Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ homily this evening at vespers.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Word of God introduces us today, in a special way, in the meaning of time, in understanding that time is not a foreign reality to God, simply because He willed to reveal Himself and to save us in history. The meaning of time, temporality, is the atmosphere of God’s epiphany, that is, of the manifestation of God and of His concrete love. In fact, time is God’s messenger, as Saint Peter Favre said.
Today’s liturgy recalls to us the phrase of the Apostle John: “Children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18), and that of Saint Paul who speaks of the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Therefore, today manifests to us how time was – so to speak –“touched” by Christ, the Son of God and of Mary, and received from Him new and surprising meanings: it became the “salvific time,” namely, the definitive time of salvation and grace.
And all this induces us to think of the end of the journey of life, the end of our journey. There was a beginning and there will be an end, “a time to be born and a time to die” (Quoleth 3:2). With this truth, so simple and fundamental and so neglected and forgotten, Holy Mother Church teaches us to end the year and also our days with an examination of conscience, through which we review what has happened: we thank the Lord for every good we have received and have been able to do and, at the same time, we think again of our failings and our sins — to be grateful and to ask for forgiveness.
It is what we also do today at the end of the year. We praise the Lord with the Te Deum hymn and at the same time we ask Him for forgiveness. The attitude of thanksgiving disposes us to humility, to recognize and receive the Lord’s gifts.
In the Reading of these First Vespers, the Apostle Paul recapitulates the fundamental motive for our rendering thanks to God: He has made us His children, He has adopted us as His children. This unmerited gift fills us with gratitude full of astonishment! Someone might say: “But are we not already his children, by the very fact of being men?” We certainly are, because God is the Father of every person who comes into the world. But without forgetting that we were estranged from Him because of original sin, which separated us from our Father: our filial relationship was profoundly wounded. Therefore, God sent his Son to rescue us at the price of His blood. And if there is a rescue, it is because there is a slavery. We were children, but we became slaves, following the voice of the Evil One. No one else rescues us from that essential slavery except Jesus, who assumed our flesh from the Virgin Mary and died on the cross to free us from the slavery of sin and to restore us to our lost filial condition.
Today’s liturgy also reminds us that “in the beginning (before time) was the Word … and the Word was made man” and because of this, Saint Irenaeus affirms: “This is the reason the Word was made man, and Son of God, Son of man: so that man, entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine filiation, could become son of God: (Adversus Haereses, 3, 19, 1” PG 7, 939; Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460).
Contemporaneously, the gift itself for which we give thanks is also a reason for the examination of conscience, of revision of our personal and communal life, by asking ourselves: how do we live? Do we live as children or as slaves? Do we live as baptized persons in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, rescued and free? Or do we live according to the corrupt, worldly logic, doing what the devil makes us believe is in our interest? In our existential journey there is always a tendency to resist liberation; we are afraid of liberty and, paradoxically, we unwittingly prefer slavery. Liberty scares us because it puts us before time and in face of our responsibility to live it well. Slavery reduces time to a “moment” and thus we feel more secure, that is, it makes us live moments disconnected from their past and from our future. In other words, slavery impedes us from living the present fully and really, because it empties it of the past and closes it in face of the future, of eternity. Slavery makes us believe that we cannot dream, fly, hope.
A great Italian artist said a few days ago that it was easier for the Lord to take the Israelites out of Egypt than Egypt from the heart of the Israelites. “Yes,” they were liberated “materially” from slavery, but during the march in the desert with the various difficulties and hunger they began to feel nostalgia for Egypt where they “ate … onions and garlic” (Cf. Numbers 11:5); they forgot, however, that they ate them at the table of slavery. The nostalgia of slavery nests in our heart, because it is seemingly more reassuring than liberty, which is far more risky. How happy we are to be enthralled by many fireworks, apparently beautiful but which in reality last only a few instances! This is the reign of the moment!
From this examination of conscience depends, also for us Christians, the quality of our acting, of our living, of our presence in the city, of our service to the common good, of our participation in public and ecclesial institutions.
For this reason, and being also Bishop of Rome, I would like to reflect on our living in Rome, which is a great gift, because it means dwelling in the Eternal City; for a Christian, especially, it means to be part of the Church founded on the testimony and the martyrdom of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Therefore, we also thank the Lord for this. However, at the same time it is a great responsibility. And Jesus said: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48). Therefore, we must ask ourselves: in this city, in this ecclesial community, are we free or are we slaves, are we salt and light? Are we leaven? Or are we spent, insipid, hostile, discouraged, insignificant, tired?
Undoubtedly the grave events of corruption, which emerged recently, require a serious and conscious conversion of hearts for a spiritual and moral rebirth, as well as for a renewed commitment to build a more just and solidary city, where the poor, the weak and the marginalized are at the center of our concerns and daily actions. A great and daily attitude of Christian freedom is necessary to have the courage to proclaim, in our city, that the poor must be defended, and not to defend ourselves from the poor, that we must serve the weak and not make use of them!
The teaching of a simple Roman deacon can help us. When Saint Lawrence was asked to bring and show the treasures of the Church, he simply brought some of the poor. When the poor and the weak are looked after, aided and helped in a city to promote themselves in a society, they reveal themselves the treasure of the Church and a treasure in society. Instead, when a society ignores the poor, persecutes them, criminalizes them, and constrains them
Dear brothers and sisters, to conclude the year is to reaffirm that a “last hour” exists and that the “fullness of time” exists. In concluding this year, in giving thanks and in asking for forgiveness, it will do us good to ask for the grace to be able to walk in freedom in order to repair the many damages and to defend ourselves from the nostalgia of slavery, not to be nostalgic about slavery.
May the Holy Virgin, who was in fact at the heart of the temple of God, when the Word – who was in the beginning – made Himself one with us in time; she who gave the Savior to the world, help us to receive Him with
an open heart to truly be and live freely as children of God.