VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily given by Benedict XVI on Dec. 31 at vespers for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters!
At the conclusion of a year, we find ourselves this evening in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God and raise a hymn of thanksgiving to God for the many graces that he has granted us, but also and above all for Grace in person, that is, for the living and personal gift of the Father, who is his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is precisely this gratitude for the gifts received from God in the time that is given us to live that helps us to discover a great good that is inscribed in time: marked in its yearly, monthly, weekly and daily rhythms, it is inhabited by the love of God, by his gifts of grace: it is time of salvation. Yes, the eternal God entered into and remains in the time of man. He entered here and remains here in the person of Jesus, the Son of God made man, the Savior of the world. This is what the Apostle Paul pointed out to us in the brief reading that was just proclaimed: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son … we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
So, the Eternal enters into time and renews it at the root, freeing man from sin and making him a son of God. Already “in the beginning,” that is, with the creation of the world and man in the world, the eternity of God blossomed in time. From it human history flows, from generation to generation. Now, with the coming of Christ and his redemption, we are in “the fullness” of time. As St. Paul reveals, with Jesus time becomes full, it reaches its perfection, acquiring that meaning of salvation and grace for which it was willed by God before the creation of the world. Christmas recalls us to this “fullness” of time, that is, to the renewing salvation brought by Jesus to all men. We are called back to it and, mysteriously, but really, it is always given to us again. Our human experience is so full of evils, of suffering, of dramas of every kind — from those caused by the wickedness of men to those resulting from unfortunate natural events — but it now holds in a permanent and indestructible way the joyful and liberating newness of Christ the Savior. Precisely in the Child of Bethlehem, we can contemplate in a particularly luminous and eloquent way the meeting of eternity with time, as the Church’s liturgy likes to put it. Christmas brings us God in the humble and weak flesh of a child. Is there not perhaps an invitation here to rediscover God’s presence and his love that gives salvation even in the short and strenuous hours of our daily lives? Is it not an invitation to discover that our human time — even in difficult and burdensome moments — is incessantly enriched by the Lord’s grace, the Grace that is indeed the Lord Himself?
At the end of this year 2010, before handing over the days and hours to God and to his just and merciful judgment, I feel more strongly in my heart the need to raise our “thanks” to him and to his love for us. In this climate of gratitude, I would like to extend a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, to the priests, to the consecrated persons, as also to the many lay faithful gathered here. I greet the lord mayor and the authorities present. A special thought goes out to those who are in trouble and spend these festive days in distress and suffering. To each and everyone I assure my affectionate thoughts, which I accompany with prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters, our Church of Rome is committed to helping all the baptized to live faithfully the vocation they have received and to witness the beauty of faith. To be authentic disciples of Christ, we must have recourse to daily meditation on the Word of God which, as I wrote in my recent apostolic exhortation “Verbum Domini,” “is the basis of every authentic Christian spirituality” (No. 86). Thus, I encourage everyone to cultivate a close relationship with it, especially through “lectio divina,” to have that light that is needed to discern the signs of God in the present time and to proclaim the Gospel effectively. Even in Rome, in fact, there is an increasing need for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel so that the hearts of the inhabitants of our city open to meeting that Child, who was born for us, in Christ, the Redeemer of man. Since, as the Apostle Paul observes, “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), a useful aid in this work of evangelization can come — as was already seen during the City Mission in preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000 — from “Centers of listening to the Gospel,” which I encourage to be re-established or revitalized not only in apartment buildings, but also in hospitals, workplaces and in those places where new generations are being formed and culture is developed. The Word of God, in fact, was made flesh for all, and his truth is accessible to every man and every culture. I was happy to learn of the subsequent work of the Vicariate in organizing “Dialogues in the Cathedral,” which will take place in the Basilica of St. John Lateran: Such significant events express the Church’s desire to meet all those who are seeking answers to great questions of human existence.
The privileged place for hearing the Word of God is the celebration of the Eucharist. Last June’s diocesan conference, in which I participated, intended to highlight the centrality of Holy Mass in the life of every Christian community and gave indications about how the beauty of the divine mysteries can shine more in the act of celebration and in the spiritual fruits that derive from them. I encourage pastors and priests to implement what was indicated in the pastoral program: the formation of a liturgical group that animates the celebration, and a catechesis that helps everyone to understand better the Eucharistic mystery from which flows the witness of charity. Nourished by Christ, we too are drawn into the same act of total gift that moved the Lord to give his own life, thereby revealing the immense love of the Father. The witness of charity possesses, therefore, an essential theological dimension and is profoundly united to the proclamation of the Word. In this celebration of thanksgiving to God for the gifts received during the year, I particularly remember the visit I made to the Caritas hostel at the Termini Train Station, where, through the service and selfless dedication of many volunteers, many men and women can touch the love of God with their hands. The present moment still generates concern about the precarious situation into which many families have fallen and prevails upon the entire diocesan community to be close to those living in poverty and hardship. May God, who is infinite love, inflame the heart of each of us with that love that prompted him to give us his only begotten Son.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are invited to look to the future and to look upon it with that hope that is the final word of the “Te Deum”: “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum!” — “In thee, O Lord, I have hoped. Let me never be confounded!” It is always Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God who gives us Christ, our Hope. As she already did to the shepherds and the magi, her hands, and still more her heart, continue to offer the world Jesus, her Son and our Savior. In him is all our hope, because from him salvation and peace came to every man. Amen!
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]