God changed the world through a man born poor in an undistinguished town of a simple woman of faith.
That was the reminder Pope Francis called forth in his homily on December 31, 2019, in the Vatican Basilica, as he presided over the First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, which was followed by the exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the traditional singing of the “Te Deum” hymn, at the end of the civil year, and the Eucharistic Blessing.
“We must not be afraid or feel inadequate for such an important mission,” the Holy Father said. “Let us remember: God doesn’t choose us for our “bravura,” but, in fact, because we are and feel little.
“God’s decision is clear: to reveal His love He chose a little city and a scorned city, and when He reached Jerusalem, he joined the population of sinners and the rejected. None of the inhabitants of the city realized that the Son of God made Man was walking through its streets, probably not even His disciples.”
The Pope stressed that God dwells not only in the temple but among the people. He recalled that the prophets warned the people not to think God was only in a particular place.
“He dwells in the midst of His People; He walks with them and lives their life. His fidelity is concrete; it is proximity to the daily existence of His children. On the contrary, when God wants to make all things new through His Son, He doesn’t begin from the Temple, but from the womb of a little and poor woman of His People. This choice of God is extraordinary!”
Here is a translation of the Pope’s prepared homily during the course of the celebration of Vespers., provided by the Vatican.
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The Holy Father’s Homily
“When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). The Son sent by the Father pitched His tent in Bethlehem of Ephrathah, “who are little to be among the tribes of Judah” (Micah 5:2); He lived at Nazareth, a town never mentioned in Scripture if not to say: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), and He died, rejected by the great city of Jerusalem, crucified outside its walls. God’s decision is clear: to reveal His love He chose a little city and a scorned city, and when He reached Jerusalem, he joined the population of sinners and the rejected. None of the inhabitants of the city realized that the Son of God made Man was walking through its streets, probably not even His disciples, who only with the Resurrection would only understand fully the Mystery present in Jesus. The words and signs of salvation that He does in the city arouse astonishment and momentary enthusiasm, but are not received in their full meaning: from there, in no time they would no longer be remembered, when the Roman governor asked: Do you want me to release Jesus or Barabbas?” Jesus would be crucified outside the city, high up on Golgotha, to be condemned by the gaze of all the inhabitants and derided by their sarcastic comments. However, from there, from the cross, the new tree of life, God’s power would draw all to Himself. And also the Mother of God, who is the Addolorata under the cross, is about to extend Her maternity to all men. The Mother of God is the Mother of the Church and Her maternal tenderness reaches all men.
God has pitched His tent in the city . . . , and He has never gone from there! His presence in the city, also in this our city of Rome, must not be fabricated but discovered, revealed” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 71). It is we who must ask God for the grace of new eyes, capable of “a contemplative gaze, namely, a look of faith that discovers God in our homes, in our streets, in our Squares” (Ibid., 71). In Scripture, the prophets put us on guard from the temptation to link the presence of God only to the Temple (Jeremiah 7:4). He dwells in the midst of His People; He walks with them and lives their life. His fidelity is concrete; it is proximity to the daily existence of His children. On the contrary, when God wants to make all things new through His Son, He doesn’t begin from the Temple, but from the womb of a little and poor woman of His People. This choice of God is extraordinary!
In Psalm 147, which we prayed a short while ago, the Psalmist invites Jerusalem to glorify God, because “He sends forth his command to the earth; His Word runs swiftly” (v. 15). Through His Spirit, which pronounces His Word in every human heart, God blesses His children and encourages them to work for peace in the city. I would like our gaze on the city of Rome this evening to look at things from the point of view of God’s gaze. The Lord rejoices to see how many realities of goodness are accomplished every day, how many efforts and how much dedication there is in promoting fraternity and solidarity. Rome is not only a complicated city, with many problems, with inequalities, corruption, and social tensions. Rome is a city in which God sends His Word, which through the Spirit nests in the hearts of its inhabitants and drives them to believe, to hope despite all, to love fighting for the good of all.
I am thinking of the many courageous persons, believers, and non-believers, that I have met in these years and that represent the “beating heart” of Rome. Truly, God has never stopped changing history and the face of our city through the population of little ones and the poor who inhabit it. He chooses them, inspires them, motivates them to action, makes them solidary; He drives them to activate networks, to create virtuous bonds, to build bridges, not walls. It is in fact through these thousand rivulets of the living water of the Spirit that the Word of God makes the city fecund and from being sterile renders her “the joyous mother of children” (Psalm 113:9).
And what does the Lord ask of the Church of Rome? He entrusts His Word to us and pushes us to throw ourselves into the fray, to involve ourselves in an encounter and relationship with the inhabitants of the city so that “His message runs swiftly.” We are called to encounter others and to listen to their existence, to their cry for help. To listen is already an act of love! To have time for others, to dialogue, to recognize, with a contemplative gaze, the presence and action of God in their existence, to witness with deeds more than with words the new life of the Gospel, is truly a service of love that changes the reality. By doing so, in fact, new air circulates in the city and also in the Church, the wish to start out again, to overcome the old logics of opposition and fences, to collaborate together, building a more just and fraternal city.
We must not be afraid or feel inadequate for such an important mission. Let us remember: God doesn’t choose us for our “bravura,” but, in fact, because we are and feel little. We thank Him for His Grace, which has sustained us in this year and with joy we elevate to Him the song of praise.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
© Libreria Editrice Vatican