© L'Osservatore Romano


‘If we want to live Christmas, we must open our heart and be open to surprises, namely, to an unexpected change of life’

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This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on the theme of Christmas: the surprises that please God (Biblical passage: From the Gospel according to John 1:9-12).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
* * *
The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In six days, it will be Christmas. The trees, the decorations and the lights everywhere recall that this year also there will be a celebration. Advertising invites to keep exchanging newer and newer gifts to have surprises. However, is this the celebration that pleases God? What Christmas would He want, what presents and surprises?
We look at the first Christmas of history to discover God’s tastes. That Christmas was full of surprises. It begins with Mary, who was Joseph’s promised bride: the Angel arrives and changes her life. From being a virgin, she will be a mother. It continues with Joseph, called to be the father of a son without generating Him. A son that — in a dramatic turn of events — arrives in the least indicated moment, namely, when Mary and Joseph were betrothed and, according to the Law, could not live together. In face of the scandal, the good sense of the time invited Joseph to repudiate Mary and save his good name, but he, although he had the right, surprises us: not to hurt Mary he thinks of taking leave of her in secret, at the cost of losing his own reputation. Then, another surprise: in a dream, God changes his plans and asks him to take Mary to himself. Jesus having been born, when Joseph had his plans for the family, again in a dream he is told to rise and go to Egypt. To summarize, Christmas brought unexpected life changes. And if we want to live Christmas, we must open our heart and be open to surprises, namely, to an unexpected change of life.
However, it’s on Christmas Eve that the greatest surprise arrives: the Most High is a little baby. The divine Word is an infant, which means literally, “incapable of speaking.” And the divine Word becomes “incapable of speaking.” The Authorities of the time or of the place or the ambassadors were not there to receive the Saviour: no, it was simple shepherds, who, surprised by the Angels while they were working at night, run without delay.  Who would have expected it? Christmas is to celebrate the unheard-of God, or better, it is to celebrate an unprecedented God, who overturns our logics and our expectations.
To celebrate Christmas, then, is to receive on earth Heaven’s surprises. One can’t live “down to earth,” when Heaven has brought its novelties into the world. Christmas inaugurates a new era, where life isn’t planned but is given; where one no longer lives for oneself, on the basis of one’s tastes, but for God; and with God because since <the first> Christmas, God is God-with-us, who lives with us, who walks with us. To live Christmas is to let oneself be shaken by its surprising novelty. Jesus’ Birth doesn’t offer the reassuring warmth of a fireplace, but the divine thrill that shakes history. Christmas is the revenge of humility over arrogance, of simplicity over abundance, of silence over noise, of prayer over “my time,” of God over my “I.”
To celebrate Christmas is to do as Jesus did, who came for us needy <people>, and to come down to those in need of us. It is to do as Mary did: to entrust ourselves, docile to God, even without understanding what He will do. To celebrate Christmas is to do as Joseph did: to rise to do what God wants, even if it’s not according to our plans. Saint Joseph is surprising: he never speaks in the Gospel: there isn’t one word of Joseph in the Gospel; and the Lord speaks to him in silence, He speaks to him in fact in his sleep. Christmas is to prefer God’s silent voice to the noises of consumerism. If we are able to be silent before the Crib, Christmas will be a surprise for us also, not something already seen.  To be in silence before the Crib: this is the invitation for Christmas. Take a bit of time, go before the Crib and stay in silence. And you will feel, you will see the surprise.
Unfortunately, however, the celebration can be mistaken and we can prefer the usual things on earth, to the novelties of Heaven. If Christmas remains only a beautiful traditional feast, where we, and not Him, are at the center, it will be a lost occasion. Please, let us not make Christmas worldly! Let us not put the One celebrated aside as <happened> then, when “He came among His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). Since the first Gospel of Advent, the Lord has put us on guard, asking us not to be weighed down with “dissipation” and “the cares of life” (Luke 21:34). In these days one runs, perhaps more than ever during the year. So, the opposite is done of what Jesus wants. We blame the many things that fill our day, the world that goes fast. Yet Jesus didn’t blame the world. He asked us not to let ourselves be dragged, to watch at all times praying (Cf. v. 36).
Behold, it will be Christmas if, like Joseph, we make room for silence; if, like Mary, we say to God “Here I am”; if, like Jesus, we are close to one who is alone; if, like the shepherds, we go out of our enclosures to be with Jesus. It will be Christmas, if we find the light in the poor cave of Bethlehem. It won’t be Christmas if we seek the shimmering glow of the world, if we fill ourselves with gifts, lunches and dinners, but we don’t help at least one poor person, who is like God, because at Christmas God came poor.
Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you a happy Christmas, a Christmas rich in Jesus’ surprises! They might seem uncomfortable surprises, but they are God’s tastes. If we embrace them, we will have a splendid surprise for ourselves. Each one of us has hidden in the heart the capacity to be surprised. Let us let Jesus surprise us this Christmas.
[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
In Italian
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims.
I’m happy to receive the parish groups, in particular those of Collevecchio and Alvito and the guests of Caritas of the Diocese of Albano, accompanied by the Bishop, Monsignor Marcello Semeraro.
I greet the National Association of Civilian War Victims; the Scout Group of Jesolo and Ca’Savio; the National Association of Amputees; the delegation of the Municipality of Bolsena; the Paralympic Sports Defense Group and the School Institutes, in particular those of San Benedetto del Tronto and Bitonto.
A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds.
The birth of the Lord Jesus is imminent. May the feast that we celebrate also this year, on the Holy Night of His Birth, reawaken in us God’s tenderness for the whole of humanity, when, in Jesus, He did not disdain to assume our human nature, without any reservation.
Let us entrust ourselves to Marty and Joseph, so that they may teach us to receive such a great gift: the Emmanuel, the God with us.
[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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