CHRISTMAS TRANSFORMS FAITH TO LOVE
VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2011 — The Pope tonight celebrated Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.
In the course of the Eucharistic celebration, following the reading of the Gospel, the Holy Father delivered his homily.
“This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is He merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of Him on the basis of mere words. He has ‘appeared.’ But now we ask: how has He appeared? Who is He in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed.’ For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God Himself might not be good either, that He too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real ‘epiphany,’ the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognise God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. ‘The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed’: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.”
“God has appeared — as a child. It is in this guise that He pits Himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One Who loves us, the One through Whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.
“Christmas is an epiphany — the appearing of God and of His great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. . . . For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: He had made a place for man in God Himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. . . . The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. . . . In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.”
“It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. . . . God made Himself dependent, in need of human love, He put Himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.”
“Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. . . . Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. . . . If we want to find the God Who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our ‘enlightened’ reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognising God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of St. Francis — the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God Who is so different from our prejudices and opinions — the God Who conceals Himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God Who reveals Himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they — and we — may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of His Son in a stable.”
CHRIST IS THE HAND GOD EXTENDS TO HUMANITY
VATICAN CITY, 25 DEC 2011 — At midday today, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the Holy Father pronounced his traditional Christmas Message from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica, and imparted the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing. Extracts of the Message are given below:
“The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; He is the Saviour of all. This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: ‘O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God.’ Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. . . . This hand is Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of His Truth and His Love.”
“Jesus . . . means ‘Saviour.’ He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take His place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death. This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help.”
“The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves. . . . God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. . . . To realise this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone Who hears us and can come to our assistance.
“Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. . . . The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God Who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about Him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.
“Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: ‘Come to save us!’”
“Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.
“May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods.
“May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where He chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May He bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May He foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May He grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.
“May the birth of the Saviour support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.”
“Let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to Him; let us receive Him into our lives.”
Following his Message, the Pope extended Christmas greetings in sixty-five languages and imparted his blessing “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world).
THE TRUE IMITATION OF CHRIST IS LOVE
VATICAN CITY, 26 DEC 2011 — At midday today, Feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, the Holy Father appeared at the window of his study to pray the Angelus with faithful gathered below in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope explained how, “following the generation of the Apostles, martyrs came to acquire high standing in the Christian community. At times of greatest persecution, remembering and praising them brought relief to the faithful on their arduous journey and encouraged those seeking truth to convert to the Lord. Thus the Church, by divine disposition, venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them under such names as ‘life masters’ and ‘living witnesses.’”
“The true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian authors have defined as ‘the secret martyrdom’. . . . Today, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel may call for the sacrifice of life, and many Christians in various parts of the world are subject to persecution and sometimes to martyrdom. But, as the Lord reminds us, ‘the one who endures to the end will be saved.’”
“Let us pray to Most Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs, to maintain our desire for goodness intact, especially towards those who oppose us. In particular, let us today entrust the deacons of the Church to divine mercy so that, illumined by the example of St. Stephen, they may collaborate, in accordance with their specific mission, in the task of evangelisation.”
Appeal for an end to violence in Nigeria
After praying the Angelus the Pope said: “Christmas arouses, even more strongly, our prayer to God that violent hands may cease to spread death, and that justice and peace may reign in the world. Yet our earth continues to be stained with innocent blood. It was with great sadness that I heard the news of attacks which, this year too, on the Day of Christ’s Birth, have brought mourning and pain to certain churches of Nigeria. I wish to express my sincere and affectionate closeness to the Christian communities and to everyone who has been affected by this senseless gesture, and I invite people to pray to the Lord for the many victims. I make this appeal that, with the collaboration of all components of society, security and serenity may be restored. At this time I wish to reiterate once again: violence is a way which leads only to suffering, destruction and death; respect, reconciliation and love are the only way to achieve peace.”
HOLY FAMILY, AN ICON OF THE DOMESTIC CHURCH
VATICAN CITY, 28 DEC 2011 — Prayer in the Holy Family of Nazareth was the theme of Benedict XVI’s catechesis during today’s general audience, which was held in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 7,000 pilgrims.
“The house of Nazareth,” the Pope explained, “is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the deepest meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph and Jesus.”
“Mary is the peerless model for the contemplation of Christ,” he said. She “lived with her eyes on Christ and treasured His every word. . . . Luke the Evangelist makes Mary’s heart known to us, her faith, her hope, her obedience, her interior life and prayer, her free adherence to Christ. All of these came from the gift of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon her just as it descended upon the Apostles according to Christ’s promise. This image of Mary makes her a model for all believers.”
Mary’s capacity to live by the gaze of God is “contagious,” the Holy Father went on. “The first to experience this was St. Joseph. . . . With Mary, and later with Jesus, he began a new rapport with God, he began to accept Him into his life, to enter into His plan of salvation, to do His will.”
Although the Gospel has not preserved any of Joseph’s words, “his is a silent but faithful presence, constant and active. . . . Joseph fulfilled his paternal role in all aspects.” In this context, the Pope explained how Joseph had educated Jesus to pray, taking Him to the synagogue on Saturdays and guiding domestic prayer in the morning and evening. “Thus, in the rhythm of the days spent in Nazareth, between Joseph’s humble dwelling and his workshop, Jesus learned to alternate pray and work, also offering up to God the fatigue by which they earned the bread the family needed.”
Benedict XVI then turned his attention to the pilgrimage of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, as narrated in the Gospel of St. Luke. “The Jewish family, like the Christian family, prays in the intimacy of the home, but it also prays together in the community recognising itself as part of the pilgrim People of God”, he said.
Jesus’ first words — “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” — pronounced when Mary and Joseph found Him sitting among the teachers in the Temple, are a key to understanding Christian prayer. “From that moment, the life of the Holy Family became even richer in prayer, because the profound significance of the relationship with God the Father began to spread from the Heart of the boy (then adolescent, then young man) Jesus to the hearts of Mary and Joseph. The Family of Nazareth was the first model of the Church in which, in the presence of Jesus and thanks to His mediation, a filial rapport with God came to transform even interpersonal relations.”
“The Holy Family,” Benedict XVI concluded, “is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth.”
OTHER PONTIFICAL ACTS
VATICAN CITY, 28 DEC 2011 — The Holy Father appointed Bishop Remidio Jose Bohn, auxiliary of Porto Alegre, Brazil, as bishop of Cachoeira do Sul (area 10,736, population 220,000, Catholics 161,287, priests 24, permanent deacons 7, religious 46), Brazil. He succeeds Bishop Irineu Silvio Wilges O.F.M., whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.
On Monday 26 December it was made public that the Holy Father accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the archdiocese of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago presented by Archbishop Edward Joseph Gilbert C.SS.R., upon having reached the age limit. He is succeeded by Coadjutor Archbishop Joseph Harris C.S.Sp.
On Saturday 24 December it was made public that the Holy Father appointed:
• Bishop Joseph Hii Teck Kwong, auxiliary of Sibu, Malaysia, as bishop of the same diocese (area 41,484, population 790,000, Catholics 109,944, priests 19, religious 30). He succeeds Bishop Dominic Su Haw Chiu, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese the Holy Father accepted, in accordance with canon 401 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.
• Msgr. Joseph Mbatia of the clergy of the diocese of Nyahururu, Kenya, vicar general, as bishop of Nyahururu (area 8,066, population 1,043,000, Catholics 332,700, priests 54, permanent deacons 4, religious 82). The bishop-elect was born in Itabua, Kenya in 1961 and ordained a priest in 1989. He has worked as assistant to the bishop of Nyeri and as pastor in a number of parishes in his country. He succeeds Bishop Luigi Paiaro, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.
• Bishop Vital Chitolina S.C.I., prelate of Paranatinga, Brazil, as bishop of Diamantino (area 105,406, population 310,897, Catholics 224,779, priests 25, religious 60), Brazil.