Pope's Address to University Students

«In the Stable of Bethlehem Man’s Solitude Is Overcome»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to university students of Rome.

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«Be steadfast, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.» (James 5:7)

With these words the Apostle James indicates the interior attitude necessary to prepare ourselves to hear and welcome again the proclamation of the birth of the Redeemer in the stable of Bethlehem — ineffable mystery of light, of love and grace. To you, dear university students of Rome, I affectionately offer my greeting: I receive you with your desires, your expectations, your worries as Holy Christmas nears; and I also greet the academic communities that you represent. I thank the rector, Prof. Massimo Egidi, for the courteous words that he addressed to me in your name and with which he highlighted the delicate mission of the university professor. I greet with lively cordiality the minster for universities, Prof. Francesco Profumo, and the academic authorities of the various athenaeums.  

Dear friends, St. James exhorts us to imitate the farmer, who «steadfastly waits for the precious fruit of the earth» (James 5:7). To you who live in the heart of the cultural and social world of our time, who experience the new and ever more refined technologies, you who are the protagonists of an historical dynamism that sometimes seems overwhelming, the Apostle’s invitation might seem anachronistic, almost an invitation to leave history behind, to fail to see the fruits of your labor, of your research. But is this really how it is? Does the invitation to wait upon God draw us outside of time? And we might ask ourselves, even more radically: what does Christmas mean to me? Is it really important for my life, for the building up of society? There are many persons in our time, especially in the halls of the universities, who ask whether we are to expect something or someone; whether we must look for another messiah, another god; if it is worthwhile to entrust ourselves to that Child whom we find in the manger between Mary and Joseph on Christmas night.

The Apostle’s exhortation to patient steadfastness, that might somewhat perplex the people of our time, is in fact the path toward a profound acceptance of the question of God, the meaning it has in life and history, because it is precisely in the patience, fidelity and steadfastness of the search for God, in the openness to him, that he reveals his face. We do not need a generic, indefinite god, but the living and true God, who opens the horizon of man’s future to the prospect of a firm and sure hope, a hope that is rich with eternity and that permits us to face the present in all its aspects with courage. But we must ask ourselves then: where does my seeking find the true face of this God? Or better still: where does God himself come to show me his face, revealing his mystery, entering into my history?

Dear friends, St. James’ invitation to us — «Be steadfast, brothers, until the coming of the Lord» — reminds us that the certainty of the great hope of the world is given to us and that we are not alone and that we are not the only architects of history. God is not far from man, but has descended and has become flesh (John 1:14), that man might understand where to find the solid foundation of all things, the fulfillment of his deepest longings: in Christ (cf. post-synodal apostolic exhortation «Verbum Domini,» 10). Patience is the virtue of those who entrust themselves to this presence in history, who do not let themselves be overcome by the temptation of placing all hope in the immediate, in the purely horizontal perspective, in technically perfect projects, but which are far from the deepest of realities, that which gives the human person the highest dignity: the transcendent dimension, being a creature in the image and likeness of God, carrying in the heart the desire of ascending to him.

There is, however, another aspect that I would like to underscore this evening. St. James said to us: «Look at the farmer: he steadfastly waits» (James 5:7). God, in the incarnation of the Word, in the incarnation of his Son, experienced human time, his growth, his immersion in history. That child is the sign of the patience of God, who is the first of the patient, the steadfast, faithful to his love for us; he is the true «farmer» of history, who knows how to wait. How many times have men tried to build the world without or against God! The result is marked by the tragedy of ideologies that, in the end, showed themselves to be against man and his profound dignity. Patient steadfastness in the construction of history, both at the personal and communal level, is not the same as the traditional virtue of prudence, which is certainly necessary, but is something greater and more complex. Being steadfast and patient means learning how to construct history together with God, because the edifice will stand only if it is built upon him and with him; only thus will it not be instrumentalized for ideological ends but be something truly worthy of man.

This evening let us rekindle more fervently, then, the hope of our hearts, because the Word of God reminds us that the coming of the Lord is near, indeed, the Lord is with us and it is possible to build together with him. In the stable of Bethlehem man’s solitude is overcome, our existence is no longer at the mercy of impersonal natural and historical forces, our house can be built upon the rock: we can plan our history, the history of humanity, not as a utopia but in the certainty that the God of Jesus Christ is present and walks with us.

Dear friends, we run with joy to Bethlehem, we embrace the Child that Mary and Joseph present to us. Let us begin again from him and with him, facing every difficulty. The Lord asks each of you to collaborate in the construction of the city of man, uniting faith and culture in a serious and passionate way. To this end I invite you always to seek the true face of God, helped by the pastoral journey that has been proposed to you this academic year. Seeking the face of God is the profound aspiration of our heart and it is also the answer to the fundamental question that always returns even in our contemporary society. You, dear friends, know that the Church of Rome, with the wise and solicitous guidance of the Cardinal Vicar and your chaplains, is near to you. Let us give thanks to the Lord because, as it was noted, 20 years ago Bl. John Paul II instituted the University Pastoral Care Office to serve the Roman academic community. The work undertaken promoted the creation and development of chaplaincies to connect with a well-organized network, where the formation programs of various public, private, Catholic and pontifical institutions can contribute to the elaboration of a culture that is at the service of man’s integral growth.

At the conclusion of this liturgy, the image of the «Sedes Sapientiae» will be handed over by the Spanish university delegation to the delegation from La Sapienza University of Rome. A marian pilgrimage will begin among the chaplaincies, which I will accompany with prayer. Know that the Pope is counting on you and your testimony of fidelity and apostolic initiative.

Dear friends, with confidence this evening hurry along our way to Bethlehem, bringing the expectations and hopes of our brothers with us, that all might encounter the Word of life and entrust themselves to him. This is my wish for the Roman academic community: that you proclaim that the true face of God is in the Child of Bethlehem, who is so near to each one of us that no one can feel excluded, no one must doubt the possibility of meeting him, because he is the patient and faithful God, who knows how to wait and respect our freedom. We want to confess with confidence to him the deepest desire of our heart: «I seek your face, O Lord. Come, do not delay!» Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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