Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let Us Make Room

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Midnight Mass, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2007

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.). These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. . . . In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others. . . .

Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves? . . .

There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.
In the year 5,199 from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;

In the year 2,957 from the flood;

In the year 2,051 from the birth of Abraham;

In the year 1,510 from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;

In the year 1,032 from the anointing of David as king;

In the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

In the 194th Olympiad;

In the year 752 from the foundation of the city of Rome;

In the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;

When the whole world was at peace, in the sixth age of the world:

Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, having become man.

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

St. Joseph, Model of Faith and Love

At first, it appears that we know very little about St. Joseph, and it is true that not much is said about him in the Gospels. Nevertheless, what is recorded about him says a lot. As with John the Baptist, Joseph prepares a way for the Lord and His Kingdom and, because he is an ancestor of David, like the Baptist, Joseph provides a link between the old covenant with Abraham and Moses and the new and everlasting covenant of Jesus Christ. However, perhaps his greatest roles are those of faithful protector and provider.

As with Mary, God chose Joseph for his role in salvation history. When an angel appeared to tell him to not be afraid to take the pregnant Mary into his home as his wife, that she had conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should name the child “Jesus,” Joseph complied and placed himself at the service of the Lord without hesitation. He took Mary, not only into his home, but into his heart, as his wife, and he took Jesus as his own son, accepting the vocations of faithful spouse and father.

Indeed, Joseph’s “Yes” to God was arguably a greater act of faith than the “Yes” given by Mary at the Annunciation. After Mary told him that she was with child through the Holy Spirit, a story lacking all credibility, Joseph could have very easily disbelieved the visit from the angel as merely an act of his subconscious during a dream. Mary, too, could have easily dismissed the visit from the angel at the Annunciation as an overactive imagination, but the message to her was soon confirmed by her pregnancy and the fact that Mary also knew that she had not been with a man. However, Joseph had nothing of this world to confirm that she had not been with another man, but had instead conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph had only Mary’s word for it, and the word of what easily could have been his imagination in a dream.

The Gospels state that Joseph was a “just” man, but in saving Mary from stoning to death – which he had decided to do before the visit from the angel -- his was an act of mercy, not justice, because the penalty under the Law for infidelity was death. After the angel’s revelation, notwithstanding good reason for doubt, Joseph placed his trust in Mary and his faith in God. Instead of demanding proof, instead of putting God to the test, Joseph acted on faith. Joseph acted on love.

It was not until the shepherds showed up at the stable after the birth of Jesus, claiming that an angel had appeared to them announcing the good news of the birth, that Joseph had any tangible confirmation that he was right to believe in Mary – he was right to act on love and have faith in God.

Joseph was a model of love – true love – not the false so-called “love” of feelings and emotions, of making himself happy, of satisfying his own wants and desires, but the true and perfect love of consciously deciding to empty himself and make a gift of self in seeking the good of others. Joseph set aside his own wants and aspirations of a typical marriage and family life and instead, in true love, devoted himself to Mary and Jesus.

In complete fidelity, Joseph placed himself entirely at their service. As the model husband and father, in addition to servant, Joseph was defender, protector, and provider. He took Mary and Jesus into his home and into his heart. He found shelter when there was no room at the inn; he took his family to Egypt when Herod was determined to destroy Jesus in Bethlehem; he kept them safely in Egypt until Herod’s demise, when they could safely return home to Nazareth; he worked as a craftsman, a carpenter, to provide a home for his family. When Mary and Jesus encountered the hardships of everyday life, it was Joseph who stood at their side, providing them help and encouragement.

Joseph was also counsellor and teacher to the young Jesus, providing him the usual education, instructing him in a trade, and proclaiming the faith to him. Joseph arranged for the circumcision of baby Jesus, the entrance into the covenant with God, and he presented him to the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph took Jesus to the synagogue to hear the word of God and, each Passover, Joseph took his family on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where, at age 12, Jesus was found discussing the faith with teachers in the Temple.

Aside from Mary, Joseph was closer to and knew Jesus more than any other person in history. Until his death, Joseph observed, participated in, and knew all the intimate details of Jesus’ life. It was Joseph who, together with Mary, most influenced and prepared Jesus for his adult and public life. Whereas John the Baptist prepared the world for Jesus, preparing the way for the Lord on a public level, it was Joseph who prepared the way for the Lord on a private level.

Indeed, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are the family of God. In them is the Church in miniature, the model for all of us in faith, love, hope, and truth.

Now, Joseph could have said “No.” Just as Mary the Immaculate retained free will, so too did Joseph have the freedom to refuse to be husband and father. He had the freedom to reject the message of the angel and allow Mary (and the unborn Jesus, because the Incarnation had already occurred) to be stoned to death, thereby defeating God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Just as God placed Himself at the mercy of Mary, making Himself small and defenseless in her womb, so too did God entrust Himself to Joseph, totally and completely vulnerable and defenseless. But God also knew Joseph to be just and righteous and, just as He chose Mary, the Father of Jesus in heaven specifically chose Joseph to be the father of Jesus on earth.

God knew, as we know now, that Joseph was and is a model of love and fidelity, a good and righteous man to whom He could entrust His Son. And so, we understand that, because he was protector and defender of Jesus, so too is Joseph protector and defender of the Church. Thus, as with Mary, we can turn to St. Joseph in heaven to protect us always.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Open the Window of Your Hearts and Be Transformed by the Light and Joy of the Holy Spirit

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to the University Students of Rome
St. Peter's Basilica
December 13, 2007

Dear university youth, allow me to offer you at this familial encounter two brief reflections.

The first addressed the course of your spiritual formation. The Diocese of Rome has highlighted the preparation of university youth for Holy Confirmation. Thus, your pilgrimage to Assisi last November 10 represented the moment of 'calling' and tonight is your 'response.'

In fact, some 150 among you have applied as candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which they will receive on the vigil of Pentecost. This is a very relevant initiative that fits very well into the itinerary of preparation for the World Youth Day to be held in Sydney in July 2008.

To these candidates for Confirmation, and to all of you, dear young friends, I wish to say: turn your attention to the Virgin Mary and from her Yes, learn to say your own Yes to the divine calling. The Holy Spirit enters our life to the degree that we open our heart with our Yes: the fuller this Yes is, the fuller will be the gift of his presence.

To better understand this, we can refer to a very simple fact: light. If the windows are hermetically sealed, the sun, no matter how bright, will never enter the house. If there is a small fissure, then a ray of light enters; if the shutter is opened a little bit more, the room begins to light up; but only when the shutters are completely thrown open will the sun illuminate and warm the room.

Dear friends, Mary was greeted by the angel with the words 'full of grace' which means this: her heart and her life were totally open to God and therefore completely pervaded by his grace. May she help you to give your full and free Yes to God, so that you may be renewed, or better yet, transformed by the light and joy of the Holy Spirit.

The second reflection that I wished to offer is my recent encyclical on Christian hope entitled, as you know, Spe salvi - saved in hope - words taken from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans (8,24). I offer it to you symbolically, dear university students of Rome, and through you, to the entire world of the universities, schools, culture and education. The theme of hope, I think, would be particularly congenial to young people.

In particular, I invite you to reflect and confront - in discussion groups, even - the part of the encyclical in which I wrote about hope in the modern era. In the 17th century, Europe underwent an authentic epochal turn, and since then, has gone on affirming ever more a mentality according to which human progress can only be the product of science and technology, while faith can only be concerned with the salvation of the soul, a salvation that is purely personal.

The two great motivating ideas of modernity - reason and freedom - were dissociated from God to become autonomous forces that would work together to construct a 'kingdom of man', virtually in opposition to the Kingdom of God. Thus, the spread of a materialistic concept, nourished by the hope that, by changing economic and political structures, there would finally be a just society, in which peace, liberty and equality would reign.

This process, which is not without its values and historical reasons, nevertheless contained a fundamental error: man, in fact, is not just the product of specific social and economic conditions; technological progress does not necessarily come with the moral growth of humanity, but rather, without ethical principles, science, technology and politics may be used - as it has and as it continues to be unfortunately - not for good but for evil, and not just of the individual but all mankind.

Dear friends, these are themes that are so actual today that they should stimulate your reflection and favor even more the positive confrontation and collaboration which now exists among all the state, private and pontifical universities in Rome.