First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God
December 31, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters!
At the end of a year rich in events for the Church and for the world, we are here this evening at the Vatican Basilica to celebrate the First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God, and to raise a hymn of thanks to the Lord of time and history.
Above all, it is the words of the Apostle Paul that we heard just now, which throws a particular light on this time of year: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman . . . so that we might receive adoption" (Gal 4,4-5).
This dense Pauline passage speaks to us of "the fullness of time" and enlightens us on the content of the expression. In the story of the human family, God introduced His eternal Word, making it take on humanity like ours. With the Incarnation of the Son of God, eternity entered time, and the history of man was opened to absolute fulfillment in God. Time had been, so to speak, "touched" by Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, and had received new and surprising significances: it had become a time of salvation and grace.
It is precisely in this perspective that we could consider time at year's end, and that which is to come, in order to place the most diverse events of our life -- important or trivial, simple or indecipherable, joyous or sad -- under the sign of salvation and accept the call that God addresses to us to lead us towards a goal that is beyond time itself: eternity.
The Pauline text also underscores the mystery of the nearness of God to all mankind. It is the nearness itself of the mystery of Christmas: God became man, and thereby gave man the unprecedented possibility to become a child of God.
All this fills us with great joy and brings us to raise praises to God. We are called to express with our voices, our hearts and our lives our thanks to the Lord for the gift of His Son, source and fulfillment of all the other gifts with which divine love fills the existence of each of us, of families, of communities, of the Church and of the world.
Singing the Te Deum, which resounds today in Churches around the world, is a sign of the joyous gratitude which we address to God for all that He has given us in Christ. Truly, "from His fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace" (Jn 1,16). . . .
I wish to encourage the faithful to participate in great numbers in the assemblies taking place in their parishes, in order to offer a valid contribution to the edification of the Church. Even today, the Lord wants to make His love for humanity known to the residents of Rome and entrusts to each one, in the diversity of their ministries and responsibilities, the mission of announcing His words of truth and bearing witness through charity and brotherly solidarity.
Only by contemplating the mystery of the Word Incarnate can man find the answers to the great questions of human existence and thus discover the truth of his own identity. Because of this, the Church, in all the world and here in the city, is committed to promoting the integral development of the human being. . . .
For many years, so many families, numerous educators and the parochial communities have been dedicated to helping young people construct their future on solid foundations, particularly on the rock that Jesus Christ is. I hope that this renewed educational commitment may increasingly lead to a fruitful synergy between the church community and the city in order to help young people plan their lives. . . .
In order to be authoritative witnesses to the truth about man, prayerful listening to the Word of God is necessary. In this regard, I wish above all to recommend the ancient tradition of the lectio divina. . . .
The Word -- believed, announced and lived -- urges us to behave with solidarity and sharing. In praising the Lord for the help that the Christian communities have offered with generosity to those who have knocked on their doors, I wish to encourage everyone to follow through with this commitment to alleviate difficulties in which so many families still find themselves due to the economic crisis and unemployment. May the Nativity of the Lord -- which reminds us of the gratuitousness with which God came to save us, in taking on our humanity and giving us His divine life -- help every man and woman of good will to understand that only by opening up to the love of God can human behavior change and be transformed, becoming the yeast for a better future for everyone.
Dear brothers and sisters, Rome needs priests who can be courageous announcers of the Gospel, and at the same time, reveal the merciful face of the Lord. I invite all young people not to be afraid to answer with the complete gift of their own existence the call that the Lord makes for them to follow Him in the way of priesthood or the consecrated life. . . .
As we take leave of the year that is ending and as we face the new year, the liturgy today introduces us to the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of the Church and mother of each of her members, that is, the mother of each of us, in Christ.
Let us ask her to accompany us with her thoughtful protection today and always, so that Christ may welcome us one day, in His glory, to the assembly of saints: Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari (Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting). Amen!