Evangelium des Tages

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Christmas of Light: Light Made Man to Give Light to the Human Heart

Lectio Divina: Midnight Mass

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Is 9, 1-6; Ps 96; Ti 2.11 to 14; Lk 2.1 – 14

1) At night, in a cave, the Virgin Mary gives birth to the Light.

The first Christmas[1] of Jesus was celebrated in a cave used as a stable because God wanted to enter the world from the lowest point. In this way, no human being is lower than him and, starting from the lowest, all are reached by His embrace of light, love and peace. The Son of God is born to us in a stable in Bethlehem. He, who is pure light and the splendor of truth and love, begins to shine in a humble, poor and real stable. The first place where the incarnated Son of God is hosted, is where the animals are sheltered. At is a barn with straw and hay, and an acrid and unpleasant smell that very much represent our smallness before the greatness of God. A God who is not afraid to be surrounded by smells and that welcomes every man and woman with his and her weakness and fragility. This stable becomes a real royal house where the newborn King of kings is welcomed. The baby, armed with innocence, is laid in the manger, a sign of the destiny of this child who will become bread to be eaten by men.

Let us too go with our mind and our heart to Bethlehem (which means House of Bread). The child has been “laid” in a manger. I think that this sign has also the following meaning: the newborn Jesus “lays” among us the gentle and calming presence of God, because He is the God among us, He is the Emmanuel, “God with us” forever.

He is an infant wrapped in swaddling who can do nothing. He is an infant (= not talking) who can say nothing: he “can” only be present. It is not a utopia, it is a presence that brings peace without imposing it by force of arms. This child is a powerful God, but unarmed.

The Son of God is pacifying and disarmed: Jesus (meaning God saves) saves us by the meekness and the humility that the mystery of his birth in a stable expresses very well.

He is our brother, “The Baby Jesus is our blood brother” (Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, SI), consequently his presence is a fraternal presence. Jesus gives us this fraternal presence, which reconciles us with our modest daily existence and with all the others. Investing in fraternity is the only investment that produces a true human growth.

And so the utopian dream of humanity, which began in paradise – wanting to be like God, being able to do everything and never die – , is carried out in an unexpected way not for the greatness of man that cannot be God, but for the humility of God who comes down from heaven and enters into us and elevates us to the true greatness of his being.

In the silence of the night, away from the noise and the lights of the world, let’s collect our thoughts to see the light of salvation that begins. With the ears of the heart let’s listen to the invitation of the angels to recognize that our God is true Light and Life of Love, and wants to show us His Way to reach it. Then we too will join in, singing with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those whom he loves“.

 

2) Shaken by the light and the song of the angels.

The night of the first Christmas was lit by light and songs. But before that, to Mary and Joseph the fact of having to spend the night in Bethlehem, outskirts town of the Roman Empire, in a cave-stable because there was no room in the inn, had certainly caused concern and insecurity. But it is also correct to think that these feelings have disappeared when, little by little, the joy brought by the Infant Jesus who they received in a place so poor and peripheral, grew up in them.

Shaken by light and angelic songs, even the shepherds were surprised by joy. The night that could have been of surprise and confusion, became a night of unspeakable light, joy and gladness when they arrived breathless at the manger. They listened to the announcement of the angels because they were obeying not to a command, but to their hearts in need of the infinite. Heaven and earth finally meet.

Having reached the cave, the shepherds saw the child and believed. They looked at him and contemplated him with a heart pure, simple and poor. Then they were able to recognize in the eyes of the Newborn those of God, in His hunger that of God, in His outstretched hand the hands of God outstretched towards them. The shepherds celebrated because ” the grace of God  has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age,  as we wait the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the new great God and Savior Jesus Christ “(Titus 2: 11-14).

We too are invited to celebrate and to let every celebration resemble that one, where the shepherds, simple and poor men, were pleased with Joseph and Mary for the birth of the child who came to bring joy and peace into the world. The festive light of the Child is not just in front of them, but surrounds them and comes into their lives. They welcome the announcement that is not only for them, but is a light for all the people.  The guardians of a flock are now guardians of a mystery to recognize and then to radiate to all. Let us imitate them.

We are told how to imitate them by the readings of the Mass of the Night, quoted at the beginning. The sacred texts of the liturgy tells us that, when we hear the word and welcome it, as did the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, faith makes us even walk in the darkness. If this word is then lowered into our lives, it makes us move as it happened on the night of the first Christmas. This road turns into an encounter that, on Christmas night, becomes true because the Word was made flesh, not as we imagine, but in a small and fragile child.

The passage from Isaiah speaks of a great “light” that came on earth. The Prophet presents the figure of a liberator that carries with him the gifts of light, joy and liberation for a people who are in darkness and without hope. That light finally came: Jesus, the son of God, is born. He came to bring joy and peace that must come in our hearts and then spread to all those we meet every day in the family, in the workplace, in our communities and in the Church.

God, who became like us to make us like him, offers us this child who is our brother. We must recognize him, love him, take care of him, support him and let him be among us and in us. Today the Word becomes flesh to help us grow every day.

He, whom in the prologue of his Gospel St. John calls with the Greek “Logos” – translated into Latin with “Verbum” and English with “the Word” – also means “the Meaning”. Thus we can understand John’s words as ‘’ the “eternal Meaning” of the world made himself tangible to our senses and our minds: we may now touch him and contemplate him “(Benedict XVI). The “Meaning” became flesh. It is not an idea to explain the world, it is “Word” addressed to us. It is the Word that gives life that is life. It is the communication given to each person of something of the life of God. It is not a dead and sclerotic language, a coherent speech or an order established once and for all like the order of a cemetery. It is a person who is concerned with every individual being: he is the Son of the living God, who became man in Bethlehem, and that for all human beings is light of merciful and joyful love

Let’s open our eyes to this light and try to bring the world to our brothers and sisters in humanity, putting our whole life under the sign of mercy and fidelity, especially in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has given us.

The consecrated Virgins in the world are special witnesses of this life lived under the sign of mercy and fidelity. These women have donated themselves because they know that the love of Christ, their spouse, is rich with an inexhaustible faithfulness and mercy.

Mercy is forgiveness and justice that recreate the human heart and make it capable of giving free of charge.

Loyalty is persevering and unconditional commitment. God gave himself once and for all in his Word.  The virginal consecration is to give himself completely and only to His Word, to commit to the One who has committed to us without any second thoughts. This implies being faithful, persevering, and tenacious in everything, knowing that human loyalty has its nest in the heart of God.

To be a consecrated virgin means to be a sign of mercy and fidelity, to be “the place” of charity where the donated life of Christ generates life on earth and for eternity.

[1] We are in the liturgical season of Christmas, which begins on the evening of December 24 with Christmas Eve and ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord (January 10, 2016). The arc of the days is short, but full of celebrations and mysteries and gathers around the two great feasts of the Lord: Christmas and Epiphany. We can almost say that in the feast of Christmas it is underlined the concealment of God in the humility of the human condition, the Child of Bethlehem.  In the Epiphany, however, it is shown his manifestation, the appearance of God through this humanity.

 

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain

on Lk 2,1-5

THEOPHYL; The Son of God, about to be born in the flesh, as by His birth of a virgin He showed that the grace of virginity was most pleasing in His sight, is therefore begotten in the most peaceful time of the world, because He taught men to seek peace, and condescends to visit those who follow it. But there could be no greater sign of peace than for the whole world to be brought together under one taxing, while its ruler Augustus reigned with so great peace for the twelve years, about the time of our Lord’s nativity, that war having been quelled throughout the whole world, there seemed to be a literal fulfillment of the Prophet’s prediction, They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, &c.

GREEK EX. Christ is born also at a time when the princes of Judah had failed, and the kingdom was transferred to Roman governors, to whom the Jews paid tribute; and then was fulfilled the, prophecy, saying, There shall not fail a leader from Judah, nor a prince from between his feet, until he shall come who is to be sent. And now when Caesar Augustus was in the 42nd year of his reign, there went forth an edict from him that all the world should be taxed for the payment of tribute, the management of which he committed to a certain Cyrinus whom he made governor of Judea and Syria; and so it follows, This taxing was first made, &c.

THEOPHYL; St. Luke points out, that this taxing was either the first of those which comprehended the whole world, for before this very many parts of the earth are often mentioned as having been taxed; or first began at that time when Cyrinus was sent into Syria.

AMBROSE; He has rightly added the name of the governor, to mark the course of time. For if the names of the Consuls are affixed to the tables of prices, how much more ought the time to be noted down, of that event which was the redemption of all men?

THEOPHYL; Now the registration of property was so appointed by Divine guidance, that every one was ordered to go into his own country, as it follows, And they all went to be taxed, every one to his own city. Which so came to pass, in order that the Lord, conceived in one place, born in another, might the more easily escape the fury of the crafty Herod. Hence it follows: Now Joseph also went up from Galilee.

CHRYS. It was the Lord who directed Augustus to give this edict, that he might minister to the coming of the Only-begotten; for it was this edict that brought Christ’s mother into her country as the prophets had foretold, namely, to Bethlehem of Judea, according to the word, to a city of David, which is called Bethlehem.

GREEK EX. Now he added, a city of David, that he might declare that the promise made by God to David, namely, that from the fruit of his loins there should go before him a king for ever, was already fulfilled. Whence it follows, Because he was of the house and lineage of David. But since Joseph was of the family of David, it pleased the Evangelist to make known also that the Virgin herself was of the same family, because the Divine law enjoined marriages between those of the same line; and therefore it follows, With Mary his espoused wife.

CYRIL; It is said that she was espoused, to imply that nothing more than espousals preceded the conception; for it was not by man’s seed that the Holy Virgin conceived.
GREG. But the registering of the whole world when our Lord was about to be born was mystical; for He appeared in the flesh Who should write down the names of His own elect in eternity.
AMBROSE; There is described a secular registration, implied a spiritual, to be laid before the King not of earth but of Heaven; a registering of faith: a census of souls. For the old census of the Synagogue was abolished, a new census of the Church was preparing. And to decide that the census was not of Augustus, but of Christ, the whole world is ordered to be registered. For who could demand the registration of the whole world but He who had dominion over it, for the earth is not of Augustus, but the earth is the Lord’s?
THEOPHYL; And He most perfectly fulfilled what the name Augustus signifies, in that He was both desirous and able to increase His own.
THEOPHYL. Because it was fit also that at Christ’s coming the worship of many Gods should cease, and one God only be worshipped, one king is described as ruling the world.
ORIGEN; To those who attentively consider it, there seems to be expressed a kind of sacrament, in its being necessary that Christ should be put down in the registration of the whole world; in order that His name being written with all, He might sanctify all, and being placed in the census with the whole world, He might impart to the world the communion of Himself.
THEOPHYL; As at that time in the reign of Augustus and under the governorship of Cyrinus, every one went to his own city to make returns of his property; so now when Christ reigns through His teachers (the governors of the Church) ought we to make returns of righteousness.

AMBROSE; This was then the first public enrollment of souls to the Lord, to Whom all enroll themselves not at the voice of the crier, but of the Prophet, who says, O clap your hands, all you people. But in order that men might know that the taxing was just, there came up to it Joseph and Mary, the just man and the virgin. He who kept the word and she who obeyed it.

THEOPHYL; Our city and country is the resting-place of the blessed, to which we ought to be traveling with daily increasing virtues. But day by day does Holy Church wait upon her Teacher, and going up from the course of worldly business (which the name of Galilee signifies) to the city of Judah, i.e. the city of confession and praise, make returns of her devotion to the Eternal King. She, after the example of the blessed Virgin Mary, a Virgin has conceived us of the Spirit. Though espoused to another, she is made fruitful by Him; and while visibly joined to the Pontiff who is placed over her, is invisibly filled with the graces of the Spirit. And hence Joseph is well interpreted increased, declaring by his very name, that the earnestness of the master speaking is of no avail, except he receive increasing help from above, that he may be heard.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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