At 5:00 pm on December 31st, Pope Francis presided over the First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, in the Vatican Basilica, followed by exposition of the Most Holy Sacrament, the singing of the traditional Te Deum hymn of thanksgiving at the end of the civil year, and the Eucharistic blessing.
Here is a translation of the homily given by the Pope in the course of the celebration of Vespers.
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The Apostle John describes the present time in a precise way: “it is the last hour” ( 1 John 2-18). This affirmation, which recurs in the Mass of December 31, means that with the coming of God in history we are already in the “last” times, after which the final passage will be the second and definitive coming of Christ. Of course there is talk here of the quality of time, not of its quantity. With Jesus the “fullness” of time came, fullness of meaning and fullness of salvation. And there will no longer be a new revelation, but the full manifestation of what Jesus has already revealed. In this sense we are in the “last hour”; every moment of our life is definitive and every action of ours is charged with eternity; in fact the answer we give God today, who loves us in Jesus Christ, affects our future.
The biblical and Christian vision of time and of history is not cyclical but linear: it is a path that goes to a fulfilment. A year has passed, however, it does not lead us to a reality that ends but to a reality that is fulfilled, it is a further step towards the end that is before us: an end of hope and happiness, because we will encounter God, reason of our hope and source of our gladness.
While the year 2013 comes to an end, we gather, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord. And we ask ourselves: how have we lived the time He has given us? Did we use it above all for ourselves, for our interests, or did we know how to spend it also for others? And God? How much time did we reserve to “be with Him,” in prayer, in silence?
And we think also of this city of Rome. What happened this year? What is happening, and what will happen? What is the quality of life like in this city? It depends on all of us! What is the quality of our “citizenship”? Did we contribute this year in our “little” way, to render it more livable, ordered, hospitable? In fact, the face of a city is like a mosaic whose tesserae are all those who inhabit it. One who is invested with greater authority, certainly has greater responsibility, but each one is co-responsible for good and evil.
Rome is a city of unique beauty. Its spiritual and cultural patrimony is extraordinary. Yet in Rome there are also so many people marked by material and moral miseries, poor, unhappy, suffering people that interpellate the conscience not only of those publicly responsible but of every citizen. At Rome, perhaps, we feel more strongly this contrast between the majestic environment charged with artistic beauty, and the social hardship of those who toil more.
Rome is a city full of tourists, but also full of refugees. Rome is full of people who work, but also of people who do not find work or are working in underpaid jobs which sometimes are unworthy: and all have the right to be treated with the same attitude of hospitality and fairness, because everyone is a bearer of human dignity.
It is the last day of the year. What will we do, how will we act in the coming year, to render our city a bit better? The Rome of the new year will have an even more beautiful face if it is even richer in humanity, hospitality, more welcoming; if all of us are attentive and generous to those in difficulty; if we are able to collaborate with a constructive and solidaristic spirit, for the good of all. The Rome of the new year will be better if there are not persons that look at her “from afar,” that look at life only ”from the balcony,” without involving themselves in the many human problems, problems of men and women that, in the end … and from the beginning, whether we wish it or not, are our brothers. In this perspective, the Church of Rome feels committed to make her own contribution to the life and future of the city: to animate it with the leaven of the Gospel, to be a sign and instrument of God’s mercy.
This evening we conclude the Year of the Lord 2013, giving thanks and asking for forgiveness. We are thankful for all the benefits that God has lavished on us, especially for his patience and fidelity, which are manifested in the passing of time, but in a singular way in the fullness of time, when “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Galatians 4:4). May the Mother of God, in whose name we will begin tomorrow a new stretch of our earthly pilgrimage, teach us to welcome the God made man, so that every year, every month, every day is filled with His eternal Love.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]