Pope's Immaculate Conception Address at the Spanish Steps

«Mary Immaculate Teaches Us to Listen to the Voice of God that Speaks in Silence»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s address during the annual veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, held at the Spanish Steps in Rome. 

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Dear brothers and sisters!

It is always a joy to gather together here in the Piazza di Spagna on the Feast of Mary Immaculate. Finding ourselves together – Romans, pilgrims, visitors – at the feet of the statue of our spiritual Mother creates in us a feeling of unity in the sign of faith. I would like to underscore this in this Year of Faith that the whole Church is observing. I greet you with affection and would like to share with you some simple thoughts, suggested by the Gospel reading for this solemnity: the Gospel of the Annunciation.

First of all, there is a particular aspect of this decisive moment for human destiny, the moment in which God became man, that it is always striking, and it causes us to reflect, namely, that the event is wrapped in a great silence. The meeting between the divine messenger and the Immaculate Virgin is entirely unobserved: no one knows about it, no one speaks of it. It is an event that, if it happened in our times, would not appear in the newspapers or magazines because it is a mystery that takes place in silence. That which is truly great often occurs unobserved and the tranquil silence shows itself to be more fruitful than that frenetic movement that characterizes our cities, but which – in a similar way – was already to be found in the Jerusalem of that time. I am speaking of that busyness that makes us incapable of stopping, of being quiet, of listening to the silence in which the Lord makes us aware of his discreet voice. Mary, on that day in which she heard the Angel’s announcement, was entirely recollected and at the same time open to listening to God. There is no obstacle in her, there are no walls, there is nothing that separates her from God. This is the result of her being without original sin: her relationship with God is free of even smallest cracks; there is no separation, there is no shadow of egoism, only perfect harmony: her little human heart is perfectly “centered” in the great heart of God. So, brothers, coming here, to this monument of Mary, in the center of Rome, reminds us first of all that the voice of God is not heard in noise and bedlam; his plan for our personal and social life cannot be perceived if we remain only at the surface of things, but when we descend to a deeper level, where the forces that act are not political and economic, but moral and spiritual ones. It is there that Mary invites us to descend to put ourselves in tune with God’s action.

There is a second point, still more important, that Mary the Immaculate indicates when we come here, and that is that the world’s salvation is not the work of man – of science, of technology, of ideology – but comes from grace. What does this word mean? Grace is love in its purity and beauty, it is God himself such as he is revealed in the salvific history narrated in the Bible and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Mary is called “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and with this identity of hers she reminds us of God’s primacy in our life and in the history of the world, she reminds us that the power of God’s love is stronger than evil, it can fill the voids that egoism leaves in the history of persons, of families, of the nations of the world. These voids can become a sort of hell in which human life is drawn downwards toward nothingness, without meaning and without light. The false remedies that the world proposes to fill these voids – drug use is emblematic – in fact only deepen the abyss. Only love can save us from this fall, but it is not just any kind of love: it is a love that has the purity of grace in it – the grace of God that transforms and renews – and that can breathe, into lungs filled with toxins, new oxygen, clean air, a new energy of life. Mary tells us that, man can never fall so far down that it is too far for God, who descended to the very depths (“inferi”); however far our heart is led into error, God is always “greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20). The delicate breath of grace can disperse the blackest clouds, it can make life beautiful and rich with meaning, even in the most inhuman situations.

And from here derives the third point about which Mary Immaculate speaks to us: she speaks to us of joy, of that authentic joy that fills the heart freed from sin. Sin carries a sadness with it that leads us to close ourselves up within ourselves. Grace brings with it the true joy that does not depend on having things but is rather rooted in the most intimate, deepest part of the person, and that nothing and nobody can take away. Christianity is essentially a “gospel”, “glad tidings,” although some think that it is an obstacle to joy, because they see in it a collection of prohibitions and rules. In reality, Christianity is the proclamation of the victory of grace over sin, of life over death. And if it contains sacrifice and discipline of the mind, of the heart and of conduct it is precisely because there is in man the poisonous root of egoism, which is harmful to oneself and to others. It is necessary therefore to learn to say no to the voice of egoism and to say yes to the voice of authentic love. Mary’s joy is full because there is no shadow of sin in her heart. This joy coincides with the presence of Jesus in her life: Jesus conceived and carried in her womb, then the child entrusted to her maternal care, the adolescent and young man and the mature adult; Jesus leaving home, followed at a distance with faith, even to the cross and the resurrection: Jesus is Mary’s joy and the joy of the Church, of all of us.

In this season of Advent, Mary Immaculate teaches us to listen to the voice of God that speaks in silence; to welcome his grace, which liberates us from sin and from all egoism; to taste, therefore, the true joy. Mary, full of grace, pray for us!

[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]
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