October 1978).
In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us, so that we can take him into our arms, lift him and embrace him. So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:35-36). “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ”. In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope. He invites us to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality.
Moved by the joy of the gift, little Child of Bethlehem, we ask that your crying may shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering. May your tenderness awaken our sensitivity and recognize our call to see you in all those who arrive in our cities, in our histories, in our lives. May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people.
Joseph with Mary his spouse, went up “to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4). Tonight, we too, go to Bethlehem, there to discover the mystery of Christmas.
Bethlehem: the name means house of bread. In this “house”, the Lord today wants to encounter all mankind. He knows that we need food to live. Yet he also knows that the nourishments of this world do not satisfy the heart. In Scripture, the original sin of humanity is associated precisely with taking food: our first parents “took of the fruit and ate”, says the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:6). They took and ate. Mankind became greedy and voracious. In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.
Bethlehem is the turning point that alters the course of history. There God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: “Here I am, as your food”. He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus begins to say: “Take and eat. This is my body” (Mt 26:26). The tiny body of the Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed. From the “house of bread”, Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbours. 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.
The Lord knows that we need to be fed daily. That is why he offered himself to us every day of his life: from the manger in Bethlehem to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us (cf. Rev 3:20). At Christmas, we on earth receive Jesus, the bread from heaven. It is a bread that never grows stale, but enables us even now to have a foretaste of eternal life.
In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. 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. Tonight, as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn Child a new fragrance of life, the odour of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity? In Bethlehem, beside where Jesus lay, we see people who themselves had made a journey: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn-out meals, but bids us rise quickly from table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves: At Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?
After Bethlehem as the house of bread, let us reflect on Bethlehem as the city of David. There the young David was a shepherd, and as such was chosen by God to be the shepherd and leader of his people. At Christmas, in the city of David, it was the shepherds who welcomed Jesus into the world. On that night, the Gospel tells us, “they were filled with fear” (Lk 2:9), but the angel said to them “Be not afraid” (v. 10). How many times do we hear this phrase in the Gospels: “Be not afraid”? It seems that God is constantly repeating it as he seeks us out. Because we, from the beginning, because of our sin, have been afraid of God; after sinning, Adam says: “I was afraid and so I hid” (Gen 3:10). Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated “no”, God constantly says “yes”. He will always be God-with-us. And lest his presence inspire fear, he makes himself a tender Child. Be not afraid: these words were not spoken to saints but to shepherds, simple people who in those days were certainly not known for their refined manners and piety. The Son of David was born among shepherds in order to tell us that never again will anyone be alone and abandoned; we have a Shepherd who conquers our every fear and loves us all, without exception.
The shepherds of Bethlehem also tell us how to go forth to meet the Lord. They were keeping watch by night: they were not sleeping, but doing what Jesus often asks all of us to do, namely, be watchful (cf. Mt 25:13; Mk 13:35; Lk 21:36). They remain alert and attentive in the darkness; and God’s light then “shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is also the case for us. Our life can be marked by waiting, which amid the gloom of our problems hopes in the Lord and yearns for his coming; then we will receive his life. Or our life can be marked by wanting, where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities; our heart then remains barred to God’s light. The Lord loves to be awaited, and we cannot await him lying on a couch, sleeping. So the shepherds immediately set out: we are told that they “went with haste” (v. 16). They do not just stand there like those who think they have already arrived and need do nothing more. Instead they set out; they leave their flocks unguarded; they take a risk for God. And after seeing Jesus, although they were not men of fine words, they go off to proclaim his birth, so that “all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (v. 18).
To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love. The Good Shepherd, who at Christmas comes to give his life to the sheep, will later, at Easter, ask Peter and, through him all of us, the ultimate question: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15). The future of the flock will depend on how that question is answered. Tonight we too are asked to respond to Jesus with the words: “I love you”. The answer given by each is essential for the whole flock.
“Let us go now to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15). With these words, the shepherds set out. We too, Lord, 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.
I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. 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. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17).
"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.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
In this catechesis, as we approach Christmas, I would like to offer some food for thought in preparation for the celebration of Christmas. In the Midnight Mass liturgy the Angel’s proclamation to the Shepherds: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-12).
In imitation of the shepherds, we too move spiritually towards Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to the Child in a stable, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7). Christmas has become a universal feast, and even those who do not believe perceive the appeal of this occasion. The Christian, however, knows that Christmas is a decisive event, an eternal fire that God has kindled in the world, and must not be confused with ephemeral things. It is important that it should not be reduced to a merely sentimental or consumerist festival. Last Sunday I drew attention to this problem, underscoring that consumerism has hijacked Christmas. No: Christmas must not be reduced to a merely sentimental or consumerist feast, full of gifts and good wishes but poor in Christian faith, and also poor in humanity. Therefore, it is necessary to curb a certain worldly mentality, incapable of grasping the incandescent core of our faith, which is this: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14). And this is the kernel of Christmas; rather, it is the truth of Christmas, there is no other.
Christmas invites us to reflect, on the one hand, on the drama of history, in which men and women, wounded by sin, ceaselessly search for truth, the search for mercy, and the search for redemption; and, on the other hand, on the goodness of God, who has come towards us to communicate to us the Truth that saves and to make us sharers in His friendship and His life. And this gift of life: this is pure grace, not by any merit of our own. There is a Holy Father who says: “But look there, over there, there: seek your merit and you will find nothing other than grace”. Everything is grace, a gift of grace. And this gift of grace, we receive it through the simplicity and humanity of Christmas, and it can remove from our hearts and minds the pessimism that has spread even more nowadays as a result of the pandemic. We can overcome that sense of disquieting bewilderment, not letting ourselves be overwhelmed by defeats and failures, in the rediscovered awareness that that humble and poor Child, hidden away and helpless, is God Himself, made man for us. The Second Vatican Council, in a famous passage from the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, tells us that this event concerns every one of us: “For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human heart, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22). But Jesus was born two thousand years ago, what does this have to do with me? It affects you, and me, each one of us. Jesus is one of us: God, in Jesus, is one of us.
This reality gives us much joy and courage. God did not look down on us, from afar, He did not pass us by, He was not repulsed by our misery, He did not clothe Himself only superficially in a body, but rather He fully assumed our nature and our human condition. He left nothing out except sin: the only thing He does not have. All humanity is in Him. He took all that we are, just as we are. This is essential for understanding the Christian faith. St. Augustine, reflecting on his journey of conversion, writes in his Confessions: “For I did not hold to my Lord Jesus Christ, I, humbled, to the Humble; nor knew I yet whereto His infirmity would guide us” (Confessions VII, 8). And what is Jesus’ “infirmity”? The “infirmity” of Jesus is a “teaching”! Because it reveals to us the love of God. Christmas is the feast of Love incarnate, of love born for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the light of mankind shining in the darkness, giving meaning to human existence and to the whole of history.
Dear brothers and sisters, may these brief reflections help us to celebrate Christmas with greater awareness. But there is another way to prepare, which I want to remind you and me, and which is within everyone’s reach: to contemplate a little, in silence, before the crib. The Nativity display is a catechesis of this reality, of what was done that year, that day, that we have heard in the Gospel. Therefore last year I wrote a Letter, which it would be good for us to pick up again. It is entitled “Admirabile signum”, “Enchanting image”. In the school of St. Francis of Assisi, we can become a little childlike by pausing to contemplate the scene of the Nativity, and by letting the wonder of the “marvellous” way in which God wanted to come into the world be reborn in us. Let us ask for the grace of wonder: before this mystery, a reality so tender, so beautiful, so close to our hearts, that the Lord may give us the grace of wonder, to encounter Him, to draw closer to Him, to draw closer to us all. This will revive tenderness in us. The other day, while I was speaking with some scientists, we spoke about artificial intelligence and robots… there are robots programmed for everyone and everything, and this continues to advance. And I said to them, “But what will robots never be able to do?” They thought about it, they made suggestions, but in the end they were all in agreement about one thing: tenderness. Robots will never be capable of this. And this is what God brings us, today: a wonderful way in which God wanted to come into the world, and this revives tenderness in us, the human tenderness close to that of God. And today we are in great need of tenderness, we in in great need of a human touch, in the face of so much misery! If the pandemic has forced us to be more distant, Jesus, in the crib, shows us the way of tenderness to be close to each other, to be human. Let us follow this path. Merry Christmas!
Tonight, the great prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Is 9:6).
To us a son is given. We often hear it said that the greatest joy in life is the birth of a child. It is something extraordinary and it changes everything. It brings an excitement that makes us think nothing of weariness, discomfort and sleepless nights, for it fills us with a great, incomparable happiness. That is what Christmas is: the birth of Jesus is the “newness” that enables us to be reborn each year and to find, in him, the strength needed to face every trial. Why? Because his birth is for us – for me, for you, for all of us, for everyone. “For” is a word that appears again and again on this holy night: “For us a child is born”, Isaiah prophesied. “For us is born this day a Saviour”, we repeated in the Psalm. Jesus “gave himself for us” (Tit 2:14), Saint Paul tells us, and in the Gospel the angel proclaims: “For to you is born this day a Saviour” (Lk 2:11). For me, for you.
Yet what do those words – "for us" – really mean? They mean that the Son of God, the one who is holy by nature, came to make us, as God’s children, holy by grace. Yes, God came into the world as a child to make us children of God. What a magnificent gift! This day, God amazes us and says to each of us: “You are amazing”. Dear sister, dear brother, never be discouraged. Are you tempted to feel you were a mistake? God tells you, “No, you are my child!” Do you have a feeling of failure or inadequacy, the fear that you will never emerge from the dark tunnel of trial? God says to you, “Have courage, I am with you”. He does this not in words, but by making himself a child with you and for you. In this way, he reminds you that the starting point of all rebirth is the recognition that we are children of God. This is the starting point for any rebirth. This is the undying heart of our hope, the incandescent core that gives warmth and meaning to our life. Underlying all our strengths and weaknesses, stronger than all our past hurts and failures, or our fears and concerns about the future, there is this great truth: we are beloved sons and daughters. God’s love for us does not, and never will, depend upon us. It is completely free love. Tonight cannot be explained in any other way: it is purely grace. Everything is grace. The gift is completely free, unearned by any of us, pure grace. Tonight, Saint Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared” (Tit 2:11). Nothing is more precious than this.
To us a son is given. The Father did not give us a thing, an object; he gave his own only-begotten Son, who is all his joy. Yet if we look at our ingratitude towards God and our injustice towards so many of our brothers and sisters, a doubt can arise. Was the Lord right in giving us so much? Is he right still to trust us? Does he not overestimate us? Of course, he overestimates us, and he does this because he is madly in love with us. He cannot help but love us. That is the way he is, so different from ourselves. God always loves us with a greater love than we have for ourselves. This is his secret for entering our hearts. God knows that the only way to save us, to heal us from within, is by loving us: there is no other way. He knows that we become better only by accepting his unfailing love, an unchanging love that changes us. Only the love of Jesus can transform our life, heal our deepest hurts and set us free from the vicious circles of disappointment, anger and constant complaint.
To us a son is given. In the lowly manger of a darkened stable, the Son of God is truly present. But this raises yet another question. Why was he born at night, without decent accommodation, in poverty and rejection, when he deserved to be born as the greatest of kings in the finest of palaces? Why? To make us understand the immensity of his love for our human condition: even to touching the depths of our poverty with his concrete love. The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love. And to discover something important: as he did in Bethlehem, so too with us, God loves to work wonders through our poverty. He placed the whole of our salvation in the manger of a stable. He is unafraid of our poverty, so let us allow his mercy to transform it completely!
This is what it means to say that a son is born for us. Yet we hear that word “for” in another place, too. The angel proclaims to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: a baby lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). That sign, the Child in the manger, is also a sign for us, to guide us through life. In Bethlehem, a name that means “House of Bread”, God lies in a manger, as if to remind us that, in order to live, we need him, like the bread we eat. We need to be filled with his free, unfailing and concrete love. How often instead, in our hunger for entertainment, success and worldly pleasures, do we nourish life with food that does not satisfy and leaves us empty within! The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, complained that, while the ox and the donkey know their master’s crib, we, his people, do not know him, the source of our life (cf. Is 1:2-3). It is true: in our endless desire for possessions, we run after any number of mangers filled with ephemeral things, and forget the manger of Bethlehem. That manger, poor in everything yet rich in love, teaches that true nourishment in life comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn. Jesus gives us the example. He, the Word of God, becomes an infant; he does not say a word, but offers life. We, on the other hand, are full of words, but often have so little to say about goodness.
To us a son is given. Parents of little children know how much love and patience they require. We have to feed them, look after them, bathe them and care for their vulnerability and their needs, which are often difficult to understand. A child makes us feel loved but can also teach us how to love. God was born a child in order to encourage us to care for others. His quiet tears make us realize the uselessness of our many impatient outbursts; and we have so many of them! His disarming love reminds us that our time is not to be spent in feeling sorry for ourselves, but in comforting the tears of the suffering. God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him. From this night onward, as a poet wrote, “God’s residence is next to mine, his furniture is love” (Emily Dickinson, Poems, XVII).
To us a son is given. Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be; this I know! In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for you know that, from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today, just a few days before Christmas, I would like to recall with you the event history cannot dispense with: the birth of Jesus.
To comply with the Emperor Cesar Augustus’ decree that ordered them to go to their place of origin to be registered, Joseph and Mary went from Nazareth down to Bethlehem. As soon as they arrived, they immediately sought lodging since the moment for Mary to give birth was imminent. Unfortunately, they did not find anything. So, Mary was forced to give birth in a stable (cf. Lk. 2:1-7).
Let’s think about that: the Creator of the universe… He was not given a place to be born! Perhaps this was an anticipation of what the evangelist John would say: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (1:11); and what Jesus Himself would say: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).
It was an angel who announced the birth of Jesus, and he did so to some lowly shepherds. And it was a star that showed the Magi the way to Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:1, 9.10). An angel is a messenger from God. The star reminds us that God created the light (Gn 1:3) and that the Baby would be “the light of the world”, as He would define himself (cf. Jn 8:12, 46), the “true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9), that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5).
The shepherds personify the poor of Israel, lowly people who interiorly live with the awareness of their own want. Precisely for this reason, they trust more than others in God. They were the first to see the Son of God made man, and this encounter changed them deeply. The Gospel notes that they returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20).
The Magi are also around the newborn Jesus (cf. Mt 2:1-12). The Gospels do not tell us who the kings might have been, nor how many there were, nor what their names were. The only thing we know for certain is that they came from a distant country in the East (perhaps from Babylonia, or Arabia, or Persia of that time), they set out on a journey seeking the King of the Jews, whom they identified with God in their hearts because they said they wanted to adore him. The Magi represent the pagan peoples, in particular all those who have sought God down through the ages, and who set out on a journey to find Him. They also represent the rich and powerful, but only those who are not slaves to possessions, who are not “possessed” by the things they believe they possess.
The message of the Gospels is clear: the birth of Jesus is a universal event that concerns all of humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, humility is the only way that leads us to God. At the same time, specifically because it leads us to Him, humility leads us also to the essentials of life, to its truest meaning, to the most trustworthy reason for why life is truly worth living.
Humility alone opens us up to the experience of truth, of authentic joy, of knowing what matters. Without humility we are “cut off”, we are cut off from understanding God and from understanding ourselves. Humility is needed to understand ourselves, all the more so to understand God. The Magi may have even been great according to the world’s logic, but they made themselves lowly, humble, and precisely because of this they succeeded in finding Jesus and recognising Him. They accepted the humility of seeking, of setting out on a journey, of asking, of taking a risk, of making a mistake.
Every person, in the depths of his or her heart, is called to seek God: we all have that restlessness. Our work is not to snuff out that restlessness, but to allow it to grow because it is that restlessness that seeks God; and, with His own grace, can find Him. We can make this prayer of Saint Anselm (1033-1109) our own: “Lord, teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.” (Proslogion, 1).
Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to invite every man and woman to the stable of Bethlehem to adore the Son of God made man. May each one of us draw near to the creche in our own homes or in the church or in another place, and try to make an act of adoration, inside: “I believe you are God, that this baby is God. Please, grant me the grace of humility to be able to understand”.
In approaching and praying by the crib, I would like to put the poor in the front row, those whom – as Saint Paul VI used to exhort – “we must love because in a certain way they are the sacrament of Christ; in them – in the hungry, the thirsty, the exiles, the naked, the ill, prisoners – He wanted to be mystically identified. We must help them, suffer with them, and also follow them because poverty is the securest path to possess the Kingdom of God in its fullness” (Homily, 1 May 1969). For this reason, we must ask for the grace of humility: “Lord, that I might not be proud, that I might not be self-sufficient, that I might not believe that I am the centre of the universe. Make me humble. Grant me the grace of humility. And with this humility, may I find You”. It is the only way; without humility we will never find God: we will find ourselves. The reason is that the person who is not humble has no horizon in front of him or her. They only have a mirror in which to look at themselves. Let us ask the Lord to break this mirror so we can look beyond, to the horizon, where He is. But He needs to do this: grant us the grace and the joy of humility to take this path.
Then, brothers and sisters, just like the star did with the Magi, I would like to accompany to Bethlehem all those who have no religious restlessness, who do not pose the question of God, or who may even fight against religion, all those who are improperly identified as atheists. I would like to repeat to them the message of the Second Vatican Council: “The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man's dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. […] Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart” (Gaudium et Spes, 21).
Let’s return home with the angel’s song: “Peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!” Let us always remember: “In this is love, not that we loved God that he loved us […] he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:10, 19), he has sought us. Let’s not forget this.
This is the reason for our joy: we are loved, we are sought for, the Lord seeks us to find us, to love us more. This is the reason for joy: knowing that we are loved without any merit, we are always loved first by God, with a love so concrete that He took on flesh and came to live in our midst, in that Baby that we see in the crib. This love has a name and a face: Jesus is the name and the face of love – this is the foundation of our joy.
Brothers and sisters, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy and holy Christmas. And I would like that – yes, there are well wishes, family reunions, this is always very beautiful – but may there also be the awareness that God comes “for me”. Let’s everyone say this: God comes for me. The awareness that to seek God, to find God, to accept God, humility is needed: to seek with humility the grace of breaking the mirror of vanity, of pride, of looking at ourselves. To look at Jesus, to look toward the horizon, to look at God who comes to us and who touches our hearts with that restlessness that brings us hope. Happy and holy Christmas!
In the darkness, a light shines. An angel appears, the glory of the Lord shines around the shepherds and finally the message awaited for centuries is heard: “To you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The angel goes on to say something surprising. He tells the shepherds how to find the God who has come down to earth: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger” (v. 12). That is the sign: a child, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger. No more bright lights or choirs of angels. Only a child. Nothing else, even as Isaiah had foretold: “unto us a child is born” (Is 9:6).
The Gospel emphasizes this contrast. It relates the birth of Jesus beginning with Caesar Augustus, who orders the census of the whole world: it presents the first Emperor in all his grandeur. Yet immediately thereafter it brings us to Bethlehem, where there is no grandeur at all: just a poor child wrapped in swaddling cloths, with shepherds standing by. That is where God is, in littleness. This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.
Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the pretty lights and decorations. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.
Let us ask ourselves: can we accept God’s way of doing things? This is the challenge of Christmas: God reveals himself, but men and women fail to understand. He makes himself little in the eyes of the world, while we continue to seek grandeur in the eyes of the world, perhaps even in his name. God lowers himself and we try to become great. The Most High goes in search of shepherds, the unseen in our midst, and we look for visibility; we want to be seen. Jesus is born in order to serve, and we spend a lifetime pursuing success. God does not seek power and might; he asks for tender love and interior littleness.
This is what we should ask Jesus for at Christmas: the grace of littleness. “Lord, teach us to love littleness. Help us to understand that littleness is the way to authentic greatness”. What does it mean, concretely, to accept littleness? In the first place, it is to believe that God desires to come into the little things of our life; he wants to inhabit our daily lives, the things we do each day at home, in our families, at school and in the workplace. Amid our ordinary lived experience, he wants to do extraordinary things. His is a message of immense hope. Jesus asks us to rediscover and value the little things in life. If he is present there, what else do we need? Let us stop pining for a grandeur that is not ours to have. Let us put aside our complaints and our gloomy faces, and the greed that never satisfies! Littleness and the amazement of that little child: this is the message.
Yet there is more. Jesus does not want to come merely in the little things of our lives, but also in our own littleness: in our experience of feeling weak, frail, inadequate, perhaps even “messed up”. Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want”, tonight, if this is what you are feeling, God answers back. He tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me”.
To accept littleness means something else too. It means embracing Jesus in the little ones of today. Loving him, that is, in the least of our brothers and sisters. Serving him in the poor, those most like Jesus who was born in poverty. It is in them that he wants to be honoured. On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God’s love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference. Jesus loves them dearly, and one day they will welcome us to heaven. A poet once wrote: “Who has found the heaven – below – Will fail of it above” (E. DICKINSON, Poems, P96-17). Let us not lose sight of heaven; let us care for Jesus now, caressing him in the needy, because in them he makes himself known.
We gaze once again at the crib, and we see that at his birth Jesus is surrounded precisely by those little ones, by the poor. The shepherds. They were the most simple people, and closest to the Lord. They found him because they lived in the fields, “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Lk 2:8). They were there to work, because they were poor. They had no timetables in life; everything depended on the flock. They could not live where and how they wanted, but on the basis of the needs of the sheep they tended. That is where Jesus is born: close to them, close to the forgotten ones of the peripheries. He comes where human dignity is put to the test. He comes to ennoble the excluded and he first reveals himself to them: not to educated and important people, but to poor working people. God tonight comes to fill with dignity the austerity of labour. He reminds us of the importance of granting dignity to men and women through labour, but also of granting dignity to human labour itself, since man is its master and not its slave. On the day of Life, let us repeat: no more deaths in the workplace! And let us commit ourselves to ensuring this.
As we take one last look at the crib, in the distance, we glimpse the Magi, journeying to worship the Lord. As we look more closely, we see that all around Jesus everything comes together: not only do we see the poor, the shepherds, but also the learned and the rich, the Magi. In Bethlehem, rich and poor come together, those who worship, like the Magi, and those who work, like the shepherds. Everything is unified when Jesus is at the centre: not our ideas about Jesus, but Jesus himself, the living One.
So then, dear brothers and sisters, let us return to Bethlehem, let us return to the origins: to the essentials of faith, to our first love, to adoration and charity. Let us look at the Magi who make their pilgrim way, and as a synodal Church, a journeying Church, let us go to Bethlehem, where God is in man and man in God. There the Lord takes first place and is worshipped; there the poor have the place nearest him; there the shepherds and Magi are joined in a fraternity beyond all labels and classifications. May God enable us to be a worshipping, poor and fraternal Church. That is what is essential. Let us go back to Bethlehem.
It is good for us to go there, obedient to the Gospel of Christmas, which shows us the Holy Family, the shepherds, the Magi: all people on a journey. Brothers and sisters, let us set out, for life itself is a pilgrimage. Let us rouse ourselves, for tonight a light has been lit, a kindly light, reminding us that, in our littleness, we are beloved sons and daughters, children of the light (cf. 1 Thess 5:5). Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice together, for no one will ever extinguish this light, the light of Jesus, who tonight shines brightly in our world.
What does this night still have to say to our lives? Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, after so many Christmases celebrated among decorations and gifts, after so much consumerism that has veiled the mystery we celebrate, there is a danger: we know many things about Christmas, but we forget its real meaning. So, how can we rediscover the meaning of Christmas? And above all, where can we go to find it? The Gospel of Jesus' birth seems to be written precisely for this: to take us by the hand and bring us back to where God wants us to be. Let us follow the gospel.
In fact, it starts with a situation similar to ours: everyone is busy with an important, the great census, which required a lot of preparation. In this sense, the atmosphere back then was similar to that which surrounds us today at Christmas. But the Gospel account has little to do with that worldly scenario: it soon shifts our gaze to something else, which it considers more important. It focuses on a small, and apparently insignificant detail, which it mentions three times and always in relation to the central figures int the narative: first Mary, who places Jesus "in a manger" (Lk 2:7); then the angels, tell the shepherds about "a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (v. 12); Then the shepherds, who find "the child lying in the manger" (v. 16). The manger: to rediscover the meaning of Christmas you have to look there. But why is the manger so important? Because it is the sign, and not by chance, of Christ's coming into the world. It is the manifesto with which he presents himself, the way in which God is born in history so that history itself can be reborn. So what does he want to tell us through the manger? He wants to tell us at least three things: closeness, poverty and concreteness.
1. Closeness. The manger is used to bring food close to the mouth and to be able to consume it more quickly. In this way it can symbolize an aspect of humanity: our insatiability for consumption. Because, while the animals feed in the stable, men and women in the world, hungry for power and money, also consume their neighbors, their brothers. How many wars! And in how many places, even today, dignity and freedom are trampled underfoot! And always the main victims of human greed are the weak and the vulnerable. This Christmas too, a humanity insatiably striving for money, power and pleasure makes no room, as it was for Jesus (cf. v. 7), for the little ones, for so many unborn, poor, and forgotten. I am thinking above all of children devoured by war, poverty and injustice. But Jesus comes right there, a child in the manger of exclusion and rejection. In him, the child of Bethlehem, there is every child. And there is the invitation to look at life, politics and history through the eyes of children.
In the manger of rejection and inhospitableness, Jesus lies down: he comes there, because there is the problem of humanity, the indifference produced by the voracious rush to possess and consume. Christ is born there and in that manger we discover his closeness. He comes to a feeding trough to become our food. God is not a Father who devours his children, but the Father who in Jesus makes us his children and nourishes us with tenderness. He comes to touch our hearts and tell us that the only force that changes the course of history is love. He does not remain distant, he does not remain powerful, but he becomes close and humble; He, who sat in heaven, allows himself to lie in a manger.
Brothers and sisters, God is close to you tonight because He cares about you. From the manger, as food for your life, he tells you: "If you feel consumed by events, if your guilt and inadequacy devour you, if you hunger for justice, I, God, am with you. I know what you are experiencing, for I experienced it myself in that manger. I know your miseries and your history. I was born to tell you that I am and I will always be close to you". The Christmas manger, the first message of an infant God, tells us that he is with us, loves us, seeks us. Courage, do not let yourself be overcome by fear, resignation, discouragement. God is born in a manger so that you may be reborn where you thought you had hit rock bottom. There is no evil, there is no sin from which Jesus does not want and cannot save you. Christmas means that God is near: may trust be reborn!
2. The manger in Bethlehem, in addition to being close, also speaks to us of poverty. Around a manger, in fact, there is not much: staw and some animals and little else. People were staying warm in the inn, not in the cold stable. But Jesus is born there and the manger reminds us that he had nothing else around him except those who loved him: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds; All poor people, united by affection and amazement, not by riches and great possibilities. The poor manger thus brings out the true riches of life: not money and power, but relationships and people.
And the first person, the first wealth, is Jesus himself. But do we want to stand by his side? Do we draw near to him, do we love his poverty? Or do we prefer to remain comfortable in our interests? Above all, do we visit Him where He is, that is, in the poor mangers of our world? There He is present. And we are called to be a Church that adores the poor Jesus and serves Jesus in the poor. As a holy bishop said: "The Church supports and blesses efforts to transform structures of injustice and sets only one condition: that social, economic and political changes truly benefit the poor" (O.A. Romero, Pastoral Message for the New Year, 1 January 1980). Of course, it is not easy to leave the comfortable warmth of worldliness to embrace the barren beauty of the cave of Bethlehem, but let us remember that it is not truly Christmas without the poor. Without them we can celebrate Christmas, but not that of Jesus. Brothers and sisters, God is poor at Christmas: may charity be reborn!
3. This brings us to the last point: the manger speaks to us of concreteness. In fact, a baby in a manger represents a striking scene, even cruel. It reminds us that God was truly made flesh. And so theories, beautiful thoughts and pious feelings are no longer enough about Him. Jesus, who is born poor, will live poor and die poor, did not make many speeches about poverty, but lived it to the end for us. From the manger to the cross, his love for us was tangible, concrete: from birth to death the carpenter's son embraced the roughness of wood, the roughness of our existence. He didn't love us in words, he loved us with utter seriousness!
And so, he is not satisfied with appearances. He does not only want good intentions, He who became flesh. He who was born in the manger, seeks a concrete faith, made of adoration and charity, not of gossip and appearances. He, who lays himself naked in the manger and lays himself naked on the cross, asks us for truth, to go to the naked reality of things, to put excuses, justifications and hypocrisies at the foot of the manger. He, who was tenderly wrapped in swaddling clothes by Mary, wants us to clothe ourselves in love. God does not want appearance, but concreteness. Let us not let this Christmas, brothers and sisters, pass without doing something good. Since it is his celebration, his birthday, let us give him gifts pleasing to him! At Christmas God is concrete: in his name let us revive a little hope in those who have lost it!
Jesus, we look to You, lying in the manger. We see you so close, close to us forever: thank you, Lord. We see you poor, teaching us that true wealth is not in things, but in people, especially in the poor: sorry, if we have not recognized and served you in them. We see you concrete, because your love for us is concrete: Jesus, help us to give flesh and life to our faith. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning and again, Merry Christmas!
The liturgical season invites us to pause and reflect on the mystery of Christmas. And since today – today – marks the fourth centenary of the death of St Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, we can take a cue from some of his thoughts. He wrote a great deal about Christmas. In this regard, today I am pleased to announce that the Apostolic Letter commemorating this anniversary is being published today. The title is Everything pertains to love, taking up a characteristic expression of the Saint Francis de Sales. In fact, this is what he wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God; he wrote: “In Holy Church, everything pertains to love, lives in love, is done for love and comes from love” (Italian original from: Ed. Paoline, Milan 1989, p. 80). And may we all go down this path of love, which is so beautiful.
Let us then try to delve a little deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ birth, “in the company” of St Francis de Sales, thus uniting the two commemorations.
Saint Francis de Sales, in one of his many letters addressed to Saint Jeanne Frances de Chantal, he writes as follows: “I imagine I see Solomon on his ivory throne, all beautifully gilded and carved, which, as the Scripture tells us, had no equal in all the kingdoms of the earth (1 Kings 10:18-20) neither was there any king that could be compared, for glory and magnificence, with the king that sat upon it (1 Kings 10:23). And yet, I would a hundred times rather see the dear Jesus in his Crib, than all the kings of the world on their thrones.” What he says is beautiful. Jesus, the King of the universe, never sat on a throne, never: He was born in a stable – we see it represented thus [indicating the manger scene in the Paul VI Hall] – wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; and finally He died on a cross and, wrapped in a sheet, was laid in the tomb. Indeed, the evangelist Luke, in recounting the birth of Jesus, insists a great deal on the detail of the manger. This means that it is very important not only as a logistical detail. But how to understand it as a symbolic element? In order to understand what kind of Messiah is He who was born in Bethlehem; what kind of King He is, Who Jesus is. Seeing the manger, gazing upon the cross, looking at His life, a life of simplicity, we can understand who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God Who saves us by becoming man, like us; stripping Himself of His glory and humbling Himself (cf. Phil 2:7-8). We see this mystery concretely in the focal point of the crib, namely in the Child lying in a manger. This is “the sign” that God gives us at Christmas: it was at the time for the shepherds in Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:12), it is today, and it will always be so. When the angels announce the birth of Jesus, [they say,] “Go and you will find Him”; and the sign is: You will find a child in a manger. That is the sign. The throne of Jesus is the manger or the street, during His life, preaching; or the Cross at the end of His life. This is the throne of our King.
This sign shows us the “style” of God. And what is the style of God? Don’t forget, never forget: the style of God is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. Our God is close, compassionate, and tender. This style of God is seen in Jesus. With this style of His, God draws us to Himself. He does not take us by force, He does not impose His truth and justice on us. He does not proselytize us, no! He wants to draw us with love, with tenderness, with compassion. In another letter, St Francis de Sales writes: “The magnet attracts iron, amber attracts straws. Whether, then, we are iron in our hardness, or straws in our lightness and worthlessness, we must unite ourselves to this little Infant.” Our strengths, our weaknesses, only resolve themselves before the crib, before Jesus, or before the Cross. Jesus stripped, Jesus poor; but always with His style of closeness, compassion, and tenderness. God has found the means to attract us however we are: with love. Not a possessive and selfish love, as unfortunately human love so often is. His love is pure gift, pure grace, it is all and only for us, for our good. And so He draws us in, with this unarmed and even disarming love. Because when we see this simplicity of Jesus, we too cast aside the weapons of pride and go, humbly, to ask for salvation, to ask for forgiveness, to ask for light for our lives, in order to be able to move forward. Do not forget the throne of Jesus. The manger and the Cross: this is the throne of Jesus.
Another aspect that stands out in the crib is poverty – truly, there is poverty there – understood as the renunciation of all worldly vanity. When we see the money that is spent on vanity… so much money [spent] on worldly vanity; so much effort, so much seeking after vanity; while Jesus makes us see with humility. St Francis de Sales writes: “My God! my daughter, how many holy affections does this birth make rise within our hearts, above all of the perfect renunciation of the goods, the pomps, … of this world. I do not know whether I find any mystery which so sweetly mingles tenderness with austereness, love with rigour, sweetness with severity.” We see all this in the Nativity scene. Yes, let us be careful not to slip into the worldly caricature of Christmas. And this is a problem, because this is Christmas. But today we see that, even if there is “another Christmas,” in quotation marks, it is the worldly caricature of Christmas, that reduces Christmas to a sappy, consumerist celebration. We want to celebrate, we want to, but this is not Christmas, Christmas is something else. God's love is not sugar sweet; Jesus’ manger shows us that. It is not a hypocritical goodness that hides the pursuit of pleasures and comforts. Our elders, who knew war and also hunger, knew this well: Christmas is joy and celebration, certainly, but in simplicity and austerity.
And let us conclude with a thought of St Francis de Sales that I have also taken up in the Apostolic Letter. He dictated it to the Visitandine Sisters - just think! - two days before his death. And he said: “Do you see the baby Jesus in the crib? He accepts all the discomforts of that season, the bitter cold and everything that the Father lets happen to him. He does not refuse the small consolations that his Mother gives him; we are not told that he ever reached out for his Mother’s breast, but left everything to her care and concern. So too, we ourselves should neither desire nor refuse anything, but accept all that God sends us, the bitter cold and the discomforts of the season,” everything. And here, dear brothers and sisters, is a great teaching, which comes to us from the Child Jesus through the wisdom of St Francis de Sales: to desire nothing and reject nothing, to accept everything that God sends us. But be careful! Always and only out of love, always and only out of love, because God loves us and only ever wants our good.
Let us look to the manger, which is the throne of Jesus; let us gaze upon Jesus in the streets of Judea, of Galilee, preaching the message of the Father; and let us look upon Jesus on the other throne, on the Cross. This is what Jesus offers us: the street, but this is the path of happiness.
To all of you and your families, a happy Christmas season and a happy New Year!
Today we are reminded of the words of blessing which Elizabeth spoke to the Virgin Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1:42-43).
This blessing is in continuity with the priestly blessing which God had given to Moses to be passed on to Aaron and to all the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). In celebrating the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, the Holy Mother of God, the Church reminds us that Mary, more than anyone else, received this blessing. In her the blessing finds fulfilment, for no other creature has ever seen God’s face shine upon it as did Mary. She gave a human face to the eternal Word, so that all of us can contemplate him.
In addition to contemplating God’s face, we can also praise him and glorify him, like the shepherds who came away from Bethlehem with a song of thanksgiving after seeing the Child and his young mother (cf. Lk 2:16). The two were together, just as they were together at Calvary, because Christ and his mother are inseparable: there is a very close relationship between them, as there is between every child and his or her mother. The flesh (caro) of Christ – which, as Tertullian says, is the hinge (cardo) of our salvation – was knit together in the womb of Mary (cf. Ps 139:13). This inseparability is also clear from the fact that Mary, chosen beforehand to be the Mother of the Redeemer, shared intimately in his entire mission, remaining at her Son’s side to the end on Calvary.
Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she received from him the knowledge of the heart, the knowledge of faith, nourished by her experience as a mother and by her close relationship with her Son. The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans; she is the believer capable of perceiving in the gift of her Son the coming of that “fullness of time”(Gal 4:4) in which God, by choosing the humble path of human existence, entered personally into the history of salvation. That is why Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother.
Likewise inseparable are Christ and the Church – because the Church and Mary are always together and this is precisely the mystery of womanhood in the ecclesial community – and the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church. To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.
This, the Church’s activity and mission, is an expression of her motherhood. For she is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity. No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ. Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.
Dear brothers and sisters! Jesus Christ is the blessing for every man and woman, and for all of humanity. The Church, in giving us Jesus, offers us the fullness of the Lord’s blessing. This is precisely the mission of the people of God: to spread to all peoples God’s blessing made flesh in Jesus Christ. And Mary, the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the first and most perfect believer, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood and constantly sustains her maternal mission to all mankind. Mary’s tactful maternal witness has accompanied the Church from the beginning. She, the Mother of God, is also the Mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women, and of every people.
May this gentle and loving Mother obtain for us the Lord’s blessing upon the entire human family. On this, the World Day of Peace, we especially implore her intercession that the Lord may grant peace in our day; peace in hearts, peace in families, peace among the nations. The message for the Day of Peace this year is “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters”. All of us are called to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces. May he guide and sustain us, who, in order to make us all brothers and sisters, became our servant.
Let us look to Mary, let us contemplate the Holy Mother of God. I suggest that you all greet her together, just like those courageous people of Ephesus, who cried out before their pastors when they entered Church: “Holy Mother of God!” What a beautiful greeting for our Mother. There is a story – I do not know if it is true – that some among those people had clubs in their hands, perhaps to make the Bishops understand what would happen if they did not have the courage to proclaim Mary “Mother of God”! I invite all of you, without clubs, to stand up and to greet her three times with this greeting of the early Church: “Holy Mother of God!”
We have heard the words of the Apostle Paul: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
What does it mean to say that Jesus was born in “the fullness of time”? If we consider that particular moment of history, we might quickly be deluded. Rome had subjugated a great part of the known world by her military might. The Emperor Augustus had come to power after five civil wars. Israel itself had been conquered by the Roman Empire and the Chosen People had lost their freedom. For Jesus’ contemporaries, it was certainly not the best of times. To define the fullness of time, then, we should not look to the geopolitical sphere.
Another interpretation is needed, one which views that fullness from God’s standpoint. It is when God decided that the time had come to fulfil his promise, that the fullness of time came for humanity. History does not determine the birth of Christ; rather, his coming into the world enables history to attain its fullness. For this reason, the birth of the Son of God inaugurates a new era, a new computation of time, the era which witnesses the fulfilment of the ancient promise. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1:1-3). The fullness of time, then, is the presence of God himself in our history. Now we can see his glory, which shines forth in the poverty of a stable; we can be encouraged and sustained by his Word, made “little” in a baby. Thanks to him, our time can find its fullness. The use of our personal time can also find its fullness in the encounter with Jesus Christ, God made man.
Nonetheless, this mystery constantly clashes with the dramatic experience of human history. Each day, as we seek to be sustained by the signs of God’s presence, we encounter new signs to the contrary, negative signs which tend to make us think instead that he is absent. The fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family. Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated, and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world. We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims. How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights? A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ. Remember, dear pueri cantores, this was the third question you asked me yesterday: how do we explain this… even children are aware of this.
And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world. All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing. The grace of Christ, which brings our hope of salvation to fulfilment, leads us to cooperate with him in building an ever more just and fraternal world, a world in which every person and every creature can dwell in peace, in the harmony of God’s original creation.
At the beginning of a new year, the Church invites us to contemplate Mary’s divine maternity as an icon of peace. The ancient promise finds fulfilment in her person. She believed in the words of the angel, conceived her Son and thus became the Mother of the Lord. Through her, through her “yes”, the fullness of time came about. The Gospel we have just heard tells us that the Virgin Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright. Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world. Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot arrive, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can arrive, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.
Blessed are you, Mary, for you gave the Son of God to our world. But even more blessed are you for having believed in him. Full of faith, you conceived Jesus first in your heart and then in your womb, and thus became the Mother of all believers (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 215,4). Send us, O Mother, your blessing on this day consecrated to your honour. Show us the face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning and happy New Year!
At the beginning of the year it is beautiful to exchange good wishes. In this way we renew for one another the hope that the year which awaits us may be somewhat better. It is fundamentally a sign of the hope that enlivens us and invites us to believe in life. We know, however, that with the new year, everything will not change, and that many of yesterday’s problems will still be here tomorrow. Thus I would like to express to you a wish supported by real hope, which I have drawn from today’s liturgy.
They are the words by which the Lord himself asked that his people be blessed: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you.... The Lord lift up his countenance upon you” (Num 6:25-26). I too wish you this: that the Lord lay his gaze upon you and that you may rejoice, knowing that each day his merciful face, more radiant than the sun, shines upon you and never sets! Discovering the face of God makes life new. Because he is a Father enamoured with man, who never tires of starting with us all over again in order to renew us. The Lord is patient with us! He never tires of starting over again each time we fall. However, the Lord does not promise magical changes, He does not use a magic wand. He loves changing reality from within, with patience and love; he asks to enter our life gently, like rain on the ground, in order to then bear fruit. Always, he awaits us and looks at us with tenderness. Each morning, upon awakening, we can say: “Today the Lord makes his face shine upon me”. A beautiful prayer, which is a reality.
The biblical benediction continues in this way: “[The Lord] give you peace” (v. 26). Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”. Peace, which God the Father wants to sow in the world, must be cultivated by us. Not only this, but it must also be “won”. This leads to a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts. Because the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closure. These things are enemies of peace. We have, thanks be to God, a great deal of information; but at times we are so overwhelmed by facts that we become distracted by reality, from the brother and sister who need us. Let us begin this year by opening our heart and calling attention to neighbours, to those who are near. This is the way to win peace.
May the Queen of Peace, the Mother of God, whose solemnity we celebrate today, help us with this. Today’s Gospel states that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Hopes and worries, gratitude and problems: all that happened in life became, in Mary’s heart, a prayer, a dialogue with God. She does this with us as well: she safeguards the joys and unties the knots of our life, taking them to the Lord.
This afternoon I will go to the Basilica of St Mary Major, for the opening of the Holy Door. Let us entrust the new year to the Mother, that peace and mercy may grow.
“Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart! (Lk 2:19). In these words, Luke describes the attitude with which Mary took in all that they had experienced in those days. Far from trying to understand or master the situation, Mary is the woman who can treasure, that is to say, protect and guard in her heart, the passage of God in the life of his people. Deep within, she had learned to listen to the heartbeat of her Son, and that in turn taught her, throughout her life, to discover God’s heartbeat in history. She learned how to be a mother, and in that learning process she gave Jesus the beautiful experience of knowing what it is to be a Son. In Mary, the eternal Word not only became flesh, but also learned to recognize the maternal tenderness of God. With Mary, the God-Child learned to listen to the yearnings, the troubles, the joys and the hopes of the people of the promise. With Mary, he discovered himself a Son of God’s faithful people.
In the Gospels, Mary appears as a woman of few words, with no great speeches or deeds, but with an attentive gaze capable of guarding the life and mission of her Son, and for this reason, of everything that he loves. She was able to watch over the beginnings of the first Christian community, and in this way she learned to be the mother of a multitude. She drew near to the most diverse situations in order to sow hope. She accompanied the crosses borne in the silence of her children’s hearts. How many devotions, shrines and chapels in the most far-off places, how many pictures in our homes, remind us of this great truth. Mary gave us a mother’s warmth, the warmth that shelters us amid troubles, the maternal warmth that keeps anything or anyone from extinguishing in the heart of the Church the revolution of tenderness inaugurated by her Son. Where there is a mother, there is tenderness. By her motherhood, Mary shows us that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong. She teaches us that we do not have to mistreat others in order to feel important (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 288). God’s holy people has always acknowledged and hailed her as the Holy Mother of God.
To celebrate Mary as Mother of God and our mother at the beginning of the new year means recalling a certainty that will accompany our days: we are a people with a Mother; we are not orphans.
Mothers are the strongest antidote to our individualistic and egotistic tendencies, to our lack of openness and our indifference. A society without mothers would not only be a cold society, but a society that has lost its heart, lost the “feel of home”. A society without mothers would be a merciless society, one that has room only for calculation and speculation. Because mothers, even at the worst times, are capable of testifying to tenderness, unconditional self-sacrifice and the strength of hope. I have learned much from those mothers whose children are in prison, or lying in hospital beds, or in bondage to drugs, yet, come cold or heat, rain or draught, never stop fighting for what is best for them. Or those mothers who in refugee camps, or even the midst of war, unfailingly embrace and support their children’s sufferings. Mothers who literally give their lives so that none of their children will perish. Where there is a mother, there is unity, there is belonging, belonging as children.
To begin the year by recalling God’s goodness in the maternal face of Mary, in the maternal face of the Church, in the faces of our own mothers, protects us from the corrosive disease of being “spiritual orphans”. It is the sense of being orphaned that the soul experiences when it feels motherless and lacking the tenderness of God, when the sense of belonging to a family, a people, a land, to our God, grows dim. This sense of being orphaned lodges in a narcissistic heart capable of looking only to itself and its own interests. It grows when what we forget that life is a gift we have received – and owe to others – a gift we are called to share in this common home.
It was such a self-centred orphanhood that led Cain to ask: “Am I my brother's keeper?” (Gen 4:9). It was as if to say: he doesn’t belong to me; I do not recognize him. This attitude of spiritual orphanhood is a cancer that silently eats away at and debases the soul. We become all the more debased, inasmuch as nobody belongs to us and we belong to no one. I debase the earth because it does not belong to me; I debase others because they do not belong to me; I debase God because I do not belong to him, and in the end we debase our very selves, since we forget who we are and the divine “family name” we bear. The loss of the ties that bind us, so typical of our fragmented and divided culture, increases this sense of orphanhood and, as a result, of great emptiness and loneliness. The lack of physical (and not virtual) contact is cauterizing our hearts (cf. Laudato Si’, 49) and making us lose the capacity for tenderness and wonder, for pity and compassion. Spiritual orphanhood makes us forget what it means to be children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, friends and believers. It makes us forget the importance of playing, of singing, of a smile, of rest, of gratitude.
Celebrating the feast of the Holy Mother of God makes us smile once more as we realize that we are a people, that we belong, that only within a community, within a family, can we as persons find the “climate”, the “warmth” that enables us to grow in humanity, and not merely as objects meant to “consume and be consumed”. To celebrate the feast of the Holy Mother of God reminds us that we are not interchangeable items of merchandise or information processors. We are children, we are family, we are God’s People.
Celebrating the Holy Mother of God leads us to create and care for common places that can give us a sense of belonging, of being rooted, of feeling at home in our cities, in communities that unite and support us (cf. Laudato Si’, 151).
Jesus, at the moment of his ultimate self-sacrifice, on the cross, sought to keep nothing for himself, and in handing over his life, he also handed over to us his Mother. He told Mary: Here is your son; here are your children. We too want to receive her into our homes, our families, our communities and nations. We want to meet her maternal gaze. The gaze that frees us from being orphans; the gaze that reminds us that we are brothers and sisters, that I belong to you, that you belong to me, that we are of the same flesh. The gaze that teaches us that we have to learn how to care for life in the same way and with the same tenderness that she did: by sowing hope, by sowing a sense of belonging and of fraternity.
Celebrating the Holy Mother of God reminds us that we have a Mother. We are not orphans. We have a Mother. Together let us all confess this truth. I invite you to acclaim it three times, standing [all stand], like the faithful of Ephesus: Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God.
The year opens in the name of the Mother of God. Mother of God is the most important title of Our Lady. But we might ask why we say Mother of God, and not Mother of Jesus. In the past some wanted to be content simply with the latter, but the Church has declared that Mary is the Mother of God. We should be grateful, because these words contain a magnificent truth about God and about ourselves. From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity. There is no longer God without man; the flesh Jesus took from his Mother is our own, now and for all eternity. To call Mary the Mother of God reminds us of this: God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb.
The word mother (mater) is related to the word matter. In his Mother, the God of heaven, the infinite God, made himself small, he became matter, not only to be with us but also to be like us. This is the miracle, the great novelty! Man is no longer alone; no more an orphan, but forever a child. The year opens with this novelty. And we proclaim it by saying: Mother of God! Ours is the joy of knowing that our solitude has ended. It is the beauty of knowing that we are beloved children, of knowing that this childhood of ours can never be taken away from us. It is to see a reflection of ourselves in the frail and infant God resting in his mother’s arms, and to realize that humanity is precious and sacred to the Lord. Henceforth, to serve human life is to serve God. All life, from life in the mother’s womb to that of the elderly, the suffering and the sick, and to that of the troublesome and even repellent, is to be welcomed, loved and helped.
Let us now be guided by today’s Gospel. Only one thing is said about the Mother of God: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She kept them. She simply kept; Mary does not speak. The Gospel does not report a single word of hers in the entire account of Christmas. Here too, the Mother is one with her Son: Jesus is an “infant”, a child “unable to speak”. The Word of God, who “long ago spoke in many and various ways” (Heb 1:1), now, in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), is silent. The God before whom all fall silent is himself a speechless child. His Majesty is without words; his mystery of love is revealed in lowliness. This silence and lowliness is the language of his kingship. His Mother joins her Son and keeps these things in silence.
That silence tells us that, if we would “keep” ourselves, we need silence. We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib. Pondering the crib, we discover anew that we are loved; we savour the real meaning of life. As we look on in silence, we let Jesus speak to our heart. His lowliness lays low our pride; his poverty challenges our outward display; his tender love touches our hardened hearts. To set aside a moment of silence each day to be with God is to “keep” our soul; it is to “keep” our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercials, the stream of empty words and the overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting.
The Gospel goes on to say that Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. What were these things? They were joys and sorrows. On the one hand, the birth of Jesus, the love of Joseph, the visit of the shepherds, that radiant night. But on the other, an uncertain future, homelessness “because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7), the desolation of rejection, the disappointment of having to give birth to Jesus in a stable. Hopes and worries, light and darkness: all these things dwelt in the heart of Mary. What did she do? She pondered them, that is to say she dwelt on them, with God, in her heart. She held nothing back; she locked nothing within out of self-pity or resentment. Instead, she gave everything over to God. That is how she “kept” those things. We “keep” things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God. God, who keeps us in his heart, then comes to dwell in our lives.
These, then, are the secrets of the Mother of God: silently treasuring all things and bringing them to God. And this took place, the Gospel concludes, in her heart. The heart makes us look to the core of the person, his or her affections and life. At the beginning of the year, we too, as Christians on our pilgrim way, feel the need to set out anew from the centre, to leave behind the burdens of the past and to start over from the things that really matter. Today, we have before us the point of departure: the Mother of God. For Mary is what God wants us to be, what he wants his Church to be: a Mother who is tender and lowly, poor in material goods and rich in love, free of sin and united to Jesus, keeping God in our hearts and our neighbour in our lives. To set out anew, let us look to our Mother. In her heart beats the heart of the Church. Today’s feast tells us that if we want to go forward, we need to turn back: to begin anew from the crib, from the Mother who holds God in her arms.
Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life. Looking to the Mother, we are asked to leave behind all sorts of useless baggage and to rediscover what really matters. The gift of the Mother, the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church, for she too is mother and woman. While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to “keep”, to put things together in her heart, to give life. If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us. May the Mother, God’s finest human creation, guard and keep this year, and bring the peace of her Son to our hearts and to our world. And as children, with simplicity, I invite you to greet her as the Christians did at Ephesus in the presence of their bishops: “Holy Mother of God!”. Let us together repeat three times, looking at her [turning to the Statue of Our Lady beside the altar]: “Holy Mother of God!”.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
On the first page of the calendar of the new year that the Lord has given us, the Church places, as a splendid illumination, the liturgical solemnity of Mary Most Holy. On this first day of the solar year, we fix our gaze on her, to resume, under her maternal protection, the journey along the paths of time.
Today’s Gospel (cf. Lk 2:16-21) leads us back to the stable of Bethlehem. The shepherds arrive in haste and find Mary, Joseph and the babe; and they make known the message given to them by the angels, namely, that that Infant is the Saviour. All are astonished, while “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (v. 19). The Virgin helps us understand how the event of Christmas is to be received: not superficially but in the heart. She shows us the true way to receive God’s gift: to keep it in our heart and ponder it. It is an invitation offered to each of us to pray, contemplating and enjoying this gift that is Jesus himself.
It is through Mary that the Son of God assumes corporeity. But Mary’s motherhood is not reduced to this: thanks to her faith, she is also the first disciple of Jesus and this “expands” her motherhood. It will be Mary’s faith that provokes the first miraculous “sign” in Cana, which contributes to raise the faith of the disciples. With the same faith, Mary is present at the foot of the Cross and receives the Apostle John as her son; and lastly, after the Resurrection, she becomes the prayerful mother of the Church on which the power of the Holy Spirit descends on the day of Pentecost.
As mother, Mary plays a most important role: she places herself between her Son Jesus and the people in the reality of their sacrifices, in the reality of their poverty and suffering. Mary intercedes, as in Cana, conscious that as Mother she can, rather she must make the Son aware of the needs of the people, especially the weakest and most impoverished. The theme of the World Day of Peace, which we are celebrating today, is dedicated precisely to these people: “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace”, this is the motto for this Day. I would like, once again, to be the voice of these brothers and sisters of ours who invoke for their future a horizon of peace. For this peace, which is the right of all, many of them are willing to risk their lives on a journey that in most cases is long and perilous; they are willing to endure hardships and suffering (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 2018, 1).
Please, let us not extinguish the hope in their heart; let us not smother their expectations of peace! It is important that from all, civil institutions, educational, welfare and ecclesial bodies, there be a commitment to ensure to refugees, to migrants, to all a future of peace. May the Lord allow us all to work in this new year with generosity, with generosity, in order to achieve a more supportive and welcoming world. I invite you to pray for this, as along with you I entrust to Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, the newly begun year 2018. The elderly Russian monks, mystics, used to say that in times of spiritual unrest it was necessary to gather under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God. Considering so much unrest today, and above all migrants and refugees, let us pray as the monks taught us to pray: “We fly to Thy protection, O Holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin”.
We should be amazed today by the Mother of God, and allow Mary to gaze on us, embrace us and take us by the hand.
Mary is not only the Mother of God, she also presents all of us reborn to the Lord. The Church too, needs to be amazed, at being the dwelling place of the living God, the Bride of the Lord, a Mother who gives birth to her children. It is Our Lady who gives the Church the feel of home.
Whenever Mary gazes on us, she does not see sinners but children. By allowing her to gaze on us, we will see the reflection of God’s beauty and heaven. Her gaze, penetrates the darkest corner and rekindles hope.
As she gazes upon us, she says: ‘Take heart, dear children; here I am, your Mother!’
Mary takes all of us to heart in the same way that she took every person and event to heart during her life: her visit to Elizabeth, the newlyweds at Cana, the disciples in the Upper Room. She wants to embrace our every situation and present it to God.
God Himself needed a Mother. And Jesus gave her to us from the cross. Our Lady is not an optional accessory: she has to be welcomed into our life.
Mary, take us by the hand.
Gather us beneath your mantle, in the tenderness of true love, where the human family is reborn: ‘ We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God.'
“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4:4). Born of woman: Jesus came in this way. He did not appear in the world as an adult but, as the Gospel tells us, he was “conceived in the womb” (Lk 2;21). It was there that he made our humanity his own: day after day, month after month. In the womb of a woman, God and mankind are united, never to be separated again. Even now, in heaven, Jesus lives in the flesh that he took in his mother’s womb. In God, there is our human flesh!
On the first day of the year, we celebrate this nuptial union between God and mankind, inaugurated in the womb of a woman. In God, there will forever be our humanity and Mary will forever be the Mother of God. She is both woman and mother: this is what is essential. From her, a woman, salvation came forth and thus there is no salvation without a woman. In her, God was united to us, and if we want to unite ourselves to him, we must take the same path: through Mary, woman and mother. That is why we begin the year by celebrating Our Lady, the woman who wove the humanity of God. If we want to weave humanity into this our time, we need to start again from the woman.
Born of woman. The rebirth of humanity began from a woman. Women are sources of life. Yet they are continually insulted, beaten, raped, forced to prostitute themselves and to suppress the life they bear in the womb. Every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God, who was born of a woman. Humanity’s salvation came forth from the body of a woman: we can understand our degree of humanity by how we treat a woman’s body. How often are women’s bodies sacrificed on the profane altars of advertising, of profiteering, of pornography, exploited like a canvas to be used. Yet women’s bodies must be freed from consumerism; they must be respected and honoured. Theirs is the most noble flesh in the world, for it conceived and brought to light the love that has saved us! In our day, too, motherhood is demeaned, because the only growth that interests us is economic growth. There are mothers who risk difficult journeys desperately seeking to give a better future to the fruit of their womb, yet are deemed redundant by people with full stomachs but hearts empty of love.
Born of woman. The Bible tells us that woman come onto the scene at the height of creation, as a summation of the entire created world. For she holds within herself the very purpose of creation: the generation and safekeeping of life, communion with all things, care for all things. So it is with the Mother of God in today’s Gospel. The text tells us, “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (v. 19). She kept all these things: joy at the birth of Jesus and sadness for the lack of hospitality shown in Bethlehem; the love of Joseph and the amazement of the shepherds; the promise and the uncertainty of the future. She took everything to heart, and in her heart, she put everything in its right place, even hardships and troubles. In her heart, she lovingly set all things in order and entrusted everything to God.
In the Gospel, Mary does this a second time: at the end of the hidden life of Jesus, we are told that “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (v. 51). This repetition makes us realize that “keeping in her heart” was not something nice that Our Lady did from time to time, but something habitual. Women typically take life to heart. Women show us that the meaning of life is not found in making things but in taking things to heart. Only those who see with the heart see things properly, because they know how to “look into” each person: to see a brother apart from his mistakes, a sister apart from her failings, hope amid difficulty. They see God in all persons and things.
As we begin this new year, let us ask ourselves: Do I know how to see with the heart? Do I know how to look at people with the heart? Do I take to heart the people with whom I live? Or do I tear them down by gossip? And above all, do I put the Lord at the centre of my heart, or other values, other interests, like advancement, riches, power? Only if we take life to heart will we know how to take care and overcome the indifference all around. So let us ask for the grace to live this year with the desire to take others to heart and to care for them. And if we want a better world, a world that will be a peaceful home and not a war field, may we take to heart the dignity of each woman. From a woman was born the Prince of peace. Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes. Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.
Born of woman. Jesus, newly born, was mirrored in the eyes of the woman, in the face of his mother. From her, he received his first caresses; with her, he exchanged the first smiles. With her began the revolution of tenderness. The Church, looking at the Baby Jesus, is called to continue that revolution. For she too, like Mary, is both woman and mother. The Church is woman and mother, and in Our Lady, she finds her distinctive traits. She sees Mary immaculate, and feels called to say no to sin and to worldliness. She sees Mary fruitful, and feels called to proclaim the Gospel and to give birth to it in people’s lives. She sees Mary a mother, and she feels called to receive every man and woman as a son or daughter.
In drawing close to Mary, the Church discovers herself, she finds her centre and her unity. The enemy of our human nature, the devil, seeks instead to divide, to highlight differences, ideologies, partisan thinking and parties. But we do not understand the Church if we regard her by starting with structures, programmes and trends, ideologies and functions. We may grasp something, but not the heart of the Church. Because the Church has a mother’s heart. And we, as her sons and daughters, invoke today the Mother of God, who gathers us together as a people of believers. O Mother, give birth to hope within us and bring us unity. Woman of salvation, to you we entrust this year. Keep it in your heart. We acclaim you, the Holy Mother of God. All together now, for three times, let us stand and acclaim the Lady, the Holy Mother of God. [with the assembly] Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God!
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.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good afternoon and Happy New Year!
We begin this year placing ourselves under the maternal and loving gaze of Mary Most Holy, celebrated in today’s liturgy as Mother of God. Thus we take up once again the journey along the paths of history, entrusting our anxieties and our torments to her who can do everything. Mary watches over us with maternal tenderness just as she watched over her Son Jesus, and if we look at the Nativity Scene, we see that Jesus is not in the crib, and they told me that the Madonna said: “Won’t you let me hold this Son of mine a bit in my arms?” This is what the Madonna does with us: she wants to hold us in her harms to protect us as she protected and loved her Son. The reassuring and comforting gaze of the Holy Virgin is an encouragement to make sure that this time, granted us by the Lord, might be spent for our human and spiritual growth, that it is a time in which hatred and division are resolved, and there are many, that it is a time to experience ourselves as brothers and sisters, a time to build and not to destroy, to take care of each other and of creation. A time to make things grow a time of peace.
It is specifically regarding the care of our neighbours and of creation that the theme for the World Day of Peace, which we celebrate today, is dedicated: A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace. The painful events that marked humanity’s journey last year, especially the pandemic, taught us how much it is necessary to take an interest in others’ problems and to share their concerns. This attitude represents the path that leads to peace, because it fosters the construction of a society founded on fraternal relationships. Each of us, men and women of this time, is called to make peace happen, each one of us, we are not indifferent to this. We are called to make peace happen each day and in every place we live, taking those brothers and sisters by the hand who need a comforting word, a tender gesture, solidary help. This is a task given us by God. The Lord has given us the task of being peacemakers.
And peace can become a reality if we begin to be in peace with ourselves – at peace inside, in our hearts – and with ourselves, and with those who are near us, removing the obstacles that prevent us from taking care of those who find themselves in need and in poverty. It means developing a mentality and a culture of “caring” to defeat indifference, to defeat rejection and rivalry – indifference, rejection, rivalry which unfortunately prevail. To remove these attitudes. And thus, peace is not only the absence of war, peace is never sterile: no, peace does not exist in an operating room. Peace is within life: it is not only the absence of war, but is a life rich in meaning, rooted in and lived through personal realization and fraternal sharing with others. Then that peace, so longed for and always endangered by violence, by egoism and evil, that peace that is endangered might become possible and achievable if I take it as a task given to me by God.
May the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6), and who cuddles him thus, with such tenderness in her arms, obtain for us from heaven the precious gift of peace, which cannot be fully pursued with human force alone. Human force is not enough because peace is above all a gift, a gift to be implored from God with incessant prayer, sustained with patient and respectful dialogue, constructed with an open collaboration with truth and justice and always attentive to the legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples. My hope is that peace might reign in the hearts of men and women and in families, in recreational and work places, in communities and in nations. In families, at work, in nations: peace, peace. Now is time to think that life today is organized around war, and enmities, by many things that destroy. We want peace. And this is a gift.
On the threshold of this beginning, I extend to everyone my heart-felt greetings for a happy and serene 2021. May each one of us make sure that it is for everyone a year of fraternal solidarity and peace, a year filled with expectant trust and hope, which we entrust to the heavenly protection of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.
The shepherds found “Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (Lk 2:16). For the shepherds, the manger was a joyful sign: it was the confirmation of the message they had heard from the angel (cf. v. 12), the place where they found the Saviour. It is also the proof of God’s closeness to them, for he was born in a manger, an object they know well, as a sign of his closeness and familiarity. The manger is also a joyful sign for us. Jesus touches our hearts by being born in littleness and poverty; he fills us with love, not fear. The manger foretells the One who makes himself food for us. His poverty is good news for everyone, especially the marginalized, the rejected and those who do not count in the eyes of the world. For that is how God comes: not on a fast track, and lacking even a cradle! That is what is beautiful about seeing him there, laid in a manger.
Yet such was not the case with Mary, the Holy Mother of God. She had to endure “the scandal of the manger”. She too, long before the shepherds, had received the message of an angel, who spoke to her solemnly about the throne of David: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Lk 1:31-32). And now, Mary has to lay him in a trough for animals. How can she hold together the throne of a king and the lowly manger? How can she reconcile the glory of the Most High and the bitter poverty of a stable? Let us think of the distress of the Mother of God. What can be more painful for a mother than to see her child suffering poverty? It is troubling indeed. We would not blame Mary, were she to complain of those unexpected troubles. Yet she does not lose heart. She does not complain, but keeps silent. Rather than complain, she chooses a different part: For her part, the Gospel tells us, Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19).
That is not what the shepherds and the people do. The shepherds tell everyone about what they had seen: the angel that appeared in the heart of the night, and his words concerning the Child. And the people, upon hearing these things, are amazed (cf. v. 18). Words and amazement. Mary, instead, is pensive; she keeps all these things, pondering them in her heart. We ourselves can have the same two different responses. The story told by the shepherds, and their own amazement, remind us of the beginnings of faith, when everything seems easy and straightforward. We rejoice in the newness of God who enters into our lives and fills us with wonder. Mary’s pensiveness, on the other hand, is the expression of a mature, adult faith, not a faith of beginners. Not a newborn faith, it is rather a faith that now gives birth. For spiritual fruitfulness is born of trials and testing. From the quiet of Nazareth and from the triumphant promises received by the Angel – the beginnings – Mary now finds herself in the dark stable of Bethlehem. Yet that is where she gives God to the world. Others, before the scandal of the manger, might feel deeply troubled. She does not: she keeps those things, pondering them in her heart.
Let us learn from the Mother of God how to have that same attitude: to keep and to ponder. Because we may well have to endure certain “scandals of the manger”. We hope that everything will be all right and then, like a bolt from the blue, an unexpected problem arises. Our expectations clash painfully with reality. That can also happen in the life of faith, when the joy of the Gospel is put to the test in troubling situations. Today the Mother of God teaches us to draw profit from this clash. She shows us that it is necessary: it is the narrow path to achieve the goal, the cross, without which there can be no resurrection. Like the pangs of childbirth, it begets a more mature faith.
I ask, brothers and sisters, how do we make this passage, how do we surmount this clash between the ideal and the real? By doing exactly what Mary did: by keeping and by pondering. First, Mary “keeps”, that is she holds on to what happens; she does not forget or reject it. She keeps in her heart everything that she saw and heard. The beautiful things, like those spoken to her by the angel and the shepherds, but also the troubling things: the danger of being found pregnant before marriage and, now, the lowly stable where she has had to give birth. That is what Mary does. She does not pick and choose; she keeps. She accepts life as it comes, without trying to camouflage or embellish it; she keeps those things in her heart.
Then, Mary’s second attitude is about how she keeps: she keeps and she ponders. The Gospel speaks of Mary “bringing together”, comparing, her different experiences and finding the hidden threads that connect them. In her heart, in her prayer, she does exactly that: she binds together the beautiful things and the unpleasant things. She does not keep them apart, but brings them together. It is for this reason that Mary is said to be the Mother of Catholicity. In this regard, we can dare to say that it is because of this that Mary is said to be Catholic, for she unites, she does not divide. And in this way she discerns their greater meaning, from God’s perspective. In her mother’s heart, Mary comes to realize that the glory of the Most High appears in humility; she welcomes the plan of salvation whereby God must lie in a manger. She sees the divine Child frail and shivering, and she accepts the wondrous divine interplay between grandeur and littleness. Mary keeps and ponders.
This inclusive way of seeing things, which transcends tensions by “keeping” and “pondering”, is the way of mothers, who, in moments of tension, do not divide, they keep, and in this way enable life to grow. It is the way so many mothers embrace the problems of their children. Their maternal “gaze” does not yield to stress; it is not paralyzed before those problems, but sees them in a wider perspective. And this is Mary’s attitude: she keeps and ponders right up to Calvary. We can think of the faces of all those mothers who care for a child who is ill or experiencing difficulties. What great love we see in their eyes! Even amid their tears, they are able to inspire hope. Theirs is a gaze that is conscious and realistic, but at the same time offering, beyond the pain and the problems, a bigger picture, one of care and love that gives birth to new hope. That is what mothers do: they know how to overcome obstacles and disagreements, and to instil peace. In this way, they transform problems into opportunities for rebirth and growth. They can do this because they know how to “keep”, to hold together the various threads of life. We need such people, capable of weaving the threads of communion in place of the barbed wire of conflict and division. Mothers know how to do this.
The New Year begins under the sign of the Holy Mother of God, under the sign of the Mother. A mother’s gaze is the path to rebirth and growth. We need mothers, women who look at the world not to exploit it, but so that it can have life. Women who, seeing with the heart, can combine dreams and aspirations with concrete reality, without drifting into abstraction and sterile pragmatism. And the Church is a Mother, this is what makes the Church feminine. For this reason, we cannot find a place for women in the Church without allowing the heart of the Woman and Mother to shine. This is the place of women in the Church, the great place, from which other places, more concrete and less important, are derived. But the Church is Mother, the Church is woman. And since mothers bestow life, and women “keep” the world, let us all make greater efforts to promote mothers and to protect women. How much violence is directed against women! Enough! To hurt a woman is to insult God, who from a woman took on our humanity. He did not do it through an angel; nor did he come directly; he did it through a woman. Like a woman, the Mother Church, takes the humanity of her sons and daughters.
At the beginning of the New Year, then, let us place ourselves under the protection of this woman, the Mother of God, who is also our mother. May she help us to keep and ponder all things, unafraid of trials and with the joyful certainty that the Lord is faithful and can transform every cross into a resurrection. Today too, let us call upon her as did the People of God at Ephesus. Let us stand and, facing Our Lady as did the people of God in Ephesus, let us together repeat three times her title of Mother of God: “Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God, Holy Mother of God”! Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon! Happy New Year!
Let us begin the new year entrusting it to Mary, the Mother of God. The Gospel of today’s Liturgy speaks of her, taking us back once again to the wonder of the crib. The shepherds hasten toward the stable and what do they find? The text says they find, “Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” (Lk 2:16). Let us pause on this scene and let us imagine Mary who, like a tender and caring mamma, has just laid Jesus in the manger. We can see a gift given to us in that act of laying him down: the Madonna does not keep her Son to herself, but presents him to us. She not only holds him in her arms, but puts him down to invite us to look at him, welcome him, adore him. Behold Mary’s maternity: she offers the Son who is born to all of us. Always by giving her Son, showing her Son, never treating her Son as something of her own, no. And so throughout Jesus’ life.
And in laying him before our eyes, without saying a word, she gives us a wonderful message: God is near, within our reach. He does not come with the power of someone who wants to be feared, but with the frailness of someone who asks to be loved. He does not judge from his throne on high, but looks at us from below, like a brother, rather, like a son. He is born little and in need so that no one would ever again be ashamed. It is precisely when we experience our weakness and our frailness that we can feel God even nearer, because he appeared to us in this way – weak and frail. He is the God-child who is born so as not to exclude anyone. He did this to make us all become brothers and sisters.
And so, the new year begins with God who, in the arms of his mother and lying in a manger, gives us courage with tenderness. We need this encouragement. We are still living in uncertain and difficult times due to the pandemic. Many are frightened about the future and burdened by social problems, personal problems, dangers stemming from the ecological crisis, injustices and by global economic imbalances. Looking at Mary with her Son in her arms, I think of young mothers and their children fleeing wars and famine, or waiting in refugee camps. There are so many of them! And contemplating Mary who lays Jesus in the manger, making him available to everyone, let us remember that the world can change and everyone’s life can improve only if we make ourselves available to others, without expecting them to begin to do so. If we become craftsmen of fraternity, we will be able to mend the threads of a world torn apart by war and violence.
Today the World Day of Peace is celebrated. Peace “is both a gift from on high and the fruit of a shared commitment” (Message for the 55th World Day of Peace, 1). Gift from on high: we need to implore it of Jesus because we are not capable of preserving it. We can truly build peace only if we have peace in our hearts, only if we receive it from the Prince of peace. But peace is also our commitment: it asks us to take the first step, it demands concrete actions. It is built by being attentive to the least, by promoting justice, with the courage to forgive thus extinguishing the fire of hatred. And it needs a positive outlook as well, one that always sees, in the Church as well as in society, not the evil that divides us, but the good that unites us! Getting depressed or complaining is useless. We need to roll up our sleeves to build peace. At the beginning of this year, may the Mother of God, the Queen of Peace, obtain harmony in our hearts and in the entire world.
Holy Mother of God! This was the joyful acclamation of the holy People of God echoing in the streets of Ephesus in the year 431, when the Council Fathers proclaimed Mary the Mother of God. This truth is a fundamental datum of faith, but above all, it is a marvellous fact. God has a Mother and is thus bound forever to our humanity, like a child to its mother, to the point that our humanity is his humanity. It is an amazing and consoling truth, so much so that the most recent Council, which met here in Saint Peter’s, stated that, “by his incarnation, the Son of God has in a certain way united himself with each individual. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, he acted with a human will, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). That is what God did by being born of Mary: he showed his concrete love for our humanity, embracing it truly and fully. Brothers and sisters, God does not love us in words but in deeds; not from “on high”, but “up close”, precisely from “within” our flesh, because in Mary the Word became flesh, because Christ continues to have a heart of flesh that beats for each and every of us!
Holy Mother of God! Many books and weighty tomes have been written about this title of Our Lady. Yet these words have mostly entered the minds and hearts of the holy People of God through the simple and familiar prayer that accompanies the rhythm of our days, our moments of weariness and our greatest aspirations: the Hail Mary. After a few phrases drawn from the word of God, the second part of the prayer continues: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…” This invocation, often repeated throughout the day, has allowed God to draw near, through Mary, to our lives and our history. Mother of God, pray for us sinners… It is recited in the most diverse languages, on the beads of a rosary and at times of need, in the presence of a holy image or walking along the way. To this invocation the Mother of God always responds; she hears our petitions; holding her Son in her arms, she blesses us and brings us the tender love of God made flesh. In a word, Mary gives us hope. At the beginning of this year, we need hope, just as the earth needs rain. This year that opens with the celebration of God’s Mother and our own, tells us that the key to hope is Mary and that the antiphon of hope is the invocation, Holy Mother of God. And today, we entrust beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to our Most Holy Mother, that she will accompany him on his journey from this world to God.
Let us pray to our Mother in a special way for her sons and daughters who are suffering and no longer have the strength to pray, and for our many brothers and sisters throughout the world who are victims of war, passing these holidays in darkness and cold, in poverty and fear, immersed in violence and indifference! For all those who have no peace, let us invoke Mary, the woman who brought into the world the Prince of peace (cf. Is 9:6; Gal 4:4). In her, the Queen of Peace, was fulfilled the blessing we heard in the first reading: “May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:26). At the hands of a Mother, God’s peace wants to enter into our homes, our hearts and our world. Yet what must we do to receive that peace?
Let us be guided by the people we meet in today’s Gospel, who were the first to see the Mother and Child: the shepherds of Bethlehem. They were poor people and perhaps somewhat uncouth, and that night they were working. Yet they, not the learned or the powerful, were the first to recognize God among us, the God who became poor and loves to be with the poor. The Gospel emphasizes two very simple things that the shepherds did: things simple but not always easy. They went and saw. Two actions: Going and seeing.
First, going. The Gospel tells us that the shepherds “went with haste” (Lk 2:16). They did not wait around. It was night, they had their flocks to keep, and naturally they were weary: they could easily have waited for dawn, held off until sunrise in order to go and see the Child lying in the manger. Instead, they went with haste, because where important things are concerned, we need to react promptly and not wait, for “the grace of the Spirit brooks no delay” (SAINT AMBROSE, Commentary on Saint Luke, 2). And so they encountered the Messiah, the one awaited for centuries, the one that so many others had long sought.
Brothers and sisters, if we are to welcome God and his peace, we cannot stand around complacently, waiting for things to get better. We need to get up, recognize the moments of grace, set out and take a risk. We need to take a risk! Today, at the beginning of the year, rather than standing around, thinking and hoping that things will change, we should instead ask ourselves: “This year, where do I want to go? Who is it that I can help?” So many people, in the Church and in society, are waiting for the good that you and you alone can do, they are waiting for your help. Today, amid the lethargy that dulls our senses, the indifference that paralyzes our hearts, and the temptation to waste time glued to a keyboard in front of a computer screen, the shepherds are summoning us to set out and get involved in our world, to dirty our hands and to do some good. They are inviting us to set aside many of our routines and our comforts in order to open ourselves to the new things of God, which are found in the humility of service, in the courage of caring for others. Brothers and sisters, let us imitate the shepherds: let us set out with haste!
When they arrived, the Gospel tells us, the shepherds “found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (v. 16). It then says that “after having seen” the Child (cf. v. 17), they set out, filled with wonder, to tell others about Jesus, glorifying and praising God for everything that they had heard and seen (cf. vv. 17-18, 20). The important thing was that they had seen him. What is important is to see, to look around and, like the shepherds, to halt before the Child resting in his mother’s arms. To say nothing, to ask nothing, to do nothing. Simply to look on in silence, to adore and to contemplate the tender and comforting love of God made man, and his, and our, Mother. At the beginning of this year, among all the other things that we would like to do and experience, let us devote some time to seeing, to opening our eyes and to keeping them open before what really matters: God and our brothers and sisters. Let us have the courage to experience the wonder of encounter, which is God’s style. That is something very different from the world’s seductions, which seem to calm us. The wonder of God and of encounter gives us peace; the world can only anesthetize us and give peace of mind.
How many times, in our busy lives, do we fail to stop, even for a moment, to be close to the Lord and to hear his word, to say a prayer, to adore and praise him. We do the same thing with others: caught up in our own affairs or in getting ahead, we have no time to listen to our wife, our husband, to talk with our children, to ask them about how they really are, and not simply about their studies or their health. And how good it is for us to take time and listen to the elderly, to our grandfathers and grandmothers, in order to remember the deeper meaning of our lives and to recover our roots. Let us ask ourselves too, whether we are capable of seeing the people next door, the people who live in the same building, the people we meet each day on the street. Brothers and sisters, let us imitate the shepherds: let us learn to see! To understand by seeing with our hearts. Let us learn to see.
Going and seeing. Today the Lord has come among us and the Holy Mother of God sets him before our eyes. Let us rediscover in the enthusiasm of going and the wonder of seeing the secret that can make this year truly “new”, and thus overcome the weariness of being stuck or the false peace of seduction.
And now, brothers and sisters, I invite all of you to look to the Virgin Mary. Let us invoke her three times, as the people of Ephesus did: Holy Mother of God! Holy Mother of God! Holy Mother of God!
Dear brothers and sisters, good day and Happy New Year!
The beginning of the new year is entrusted to Mary Most Holy whom we celebrate today as Mother of God. At this time, let us invoke her intercession especially for Pope emeritus Benedict XVI who left this world yesterday morning. Let us all join together, with one heart and one soul, in thanking God for the gift of this faithful servant of the Gospel and of the Church. We saw recently on TV, the “Sua Immagine” program, all that he did and the life of Pope Benedict.
As we contemplate Mary in the stable where Jesus was born, we can ask ourselves: What languages does the Holy Virgin use to speak to us? How does Mary speak? What can we learn from her for this year that is dawning? We can say, “Our Lady, teach us what we need to do this year”.
In reality, if we observe the scene that today’s Liturgy presents to us, we note that Mary does not speak. She welcomes the mystery she is experiencing with awe, she cherishes everything in her heart and, above all, she is concerned about the Child whom, as the Gospel says, was “laid in a manger” (cf. Lk 2:16). This verb “to lay” means to carefully place, and this tells us that the language proper to Mary is maternal: she tenderly takes care of the Child. This is Mary’s greatness. As the angels celebrate, the shepherds come running and everyone praises God with a loud voice for what has happened, Mary does not speak, she does not entertain her guests explaining everything that had happened to her, she does not steal the show – to us who like to steal the show! – she does not steal the show. On the contrary, she puts the Child in the centre, she lovingly takes care of him. A poet once wrote that Mary “even knew how to be solemnly mute, because she did not want to lose sight of her God” (A. Merini, Corpo d’amore. Un incontro con Gesù, Milano 2001, 114).
This is typically maternal language: the tenderness of taking care of. In fact, after having borne the gift of a mysterious prodigy in their wombs for nine months, mothers constantly put their babies at the centre of their attention: they feed them, they hold them in their arms, they tenderly lay them down in the crib. To take care of – this is the language of the Mother of God, a language of mothers: to take care of.
Brothers and sisters, like all mothers, Mary bore life in her womb and thus, she talks to us about our future. But at the same time, she reminds us that, if we truly want the New Year to be good, if we want to reconstruct hope, we need to abandon the language, those actions and those choices inspired by egoism and learn the language of love, which is to take care of. To take care of is a new language that counters these languages of egoism. This is the commitment: to take care of our lives – each one of us needs to take care of our own life – to take care of our time, of our souls; to take care of creation and the environment we live in; and even more, to take care of our neighbour, of those whom the Lord has placed alongside us, as well as our brothers and sisters who are in need and who call for our attention and our compassion. Looking at Our Lady with the Child, there taking care of her Child, let us learn to take care of others, even of ourselves, caring for our interior health, our spiritual life, charity.
Celebrating today the World Day of Peace, let us regain awareness of the responsibility that has been entrusted to us to construct the future – in the face of the personal and social crises we are living, in the face of the tragedy of the war, “we are called to confront the challenges of our world in a spirit of responsibility and compassion” (Message for the 56th World Day of Peace, 5). And we can do this if we take care of each other and if, all of us together, take care of our common home.
Let us implore Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God, so that in this epoch, polluted by diffidence and indifference, she might make us capable of being compassionate and providing care – capable of being compassionate and providing care – capable of “looking more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary” (Apos. Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 169).
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.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
On this first Sunday after Christmas, while we are still immersed in the joyous climate of celebration, the Church calls us to contemplate the Holy Family of Nazareth. The Gospel today presents Our Lady and St Joseph at the time when, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, they go to the temple in Jerusalem. They do so in religious obedience to the Law of Moses, which requires that the first born son be presented to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22-24).
We can imagine this tiny family, in the midst of so many people, in the temple’s grand courtyards. They do not stand out, they are not distinguishable.... Yet they do not pass unnoticed! Two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, approach and praise God for that Child, in whom they recognize the Messiah, the light of the people and the salvation of Israel (cf. Lk 2:22-38). It is a simple moment but rich with prophecy: the encounter between two young spouses full of joy and faith due to the grace of the Lord; and two elderly people also filled with joy and faith through the action of the Spirit. Who causes them to meet? Jesus. Jesus makes them meet: young and old. Jesus is He who brings generations closer. He is the font of that love which unites families and people, conquering all diffidence, all isolation, all distance. This causes us to also think of grandparents: how important their presence is, the presence of grandparents! How precious their role is in the family and in society! A good relationship between the young and the elderly is crucial for the journey of the civil and ecclesial community. Looking at these two elderly people — Simeon and Anna — let us greet from here, with applause, all the worlds’ grandparents.
The message that comes from the Holy Family is first of all a message of faith. In the family life of Mary and Joseph, God is truly at the centre, and He is so in the Person of Jesus. This is why the Family of Nazareth is holy. Why? Because it is centred on Jesus.
When parents and children together breathe in this climate of faith, they have an energy that allows them to face even difficult trials, as the experience of the Holy Family shows, for example, in the dramatic event of their flight to Egypt: a difficult ordeal.
The Baby Jesus with his Mother Mary and with St Joseph are a simple but so luminous icon of the family. The light it casts is the light of mercy and salvation for all the world, the light of truth for every man, for the human family and for individual families. This light which comes from the Holy Family encourages us to offer human warmth in those family situations in which, for various reasons, peace is lacking, harmony is lacking, and forgiveness is lacking. May our concrete solidarity not diminish especially with regard to the families who are experiencing more difficult situations due to illness, unemployment, discrimination, the need to emigrate.... Let us pause here for a moment and pray in silence for all these families in difficulty, whether due to problems of illness, unemployment, discrimination, need to emigrate, due to difficulty in understanding each other and also to disunion. Let us pray in silence for all these families.
Before our eyes we can picture Mother Mary as she walks, carrying the Baby Jesus in her arms. She brings him to the Temple; she presents him to the people; she brings him to meet his people.
The arms of Mother Mary are like the “ladder” on which the Son of God comes down to us, the ladder of God’s condescension. This is what we heard in the first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews: Christ became “like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:17). This is the twofold path taken by Jesus: he descended, he became like us, in order then to ascend with us to the Father, making us like himself.
In our heart we can contemplate this double movement by imagining the Gospel scene of Mary who enters the Temple holding the Child in her arms. The Mother walks, yet it is the Child who goes before her. She carries him, yet he is leading her along the path of the God who comes to us so that we might go to him.
Jesus walked the same path as we do, and shows us the new way, the “new and living way” (cf. Heb 10:20) which is he himself. For us, consecrated men and women, this is the one way which, concretely and without alternatives, we must continue to tread with joy and perseverance.
Fully five times the Gospel speaks to us of Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the “law of the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:22-24,27,39). Jesus came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father. This way – he tells us – was his “food” (cf. Jn 4:34). In the same way, all those who follow Jesus must set out on the path of obedience, imitating as it were the Lord’s “condescension” by humbling themselves and making their own the will of the Father, even to self-emptying and abasement (cf. Phil 2:7-8). For a religious, to advance on the path of obedience means to abase oneself in service, that is, to take the same path as Jesus, who “did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). By emptying himself he made himself a servant in order to serve.
For us, as consecrated persons, this path takes the form of the rule, marked by the charism of the founder. For all of us, the essential rule remains the Gospel, yet the Holy Spirit, in his infinite creativity, also gives it expression in the various rules of the consecrated life which are born of the sequela Christi, and thus from this journey of abasing oneself by serving.
Through this “law” which is the rule, consecrated persons are able to attain wisdom, not something abstract, but a work and gift of the Holy Spirit. An evident sign of such wisdom is joy. The evangelical happiness of a religious is the fruit of self-abasement in union with Christ… And, when we are sad, we would do well to ask ourselves, “How are we living this kenosis?”
In the account of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple, wisdom is represented by two elderly persons, Simeon and Anna: persons docile to the Holy Spirit, led by him, inspired by him. The Lord granted them wisdom as the fruit of a long journey along the path of obedience to his law, an obedience which likewise humbles and abases, but which also lifts up and protects hope, making them creative, for they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They even enact a kind of liturgy around the Child as he comes to the Temple. Simeon praises the Lord and Anna “proclaims” salvation (cf. Lk 2:28-32, 38). As with Mary, the elderly man holds the Child, but in fact it is the Child who guides the elderly man. The liturgy of First Vespers of today’s feast puts this clearly and beautifully: “senex puerum portabat, puer autem senem regebat”. Mary, the young mother, and Simeon, the kindly old man, hold the Child in their arms, yet it is the Child himself who guides them both.
Here it is not young people who are creative: the young, like Mary and Joseph, follow the law of the Lord, the path of obedience. The elderly, like Simeon and Anna, see in the Child the fulfilment of the Law and the promises of God. And they are able to celebrate: the are creative in joy and wisdom. And the Lord turns obedience into wisdom by the working of his Holy Spirit.
At times God can grant the gift of wisdom to a young person, but always as the fruit of obedience and docility to the Spirit. This obedience and docility is not something theoretical; it too is subject to the economy of the incarnation of the Word: docility and obedience to a founder, docility and obedience to a specific rule, docility and obedience to one’s superior, docility and obedience to the Church. It is always docility and obedience in the concrete.
In persevering along the path of obedience, personal and communal wisdom matures, and thus it also becomes possible to adapt rules to the times. For true “aggiornamento” is the fruit of wisdom forged in docility and obedience.
The strengthening and renewal of consecrated life are the result of great love for the rule, and also the ability to look to and heed the elders of one’s congregation. In this way, the “deposit”, the charism of each religious family, is preserved by obedience and by wisdom, working together. By means of this journey, we are preserved from living our consecration in “lightly”, in an unincarnate manner, as if it were some sort of gnosis which would ultimately reduce religious life to caricature, a caricature in which there is following without renunciation, prayer without encounter, fraternal life without communion, obedience without trust, and charity without transcendence.
Today we too, like Mary and Simeon, want to take Jesus into our arms, to bring him to his people. Surely we will be able to do so if we enter into the mystery in which Jesus himself is our guide. Let us bring others to Jesus, but let us also allow ourselves to be led by him. This is what we should be: guides who themselves are guided.
May the Lord, through the intercession of Mary our Mother, Saint Joseph and Saints Simeon and Anna, grant to all of us what we sought in today’s opening prayer: to “be presented [to him] fully renewed in spirit”. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
On this first Sunday after Christmas, we are celebrating the Holy Family of Nazareth, and the Gospel invites us to reflect on the experience lived by Mary, Joseph and Jesus, as they grow together as a family in mutual love and in trust in God. The rite performed by Mary and Joseph, in offering their son Jesus to God, is an expression of this trust. The Gospel states: “they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22) as Mosaic Law required. Jesus’ parents go to the Temple to attest that their son belongs to God and that they are the guardians of his life, and not the owners. And this leads us to reflect. All parents are guardians of their children’s lives, not the owners, and they must help them to grow, to mature.
This gesture emphasizes that God alone is the Lord of individual and family history; everything comes to us from him. Each family is called to acknowledge this primacy, by protecting and educating children to open themselves to God who is the very source of life. From here passes the secret of inner youth, paradoxically witnessed to in the Gospel by an elderly couple, Simeon and Anna. The elderly Simeon, in particular, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says in regard to the Child Jesus: “this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against [...] that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (vv. 34-35).
These prophetic words reveal that Jesus has come to tear down the false images that we make of God and also of ourselves; to “speak against” the worldly certainties on which we insistently rely; to make ourselves “rise” to a true human and Christian journey, founded on the values of the Gospel. There is no family situation that is precluded from this new journey of rebirth and resurrection. Each time that families — even those that are wounded and marked by frailty, failures and difficulties — return to the source of the Christian experience, new roads and unexpected opportunities open.
Today’s Gospel narrative recounts that when Mary and Joseph “had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew” — the Gospel says — “and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (vv. 39-40). Children’s growth is a great joy for the family, we all know it. They are destined to grow and become strong, to acquire knowledge and receive the grace of God, just as happened to Jesus. He is truly one of us: the Son of God becomes a child, agrees to grow, to become strong; he is filled with knowledge, and the grace of God is upon him. Mary and Joseph have the joy of seeing all this in their son; and this is the mission to which the family is directed: to create conditions favourable to the harmonious and full growth of its children, so they may live a good life, worthy of God and constructive for the world.
This is the wish that I offer all the families today, with the accompanying invocation to Mary, Queen of the Family.
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.
“My eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2:30). These are the words of Simeon, whom the Gospel presents as a simple man: “righteous and devout”, says the text (v. 25). But among all at the temple that day, he alone saw Jesus as the Saviour. What did he see? A child: a small, vulnerable, simple child. But in him he saw salvation, for the Holy Spirit allowed him to recognize in that tender new-born “the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26). Taking him in his arms, he sensed by faith that in him God was bringing his promises to fulfilment. And that he, Simeon, could now go in peace: he had seen the grace that was worth more than life (cf. Ps 63:4), and there was nothing further to wait for.
You too, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you are simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good. And so you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves. Why did you do this? Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind. Religious life is this vision. It means seeing what really matters in life. It means welcoming the Lord’s gift with open arms, as Simeon did. This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands. The consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: “Everything is gift, all is grace”. Dear brothers and sisters, we did not deserve religious life; it is a gift of love that we have received.
My eyes have seen your salvation. These are the words we repeat each evening at Night Prayer. With them, we bring our day to an end, saying: “Lord, my salvation comes from you, my hands are not empty, but are full of your grace”. Knowing how to see grace is the starting point. Looking back, rereading one’s own history and seeing there God’s faithful gift: not only in life’s grand moments, but also in our fragility and weakness, in our insignificance. The tempter, the devil focuses on our “poverty”, our empty hands: “In all these years you haven’t got any better, you haven’t achieved what you could have, they haven’t let you do what you were meant to do, you haven’t always been faithful, you are not capable…”and so on. Each of us knows this story and these words very well. We see this is true in part, and so we go back to thoughts and feelings that disorient us. Thus we risk losing our bearings, the gratuitous love of God. For God loves us always, and gives himself to us, even in our poverty. Saint Jerome offered much to the Lord and the Lord asked for more. He said to the Lord: “But Lord, I have given you everything, everything, what else is lacking?” “Your sins, your poverty, offer me your poverty”. When we keep our gaze fixed on him, we open ourselves to his forgiveness that renews us, and we are reassured by his faithfulness. We can ask ourselves today: “To whom do I turn my gaze: to the Lord, or to myself?” Whoever experiences God’s grace above all else can discover the antidote to distrust and to looking at things in a worldly way.
There is a temptation that looms over religious life: seeing things in a worldly way. This entails no longer seeing God’s grace as the driving force in life, then going off in search of something to substitute for it: a bit of fame, a consoling affection, finally getting to do what I want. But when a consecrated life no longer revolves around God’s grace, it turns in upon itself. It loses its passion, it grows slack, becomes stagnant. And we know what happens then: we start to demand our own space, our own rights, we let ourselves get dragged into gossip and slander, we take offence at every small thing that does not go our way, and we pour forth litanies of lamentation – lamentation, “Father Lamentation”, “Sister Lamentation” – about our brothers, our sisters, our communities, the Church, society. We no longer see the Lord in everything, but only the dynamics of the world, and our hearts grow numb. Then we become creatures of habit, pragmatic, while inside us sadness and distrust grow, that turn into resignation. This is what a worldly gaze leads to. The Great Saint Teresa once said to the sisters: “woe to the sister who repeats these words, ‘they have treated me unjustly’, woe to her!”
To have the right kind of view on life, we ask to be able to perceive God’s grace for us, like Simeon. The Gospel says three times that he was intimately familiar with the Holy Spirit, who was upon him, inspired him, roused him (cf. v. 25-27). He was intimately familiar with the Holy Spirit, with the love of God. If consecrated life remains steadfast in love for the Lord, it perceives beauty. It sees that poverty is not some colossal effort, but rather a higher freedom that God gives to us and others as real wealth. It sees that chastity is not austere sterility, but the way to love without possessing. It sees that obedience is not a discipline, but is victory over our own chaos, in the way of Jesus. In one of the regions affected by earthquake in Italy – speaking of poverty and community life – there was a Benedictine monastery that was destroyed and another monastery that invited the Sisters to come and stay with them. But they were only there for a short while: they were not happy, they were thinking about their monastery, about the people there. In the end, they decided to go back to their monastery, which is now two caravans. Instead of staying in this big, comfortable monastery; they were like flies there, all of them together, but happy in their poverty. This happened just last year. It is a beautiful thing!
My eyes have seen your salvation. Simeon sees Jesus as small, humble, the one who has come to serve, not to be served, and defines himself as servant. Indeed he says: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace” (v. 29). Those who see things as Jesus does, learn how to live in order to serve. They do not wait for others to take the initiative, but themselves go out in search of their neighbour, as did Simeon who sought out Jesus in the temple. Where is one’s neighbour to be found in the consecrated life? This is the question: Where is one’s neighbour to be found? First of all in one’s own community. The grace must be sought to know how to seek out Jesus in the brothers and sisters we have been given. And that is precisely where we can begin to put charity into practice: in the place where you live, by welcoming brothers and sisters in their poverty, as Simeon welcomed Jesus meek and poor. Today, so many see in other people only hindrances and complications. We need to have a gaze that seeks out our neighbour, that brings those who are far-off closer. Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion. That repeated phrase in the Gospel, which, speaking about Jesus, says: “He had compassion”. This is the stooping down of Jesus towards each one of us.
My eyes have seen your salvation. The eyes of Simeon saw salvation because they were expecting it (cf. v. 25). They were eyes that were waiting, full of hope. They were looking for the light and then saw the light of the nations (cf. v. 32). They were aged eyes, but burning with hope. The gaze of consecrated men and women can only be one of hope. Knowing how to hope. Looking around, it is easy to lose hope: things that don’t work, the decline in vocations… There is always the temptation to have a worldly gaze, one devoid of hope. But let us look to the Gospel and see Simeon and Anna: they were elderly, alone, yet they had not lost hope, because they remained in communion with the Lord. Anna “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (v. 37). Here is the secret: never to alienate oneself from the Lord, who is the source of hope. We become blind if we do not look to the Lord every day, if we do not adore him. To adore the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and ask of him a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look for one’s neighbour, how to hope. Then our eyes too will see salvation.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord: when the new-born Jesus was presented to the temple by the Virgin Mary and St Joseph. On this day there is also the Day of Consecrated Life, which recalls the great treasure in the Church of those who follow the Lord closely by professing evangelical counsel.
The Gospel (cf. Luke 2:22-40) recounts that, forty days after birth, Jesus' parents brought the Child to Jerusalem to consecrate him to God, as prescribed by Jewish law. And while describing the ritual foreseen by tradition, this episode brings to our attention some of the examples of the characters. They are caught when they experience the encounter with the Lord in the place where He makes Himself present and close to man. These characters are Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, who represent models of welcoming and of giving their lives to God. They were not equal these four, they were all different, but they all sought God and let themselves be guided by the Lord.
The evangelist Luke describes them in a two-fold attitude: the attitude of movement and the attitude of amazement.
The first attitude is movement. Mary and Joseph are heading for Jerusalem; for his part, Simeon, moved by the Spirit, goes to the temple, while Anna serves God day and night non-stop. In this way, the four protagonists of the Gospel passage show us that Christian life requires dynamism and requires a willingness to walk, letting ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. Immobilism does not suit the Christian witness and the mission of the Church. The world needs Christians who let themselves be moved, who do not tire of walking the streets of life, to bring to everyone the comforting word of Jesus. Every baptized person has received the vocation to proclaim - the vocation to proclaim the evangelizing mission: to announce Jesus, this is the mission! The parishes and the various ecclesial communities are called to encourage the commitment of young people, of families and the elderly, so that everyone can have a Christian experience, living the life and mission of the Church as protagonists.
The second attitude with which St. Luke presents the four characters of the Gospel is amazement. First we have movement then we have amazement. Mary and Joseph "were amazed at the things that were said about him [of Jesus]" (v. 33). Amazement is an explicit reaction also of the old Simeon, who in the Child Jesus sees with his eyes the salvation brought by God on behalf of His people: this is the salvation that he has been waiting for, for years. And the same goes for Anna, who "also began to praise God" (v. 38) and to go and point out Jesus to the people. This is the holy amazement, the amazement that realizes there is something good before her. Something holy which is to be brought to everyone, so that they may all see Jesus. These figures of believers are enveloped in amazement, because they have allowed themselves to be captured and involved by the events that took place before their eyes. The ability to marvel at the things around us promotes religious experience and makes the encounter with the Lord fruitful. On the contrary, the inability to be amazed makes us indifferent and widens the distance between the path of faith and everyday life. Brothers and sisters, be in movement always and available to be amazed!
May the Virgin Mary help us to contemplate the gift of God for us every day in Jesus, and to let ourselves be involved by Him in the movement of the gift, with joyful amazement, so that our whole life will become a praise to God in the service of our brothers and sisters.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
On our course of catechesis on prayer, today we meet the Virgin Mary as the prayerful woman. The Madonna prayed. When the world still knew nothing of her, when she was a simple girl engaged to a man of the house of David, Mary prayed. We can imagine the young girl of Nazareth wrapped in silence, in continual dialogue with God who would soon entrust her with a mission. She is already full of grace and immaculate from the moment she was conceived; but she knows nothing yet of her surprising and extraordinary vocation and the stormy sea she will have to cross. One thing is certain: Mary belongs to a great host of the humble of heart whom the official historians never include in their books, but with whom God prepared the coming of His Son.
Mary did not independently conduct her life: she waits for God to take the reins of her path and guide her where He wants. She is docile, and with her availability she prepares the grand events in which God takes part in the world. The Catechism recalls her constant and caring presence in the benevolent design of the Father throughout the course of Jesus’s life (see CCC, 2617-2618).
Mary was praying when the Archangel Gabriel came to bring his message to her in Nazareth. Her small yet immense “Here I am”, which makes all of creation jump for joy at that moment, was preceded throughout salvation history by many other “Here I ams”, by many trusting obediences, by many who were open to God’s will. There is no better way to pray than to place oneself in an attitude of openness, of a heart open to God: “Lord, what You want, when You want, and how You want”. That is, with a heart open to God’s will. And God always responds. How many believers live their prayer like this! Those who are the most humble of heart pray like this: with essential humility, let’s put it that way; with simple humility: “Lord, what You want, when You want, and how You want”. They pray like this and do not get upset when problems fill their days, but they go about facing reality and knowing that in humble love, in love offered in each situation, we become instruments of God’s grace. “Lord, what You want, when You want, and how You want”. A simple prayer, but one in which we place ourselves in the Lord’s hands so that He might guide us. All of us can pray like this, almost without words.
Prayer knows how to calm restlessness. We are restless, we always want things before asking for them, and we want them right away. This restlessness harms us. And prayer knows how to calm restlessness, knows how to transform it into availability. When we are restless, I pray and prayer opens my heart and makes me open to God’s will. In those few moments of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary knew how to reject fear, even while sensing that her “yes” would bring her tremendously difficult trials. If in prayer we understand that each day given by God is a call, our hearts will then widen and we will accept everything. We will learn how to say: “What You want, Lord. Promise me only that You will be present every step of my way”. This is important: to ask the Lord to be present on every step of our way: that He not leave us alone, that He not abandon us in temptation, that He not abandon us in the bad moments. The Our Father ends this way: the grace that Jesus Himself taught us to ask of the Lord.
Mary accompanied Jesus’s entire life in prayer, right up to His death and resurrection; and in the end, she continued and she accompanied the first steps of the nascent Church (see Acts 1:14). Mary prayed with the disciples who had witnessed the scandal of the cross. She prayed with Peter who had succumbed to fear and cried for remorse. Mary was there, with the disciples, in the midst of the men and women whom her Son had called to form His Community. Mary did not act like a priest among them, no! She is Jesus’s Mother who prayed with them, in the community, as a member of the community. She prayed with them and prayed for them. And, once again, her prayer preceded into the future that was about to be fulfilled: by the work of the Holy Spirit she became the Mother of God, and by the work of the Holy Spirit she became the Mother of the Church. Praying with the nascent Church, she becomes the Mother of the Church, accompanying the disciples on the first steps of the Church in prayer, awaiting the Holy Spirit. In silence, always silently. Mary’s prayer is silent. The Gospels recount only one of Mary’s prayers at Cana, when she asks her Son for those poor people who are about to make a horrible impression during the banquet. So, let us imagine: there is a wedding banquet and it will end up with milk because there is no wine! What an impression! And she prays and asks her Son to resolve that problem. In and of itself, Mary’s presence is prayer, and her presence among the disciples in the Upper Room, awaiting the Holy Spirit, is in prayer. Thus Mary gives birth to the Church, she is the Mother of the Church. The Catechism explains: “In the faith of his humble handmaid, the Gift of God”, that is, the Holy Spirit, “found the acceptance he had awaited from the beginning of time” (CCC, 2617).
In the Virgin Mary, natural feminine intuition is exalted by her most singular union with God in prayer. This is why, reading the Gospel, we note that she seems to disappear at times, only to reappear for crucial moments: Mary was open to God’s voice that guided her heart, that guided her steps where her presence was needed. Her silent presence as mother and as disciple. Mary is present because she is Mother, but she is also present because she is the first disciple, the one who best learned Jesus’s ways. Mary never says: “Come, I will take care of things”. Instead she says: “Do whatever He will tell you”, always pointing her finger at Jesus. This behaviour is typical of the disciple, and she is the first disciple: she prays as Mother and she prays as a disciple.
“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Thus the evangelist Luke depicts the Mother of the Lord in the infancy narrative in his Gospel. Everything that happens around her ends up being reflected on in the depths of her heart: the days filled with joy, as well as the darkest moments when even she struggles to understand by which roads the Redemption must pass. Everything ends up in her heart so that it might pass through the sieve of prayer and be transfigured by it: whether it be the gifts of the Magi, or the flight into Egypt, until that terrible passion Friday. The Mother keeps everything and brings it to her dialogue with God. Someone has compared Mary’s heart to a pearl of incomparable splendour, formed and smoothed by patient acceptance of God’s will through the mysteries of Jesus meditated on in prayer. How beautiful it would be if we too could be a bit like our Mother! With a heart open to God’s Word, with a silent heart, with an obedient heart, with a heart that knows how to receive God’s Word and that allows itself to grow with the seed of good for the Church.
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.
Simeon, so Saint Luke tells us, “looked forward to the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Going up to the Temple as Mary and Joseph were bringing Jesus there, he took the Messiah into his arms. The one who recognized in that Child the light that came to shine on the Gentiles was an elderly man who had patiently awaited the fulfilment of the Lord’s promises.
The patience of Simeon. Let us take a closer look at that old man’s patience. For his entire life, he had been waiting, exercising the patience of the heart. In his prayer, Simeon had learned that God does not come in extraordinary events, but works amid the apparent monotony of our daily life, in the frequently dull rhythm of our activities, in the little things that, working with tenacity and humility, we achieve in our efforts to do his will. By patiently persevering, Simeon did not grow weary with the passage of time. He was now an old man, yet the flame still burned brightly in his heart. In his long life, there had surely been times when he had been hurt, disappointed, yet he did not lose hope. He trusted in the promise, and did not let himself be consumed by regret for times past or by the sense of despondency that can come as we approach the twilight of our lives. His hope and expectation found expression in the daily patience of a man who, despite everything, remained watchful, until at last “his eyes saw the salvation” that had been promised (cf. Lk 2:30).
I ask myself: where did Simeon learn such patience? It was born of prayer and the history of his people, which had always seen in the Lord “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and fidelity” (Ex 34:6). He recognized the Father who, even in the face of rejection and infidelity, never gives up, but remains “patient for many years” (cf. Neh 9:30), constantly holding out the possibility of conversion.
The patience of Simeon is thus a mirror of God’s own patience. From prayer and the history of his people, Simeon had learned that God is indeed patient. By that patience, Saint Paul tells us, he “leads us to repentance” (Rom 2:4). I like to think of Romano Guardini, who once observed that patience is God’s way of responding to our weakness and giving us the time we need to change (cf. Glaubenserkenntnis, Würzburg, 1949, 28). More than anyone else, the Messiah, Jesus, whom Simeon held in his arms, shows us the patience of God, the merciful Father who keeps calling us, even to our final hour. God, who does not demand perfection but heartfelt enthusiasm, who opens up new possibilities when all seems lost, who wants to open a breach in our hardened hearts, who lets the good seed grow without uprooting the weeds. This is the reason for our hope: that God never tires of waiting for us. When we turn away, he comes looking for us; when we fall, he lifts us to our feet; when we return to him after losing our way, he waits for us with open arms. His love is not weighed in the balance of our human calculations, but unstintingly gives us the courage to start anew. This teaches us resilience, the courage always to start again, each day. Always to start over after our falls. God is patient.
Let us look to our patience. Let us look to the patience of God and the patience of Simeon as we consider our own lives of consecration. We can ask ourselves what patience really involves. Certainly it is not simply about tolerating difficulties or showing grim determination in the face of hardship. Patience is not a sign of weakness, but the strength of spirit that enables us to “carry the burden”, to endure, to bear the weight of personal and community problems, to accept others as different from ourselves, to persevere in goodness when all seems lost, and to keep advancing even when overcome by fatigue and listlessness.
Let me point to three “settings” in which patience can become concrete.
The first is our personal life. There was a time when we responded to the Lord’s call, and with enthusiasm and generosity offered our lives to him. Along the way, together with consolations we have had our share of disappointments and frustrations. At times, our hard work fails to achieve the desired results, the seeds we sow seem not to bear sufficient fruit, the ardour of our prayer cools and we are not always immune to spiritual aridity. In our lives as consecrated men and women, it can happen that hope slowly fades as a result of unmet expectations. We have to be patient with ourselves and await in hope God’s own times and places, for he remains ever faithful to his promises. This is the foundation stone: he is true to his promises. Remembering this can help us retrace our steps and revive our dreams, rather than yielding to interior sadness and discouragement. Brothers and sisters, in us consecrated men and women, interior sadness is a worm, a worm that eats us from within. Flee from interior sadness!
A second setting in which patience can become concrete is community life. We all know that human relationships are not always serene, especially when they involve sharing a project of life or apostolic activity. There are times when conflicts arise and no immediate solution can be expected, nor should hasty judgements be made. Time is required to step back, to preserve peace and to wait for a better time to resolve situations in charity and in truth. Let us not allow ourselves to be flustered by tempests. In the Breviary, for tomorrow’s Office of Readings, there is a fine passage on spiritual discernment by Diodochus of Photice. He says: “A tranquil sea allows the fisherman to gaze right to its depths. No fish can hide there and escape his sight. The stormy sea, however, becomes murky when it is agitated by the winds”. We will never be able to discern well, to see the truth, if our hearts are agitated and impatient. Never. Our communities need this kind of reciprocal patience: the ability to support, that is, to bear on our own shoulders, the life of one of our brothers or sisters, including his or her weaknesses and failings, all of them. Let us keep in mind that the Lord does not call us to be soloists – we know there are many in the Church – no, we are not called to be soloists but to be part of a choir that can sometimes miss a note or two, but must always try to sing in unison.
Finally, a third setting is our relationship with the world. Simeon and Anna cherished the hope proclaimed by the prophets, even though it is slow to be fulfilled and grows silently amid the infidelities and ruins of our world. They did not complain about how wrong things are, but patiently looked for the light shining in the darkness of history. To look for the light shining in the darkness of history; to look for the light shining in the darkness of our own communities. We too need that kind of patience, so as not to fall into the trap of complaining. Some people are masters of complaining, doctors of complaining, they are very good at complaining! No, complaining imprisons us: “the world no longer listens to us” – how often do we hear that - or “we have no more vocations, so we have to close the house”, or “these are not easy times” – “ah, don’t tell me!...”. And so the duet of complaints begins. It can happen that even as God patiently tills the soil of history and our own hearts, we show ourselves impatient and want to judge everything immediately: now or never, now, now, now. In this way, we lose that “small” but most beautiful of virtues: hope. I have seen many consecrated men and women who lose hope, simply through impatience.
Patience helps us to be merciful in the way we view ourselves, our communities and our world. In our own lives, do we welcome the patience of the Holy Spirit? In our communities, do we bear with one another and radiate the joy of fraternal life? In the world, do we patiently offer our service, or issue harsh judgements? These are real challenges for our consecrated life: we cannot remain stuck in nostalgia for the past or simply keep repeating the same old things or everyday complaints. We need patience and courage in order to keep advancing, exploring new paths, and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And to do so with humility and simplicity, without great propaganda or publicity.
Let us contemplate God’s patience and implore the trusting patience of Simeon and of Anna. In this way, may our eyes, too, see the light of salvation and bring that light to the whole world, just as these two elderly individuals did in their words of praise.
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.