Sunday, December 20, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Gospel for this Sunday of Advent highlights the person of Mary. We see her when, just after having conceived in faith the Son of God, she takes on the long trip from Nazareth of Galilee to the hill country of Judah, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel had revealed to her that her relative, who did not have children and was already of advanced age, was in her sixth month of pregnancy (cf Lk 1:26-36). That’s why the Virgin, who carried within her an even greater gift and mystery, goes to see Elizabeth and stays with her for three months.
In the meeting between these two women, imagine, an elderly woman and a youth, it is the youth, Mary, who offers the first greeting. The Gospel tells us: “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” And after this greeting, Elizabeth is astonished — don’t forget this word, this wonder — and cries out with these words: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). And they embrace and kiss each other; these two women, the elderly one and the youth, are happy. Two pregnant women.
To celebrate Christmas well, we are called to spend time in the “places” of astonishment [wonder]. And what are these places of wonder in daily life? There are three.
The first place is “the other,” in whom we recognize a brother, because since the birth of Jesus, every face is marked with a similarity to the Son of God. Above all when it is the face of a poor person, because as a poor man, God entered the world and it was the poor, in the first place, that he allowed to approach him.
Another place of wonder - a place in which, if we look with faith, we feel wonder, is history. The second one. So many times we think we see it the right way, and instead we risk reading it backwards: It happens, for example, when history seems to us to be determined by the market economy, regulated by finance and business, dominated by the powers that be. The God of Christmas is rather a God who “shuffles the deck” – He likes to do it, eh? – As Mary sings in the Magnificat, it is the Lord who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53). This is the second surprise, the wonder of history.
The third place of wonder is the Church. To look on her with the wonder of faith means not just considering the Church only as a religious institution – which the Church is – but to feel that she is a mother who, despite her warts and wrinkles – we have so many! – lets the contours of the bride beloved of and purified by Christ the Lord shine through. A Church who knows how to recognize herself in the many signs of faithful love that God continuously sends her. A Church whereby the Lord Jesus will never be a possession to be zealously defended; those who do this are erroneous. The Lord Jesus will always be the One who comes to meet her and who she knows how to await with trust and joy, giving a voice to the hopes of the world. The Church who calls to the Lord, “Come Lord Jesus.” The Mother Church who always has the doors open, and her arms open to welcome everyone. Even more, Mother Church goes out from her own doors to seek, with the smile of a Mother, all of those who are far away and bring them to the mercy of God. This is the wonder of Christmas.
At Christmas, God gives us all of Himself by giving His one and only Son, who is all his joy – and it is only with the heart of Mary, the humble and poor daughter of Zion, become the Mother of the Son of the Most High, that we can rejoice and be glad for the great gift of God and for His unpredictable surprise: may she help us to perceive the wonder, these three wonders: the other, history and the Church; so let it be with the birth of Jesus – the gift of gifts – the undeserved gift that brings us salvation, that it might also make us feel this wonder in meeting Jesus. We cannot have this wonder, however, we cannot meet Jesus, if we do not meet Him in the other, in history and in the Church.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I also want to turn my thoughts to our beloved Syria, to express deep appreciation for the agreement just reached by the international community. I encourage everyone to continue, with a generous spirit of confident willingness, toward cessation of violence and a negotiated settlement leading to peace.
I likewise think of nearby Libya, where the recent working agreement among the parties for a government of national unity invites hope for the future.
I also want to support the commitment to collaboration being offered to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I hope that a renewed spirit of fraternity will further strengthen their dialogue and mutual cooperation, as well among the countries of the region.
My thoughts turn in this moment to the dear populations of India, recently stricken by a great flood.
Let us pray for these brothers and sisters, who are suffering as a result of this great calamity, and let us entrust the souls of the dead to the mercy of God. A Hail Mary to the Virgin…
[Hail Mary …]
I greet all of you with affection, dear pilgrims from various countries who have come to join in this gathering of prayer. Today, the first greeting goes out to the children of Rome. These kids know how to make noise, right? They have come for the traditional blessing of the “bambinelli” [the baby Jesus figures for the nativity scenes], organized by the Centro Oratori Romani. Dear children, listen up, when you pray before your cribs, also remember to pray for me, as I pray for you. Thank you and merry Christmas!
I greet the families of the “Children of Heaven” community, and those who are united, in hope and in sorrow, to the Child Jesus hospital. Dear parents, I assure you of my spiritual closeness and I encourage you to continue your journey of faith and fraternity.
I greet the polyphonic choir of Racconigi, the “I ragazzi del Papa” prayer group — thanks for your support — and the faithful of Parma.
I wish you all a good Sunday and a Christmas full of hope, love and peace. Don’t forget to pray for me! Have a good lunch and see you soon!
[Translation by ZENIT, based on the report from Vatican Radio]