Pope Francis' Christmas Eve Homily
Here is a Vatican translation of the text of the homily Pope Francis gave this evening when he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Square.
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Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.
Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.
So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).
In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).
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‘This Christmas Night, I Am Sad’
By Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart
I feel a strong need to write, to write to you, you the dearest of my friends, these few lines to bid you to accept to share with me part of what is troubling me, part of my suffering. I am sad and I need to feel that you are very close to me to strengthen my resistance, to encourage me to pray to the Newborn to fill my somber and saddened heart with the warmth of his radiant presence, he, the source of all hope and all liberation!
I feel sad at so great a number of Christians leaving the country that has been theirs since the birth of the Church, to see them leave for abroad and in exile, far from their loved ones and from all that allowed them to live harmoniously in a warm-hearted and peaceful society that made them happy, more so than they could be anywhere else.
I am sad to witness this unjust and ferocious war continue to the seeds of terror and insecurity everywhere, even as the great nations look on indifferently, balancing all peacemaking initiatives with their dubious and incomprehensible strategic schemes.
I am sad to learn that close to 300,000 people have lost their sacred right to life. How the orphans and widows and the handicapped of this crazy war have brought about the great unhappiness of our society and how the tears have streamed from the eyes of countless women, who have lost everything in this violent and inhuman world.
I am sad to see our country being destroyed after a period of remarkable and well-earned development. Thousands of schools are closed; innumerable homes have been destroyed; so many hospitals are gravely damaged; electric power plants rendered inoperable and factories ravaged by the thousands. Then there are the archeological sites that have been annihilated, as well as Christian churches that can no longer be used, witnesses all to a long history and ancient civilization.
I am sad to see our people living in scarcity, without resources, without water or electricity, standing in line to get some very basic commodities—after having been such a hard-working people known for their great generosity toward the needy.
I am sad because I no longer know what to say by way of encouragement of my faithful who are at the end of their rope and who, day by day, are losing what hope remains, that they have managed to hang onto until today despite all that happened to them.
I am sad, without saying so to the people in my care. But I will say it to the Lord of all mercies this night at Mass, and ask him to come to our aid. I will ask Him for a Christmas present that has the power to bring back a smile on the faces of our cherished people; I will ask Him with all my heart that, with His birth, He gives birth to tenderness in hardened hearts, friendship among all and Peace in our country.
I am sad, dear friends, do not abandon me; accompany me with your prayers and your affection. May this Christmas be for me a source of comfort and for you a source of joy and happiness!
Archbishop Jeanbart is the Melkite Metropolitan of Aleppo, Syria
US President Releases Statement on Persecuted Christians
On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama released a statement regarding persecuted Christians at Christmas.
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During this season of Advent, Christians in the United States and around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. At this time, those of us fortunate enough to live in countries that honor the birthright of all people to practice their faith freely give thanks for that blessing. Michelle and I are also ever-mindful that many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that right, and hold especiall
y close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution.
In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.
We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations. As the old Christmas carol reminds us:
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.
FORUM: The Newness of Christmas
Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, republished from the Southern Nebraska Register.
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Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, in which we remember that God became man for our sake, in the humility of being born a baby, in the poverty of a small stable, in the tiny town of Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago.
We celebrate Christmas because the Incarnation of Jesus changes everything about being human. Because Christ has come, we can share in the divine nature of God, we can live forever, we can love as God loves.
We celebrate Christmas because through Christ’s Incarnation—and his passion, death, and resurrection—we can be set free from the chains of sin and death, and adopted into the life of eternal Trinity.
We celebrate Christmas with traditions that are familiar and beautiful. We worship God at Holy Mass. We gather with our families to feast and exchange gifts. We sing familiar songs, and celebrate the warmth and conviviality of life in Christian love and friendship.
For some people, the experience of Christmas can begin to feel stagnant—simply the commemoration of what has been, set apart from the reality of what is now. And for some people, of course, Christmas can be a difficult celebration. At Christmas, we often remember those loved ones who have gone before us: parents and spouses who have passed away. We gather with those we love, and for those who have lost the ones they love, Christmas can come with a stark sense of being alone.
But for most of us, Christmas often evokes a familiarity, a joyful optimism, a sense of warmth, recollection, and nostalgia.
We can, however, risk complacency in the comfortable familiarity of Christmas. We risk losing the profundity of the Incarnation in the sentimentality of the season. And we risk losing the radical meaning of the Incarnation in the familiarity of our holiday traditions.
We do not celebrate Christmas merely to remember what God has done in history, and to remember the joy of Christmas celebrations of the past. We celebrate Christmas because God wants to enter our lives and hearts anew—in new ways, ever deeper, ever more profound ways.
Four hundred and fifty years ago, St. Charles Borromeo preached that “each year, as the Church recalls this mystery, she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us…. The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again. When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace.”
Christ is prepared to come again, into our hearts, to fill us with the riches of his grace, and to call us to a deeper response to the challenge of Christian discipleship. This Christmas, as we celebrate in familiar ways, we should also pray for, and seek out, the unfamiliar: new promptings by the Holy Spirit, new calls to missionary discipleship, new kinds of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And to prepare us to encounter Christ in a new way, we should commit, at Christmas, to remove the obstacles to his presence. We should confess our sins with heartfelt contrition and gratitude as we examine our habits, choices, and consciences. We should consider the obstacles in our lives to unbounded charity. As we celebrate Christmas, we should ask the Lord to reveal to us what we might change in order to let Christ “come again” into our lives.
And we should ask the Lord to reveal what we might do to prepare for his final coming, his return to the earth in glory, which will come without expectation, and which will come whether or not we have sufficiently prepared.
Christmas is the memory of his coming, the reality of his coming here and now, and the anticipation of his future coming—his return to this world—in glory and exaltation.
TS Eliot wrote:
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium…
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
The beginning—remembering and celebrating the Incarnation—should remind us of the end—that Christ will return in glory, and in judgment. And it should remind us of the present—that Christ wishes to come now to us, to draw us into his life, and to prepare us for eternity.
As we celebrate Christmas—the entire holy season of Christmas—let us rejoice in the comfort and familiarity of our traditions. But let us ask the Lord, who desires to come into our hearts—to make all things, even Christmas, beautifully and profoundly new.
Christmas Greetings From Patriarch of Jerusalem
Here is the text of the annual Christmas greeting sent by Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal.
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Dear Faithful of the Holy Land,
To all of you and those dear to you, I wish you a Christmas full of joy and blessings!
To our dear journalist-friends, thank you for your presence here today. Thank you for the valuable work, which you carry out with openness, freedom and wisdom, best guided by a continual concern and interest for the Truth.
In a few days we will celebrate the birth of Christ; Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Eternal Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Christmas, the feast of the Light, that shines in the night, a celebration of joy, hope and peace. Children of the world dream of a wonderful celebration with gifts, lights, decorated trees and crèches. However, and I repeat the same words of Pope Francis, everything is distorted “because the world continues to make war”. This famous “third world war being fought in pieces”, which he speaks of so often, is unfolding before our eyes in our region.
– What a suffering it is, to once again see our beloved Holy Land caught in the vicious cycle of bloody violence! What a pain to see anew, hatred prevail over reason and dialogue! The anguish of the people of this land is ours, which we cannot ignore or disregard. Enough! We are t
ired of this conflict as we see the Holy Land sullied with blood.
To the Israeli and Palestinian leaders we say, it is time to show courage, and work for the establishment of a just peace. Enough of stalling, reluctance and false pretenses! Respect international resolutions! Listen to the voice of your people who aspire for peace, act in their best interests! Each of the two peoples of the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians, have the right to dignity, to an independent state and sustainable security.
– Alas, our situation in the Holy Land resonates that of the world facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. A deadly ideology based on religious fanaticism and obstinacy is spreading terror and barbarism amidst innocent people. Yesterday, it was Lebanon, France, Russia, the United States; but war has been raging for years in Iraq and Syria. The situation in Syria is also at the center of this crisis; and the future of the Middle East depends on the resolution of this conflict.
These terrible wars are driven by arms trade, involving several international powers. We are facing a situation of total absurdity and duplicity. On one side, some speak of dialogue, justice, and peace, while on the other hand promote the sale of arms to the belligerents! We call to conversion, these unscrupulous arms dealers who may be without conscience, to make amends. Great is your responsibility in these devastating tragedies, and you will answer before God for the blood of your brothers.
Military response and the way of force cannot solve the problems of humanity. We need to find the root and cause of this scourge, and to tackle them. We must combat poverty and injustice, which may constitute a breeding ground for terrorism. Similarly, we must promote education on tolerance and acceptance of the other.
– The Church and the community of believers also have to respond to the current situation. This response is the Jubilee of Mercy, inaugurated on December 8 by Pope Francis. Mercy is the remedy for the ills of our time. It is through mercy that we make visible to the world the tenderness and closeness of God.
Mercy is not limited to individual relationships but embraces public life in all its sectors (political, economic, cultural, social), at all levels (international, regional and local) and in all directions (between states, peoples, cultures and religions). When mercy becomes a basic component of public action, the world can be transformed from the sphere of selfish interests to that of human values.
“Mercy is a political act par excellence, provided the policy is set in its noblest sense, of caring for the human family beginning with ethical values, of which mercy is a principal component opposed to violence, oppression, injustice, and the spirit of domination.”
During this Year of Mercy, we invite pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. Upon the invitation of the Holy Father, we opened a Holy Door, a Door of Mercy in designated Churches in the diocese: the Basilica of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Church of Saint Catherine in Bethlehem. Pilgrims should not be afraid to come. Despite the tense situation in this land, the pilgrim route is safe and they are respected and appreciated by all sectors in the Holy Land
II- What to do?
– We also believe in the fundamental value of education. How can we ever forget the bitter struggle to uphold our Christian schools in Israel? How can we not thank all who participated, the parents, children and teachers? A number of political leaders and officials, including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and several members of the Knesset, have worked for this worthy cause. They have shown a commitment to education offered by the Christian schools that is open to all citizens without distinction, and based on fraternal principles, dialogue and peace.
– This interfaith perspective brings me to the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, probably the most revolutionary document of the Second Vatican Council. This declaration lays out the foundation for dialogue between the Church and non-Christian religions. Here in the Holy Land, this dialogue is of paramount importance where difficulties exist, but it is necessary to continue to hope all the more, to the viability of a Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue.
I also commend our St. James Vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, which celebrated its sixty years of existence. It continues to work for Jewish-Christian dialogue, and in generously serving the migrant communities.
III. Christmas celebration this year
– The current political situation suggests for moderate celebrations and deepening our spiritual sense of this remembrance. For this reason, we invite every parish to switch off Christmas tree lights for five minutes in solidarity with all victims of violence and terrorism. Similarly, our Christmas Mass will be offered for the victims and their families, that they take to heart, the participation in the joy and peace of Christmas.
– The Patriarch’s Solemn Entry
Since the beginning of this month, and together with the Custody of the Holy Land, we have created a committee to reorganize the solemn entry of the Patriarch into Bethlehem on December 24. Several measures have been carried out so that the arrival of the procession in Bethlehem is not delayed and in an orderly manner in the Manger Square and the area of the Church of the Nativity. A place for journalists and photographers has been designated.
I would like to conclude by thanking Pope Francis for several reasons. First, for the canonization of the two Palestinian saints last May, and subsequently for the Synod of Bishops on the Family, to which I had the joy of participating; for the Motu Proprio simplifying the process for the nullity of marriage; for the historic Bilateral Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine; and finally for his encyclical “Laudato Si” on major issues for our planet and humanity, the care for our common home, for creation and protection of the environment.
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:5)
Dear friends, the birth of Christ is a sign of the Mercy of the Father and a promise of joy to us all. This message shines upon our wounded world, to console the afflicted, the oppressed, and to bring about conversion to violent hearts.
A blessed and joyous Christmas to all!
Merry Christmas From the Custos of the Holy Land
Here is the Christmas message from the Custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is. 9,1).
We are living at a difficult time when the recurring events of tragedies and violence fill us with fear. The description of the end of times, which the Liturgy has proposed before the beginning of Advent (Mk 13,24-32) seemed to be an echo of what is now happening, and which is rendering it difficult to await Christmas with sentiments of joy, in a festive atmosphere and in a celebration of life. Fear seems to be dictating our way of life, even in our small daily actions. Above all, we have fear of the other, as if we have lost the courage to believe in the other.
We do not trust one another any longer and we are tempted to close ourselves in our small circle of interests. We are afraid of the Muslim, of the Jew, of people coming from the east or from the west, according to where we are presently living. Our enemy has become “the others”; we think that “the others” are against us, that they threaten us and that they rob us of our hope in a sec
ure world, in a better future.
In Syria, in Iraq, in the Holy Land, in the East as well as in the West, it seems that the force of violence has become the only possible voice that can fight against the violence which overshadows us.
To wait for Christmas in these circumstances is a way to interrogate our faith and to make us need the birth of a greater hope. These are the sentiments that have accompanied us when participating in the various ceremonies linked with the lighting of the Christmas tree and the blessing of the Crib. Often, during the celebration of the feast, we could hear around us the sirens sounding the alarm, a sign of conflicts and disorder. We have always recognised in ourselves a sense of inadequacy with respect to the situation. It seemed that we were living outside time and history.
This is not the case, however. The Gospel tells us that the fullness of time has been realised during a difficult moment, when John was in the desert inviting people to prepare the Way of the Lord and preaching a baptism of conversion. The feast, the lights, the colours, although necessary, desired and celebrated in the circumstances in which we are living, should lead us to think more profoundly on the original sense of Christmas: God enters into our time and into our history. He enters into the time and the history in which we live today.
Christmas tells us that God loves life, that He himself is life. This truth is the definitive and true reason to continue living on this earth. This is a time to search for authentic motivations, for the ultimate reasons to continue living and hoping. These are the reasons and motivations that endure, that give the sense of just measure, of a real horizon, and do not succumb to oscillating phases of our anguish and exultations. This is the time to look for questions and answers, for orientations. It is the time to rediscover the Orient.
This East is Christ, Man and God. Christmas recalls us, therefore, to this Orient.
Christmas tells us that our life is an Advent; that we are living oriented towards a future, which maybe dramatic, tiresome, but in which – we are certain – we can meet Him. Christmas tells us that this future, for which we are so preoccupied, this future, which begins now, has already began: it is Jesus, who is born, dies and rises from death.
We are not walking towards emptiness, towards the unknown, towards darkness, but towards something which has already happened and which will remain, which is always in the process of being realised and which, anyhow, we will never be able to destroy even if want to do so.
We are journeying towards an encounter.In this way, the difficult time will, at the end, become a good time, as it will restore to us the awareness that this is a time of encounter, revealing our need for something which is different from ourselves, rendering us more attentive to the persons who live side by side with us, because the future towards which we are journeying can only be the realisation of each and every relationship which we have nurtured, here and now. Even in these dramatic circumstances.
My wishes this year are that we can walk with trust along this road, which opens in the desert of our many lives and leads to a good future, a future with a unique Face: the Face of the mercy of the Father, who waits for us always and with faithfulness, even today.