Pope Francis on December 31, 2018, presided over the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, followed by the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the traditional song of the “Te Deum” anthem at the end of the civil year, and the Eucharistic Blessing.
Below is ZENIT’s translation of the Holy Father’s homily during the celebration of the Vespers, which was delivered in Italian.
At the end of the year the Word of God accompanies us with these two verses of the Apostle Paul (Cf. Galatians 4:4-5) They are precise and dense expressions, a synthesis of the New Testament, which gives meaning to a “critical” moment, as a change of year usually is.
The first expression that calls our attention is “fullness of time.” In these last hours of the solar year, in which we feel even more the need for something that fills with meaning the passage of time, such an expression has a special resonance.
Something, or better someone — and this “someone has come, God has sent Him: it is “His Son,” Jesus.
We have just celebrated His birth: He was born of a woman, the Virgin Mary; He was born under the Law, a Jewish boy, subject to the Law of the Lord. But, how is it possible? How can this be the sign of the “fullness of time”? It’s true that for the moment, that Jesus is almost invisible and insignificant, but in just over thirty years, He will unleash an unprecedented force, which still remains and will remain throughout history. This force is called Love. Love gives plenitude to everything, including time, and Jesus is the one on whom all the love of God is “concentrated” in a human being.
Saint Paul says clearly why the Son of God was born in time, and what the mission is that the Father has entrusted to Him: He was born “to rescue.” This is the second word that calls our attention: to rescue, namely, to take out of a condition of slavery and to give back freedom and dignity, the freedom proper to sons. The slavery to which the Apostle refers is that of the “Law,” understood as an ensemble of precepts to observe, a Law that certainly educates man, which is pedagogic, but which doesn’t free him from his condition of sinner but that, in a certain way, “subjects” him to this condition, impeding his attaining the freedom of a son. God the Father sent His Only-Begotten Son into the world to eradicate from man’s heart the old slavery of sin and thus restore his dignity. In fact, as Jesus teaches in the Gospel (Cf. Mark 7:21-23) from the human heart come perverse intentions, evils that corrupt life and relationships. And we must pause here, pause to reflect with sorrow and repentance, because in this year also, which is coming to its end, many men and women have lived and live in conditions of slavery, unworthy of human persons.
In our city of Rome too, there are brothers and sisters that, for different reasons, find themselves in this situation. I’m thinking in particular of the many homeless persons. They are more than 10,000. Their situation is especially hard in the winter months. All are sons and daughters of God, but different forms of slavery, at times very complex, have led them to live at the edge of human dignity. Jesus was also born in a similar situation, but not by chance or accident: He wished to be born that way to manifest God’s love for the little ones and the poor, and thus cast the seed of the Kingdom of God in the world. A Kingdom of Justice, love, and peace, where no one is a slave, but all are brothers, children of the one Father.
The Church that is in Rome does not wish to be indifferent to the slaveries of our time, or simply observe and help them, but she wants to be inside that reality, close to those people and those situations.
On celebrating the Virgin Mary’s divine maternity, I want to encourage that form of the Church’s maternity. Contemplating this mystery, we acknowledge that God was “born of woman” so that we could receive the fullness of our humanity, “filial adoption.” By His abasement, we have been exalted. Our greatness has come from His littleness, our strength from His fragility <and> our freedom from His making Himself a slave.
What can this all be called except Love? Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to whom this afternoon Holy Mother Church elevates, throughout the world, her hymn of praise and thanksgiving.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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