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Today’s news dispatch: Dec. 20, 2015

ANGELUS ADDRESS: On the Wonder of Christmas

Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

The Gospel for this Sunday of Advent highlights the person of Mary. We see her when, just after having conceived in faith the Son of God, she takes on the long trip from Nazareth of Galilee to the hill country of Judah, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel had revealed to her that her relative, who did not have children and was already of advanced age, was in her sixth month of pregnancy (cf Lk 1:26-36). That’s why the Virgin, who carried within her an even greater gift and mystery, goes to see Elizabeth and stays with her for three months.

In the meeting between these two women, imagine, an elderly woman and a youth, it is the youth, Mary, who offers the first greeting. The Gospel tells us: “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” And after this greeting, Elizabeth is astonished — don’t forget this word, this wonder — and cries out with these words: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). And they embrace and kiss each other; these two women, the elderly one and the youth, are happy. Two pregnant women.

To celebrate Christmas well, we are called to spend time in the “places” of astonishment [wonder]. And what are these places of wonder in daily life? There are three.

The first place is “the other,” in whom we recognize a brother, because since the birth of Jesus, every face is marked with a similarity to the Son of God. Above all when it is the face of a poor person, because as a poor man, God entered the world and it was the poor, in the first place, that he allowed to approach him.

Another place of wonder – a place in which, if we look with faith, we feel wonder, is history. The second one. So many times we think we see it the right way, and instead we risk reading it backwards: It happens, for example, when history seems to us to be determined by the market economy, regulated by finance and business, dominated by the powers that be. The God of Christmas is rather a God who “shuffles the deck” – He likes to do it, eh? – As Mary sings in the Magnificat, it is the Lord who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53). This is the second surprise, the wonder of history.

The third place of wonder is the Church. To look on her with the wonder of faith means not just considering the Church only as a religious institution – which the Church is – but to feel that she is a mother who, despite her warts and wrinkles – we have so many! – lets the contours of the bride beloved of and purified by Christ the Lord shine through. A Church who knows how to recognize herself in the many signs of faithful love that God continuously sends her. A Church whereby the Lord Jesus will never be a possession to be zealously defended; those who do this are erroneous. The Lord Jesus will always be the One who comes to meet her and who she knows how to await with trust and joy, giving a voice to the hopes of the world. The Church who calls to the Lord, “Come Lord Jesus.” The Mother Church who always has the doors open, and her arms open to welcome everyone. Even more, Mother Church goes out from her own doors to seek, with the smile of a Mother, all of those who are far away and bring them to the mercy of God. This is the wonder of Christmas. 

At Christmas, God gives us all of Himself by giving His one and only Son, who is all his joy – and it is only with the heart of Mary, the humble and poor daughter of Zion, become the Mother of the Son of the Most High, that we can rejoice and be glad for the great gift of God and for His unpredictable surprise: may she help us to perceive the wonder, these three wonders: the other, history and the Church; so let it be with the birth of Jesus – the gift of gifts – the undeserved gift that brings us salvation, that it might also make us feel this wonder in meeting Jesus. We cannot have this wonder, however, we cannot meet Jesus, if we do not meet Him in the other, in history and in the Church.

[Angelus]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I also want to turn my thoughts to our beloved Syria, to express deep appreciation for the agreement just reached by the international community. I encourage everyone to continue, with a generous spirit of confident willingness, toward cessation of violence and a negotiated settlement leading to peace.

I likewise think of nearby Libya, where the recent working agreement among the parties for a government of national unity invites hope for the future.

I also want to support the commitment to collaboration being offered to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I hope that a renewed spirit of fraternity will further strengthen their dialogue and mutual cooperation, as well among the countries of the region.

My thoughts turn in this moment to the dear populations of India, recently stricken by a great flood.

Let us pray for these brothers and sisters, who are suffering as a result of this great calamity, and let us entrust the souls of the dead to the mercy of God. A Hail Mary to the Virgin…

[Hail Mary …]

I greet all of you with affection, dear pilgrims from various countries who have come to join in this gathering of prayer. Today, the first greeting goes out to the children of Rome. These kids know how to make noise, right? They have come for the traditional blessing of the “bambinelli” [the baby Jesus figures for the nativity scenes], organized by the Centro Oratori Romani. Dear children, listen up, when you pray before your cribs, also remember to pray for me, as I pray for you. Thank you and merry Christmas!

I greet the families of the “Children of Heaven” community, and those who are united, in hope and in sorrow, to the Child Jesus hospital. Dear parents, I assure you of my spiritual closeness and I encourage you to continue your journey of faith and fraternity.

I greet the polyphonic choir of Racconigi, the “I ragazzi del Papa” prayer group — thanks for your support — and the faithful of Parma.

I wish you all a good Sunday and a Christmas full of hope, love and peace. Don’t forget to pray for me! Have a good lunch and see you soon!

[Translation by ZENIT, based on the report from Vatican Radio]

 

 

ANALYSIS: Marriage and Religious Freedom: Consequences of Recognizing Same-Sex Couples

One of the big events of 2015 was the decision by the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that upheld the decision to allow same-sex marriage.

The decision’s consequences were examined in the recent book “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” by Ryan T. Anderson.

The Supreme Court’s decision has brought the sexual revolution to its apex, Anderson commented in his introduction. Anderson, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, also accused the court of usurping the authority of the people by sidelining the democratic process in the debate over same-sex marriage.

He also pointed out that defining the essence of marriage as being a male-female union has become a very unwelcome truth and is increasingly considered to be an irrational position. If unchecked this tendency “will pose the most serious threat to the rights of conscience and religious freedom in American history,” Anderson warned.

Arguing for same-sex marriage using the slogan of marriage equality is wonderful advertising, Anderson observed, but “it’s completely vacuous. It doesn’t say a thing about what marriage is.”

He went on to explain that equality before the law is meant to protect people from arbitrary distinctions, to protect them from laws that treat them differently for no good reason.

Nature of the good

“To know whether the law makes the right distinctions – whether the lines it draws are justified – one has to know the public purpose of the law and the nature of the good it advances or protects.”

A consent-based view of marriage, based on a romantic union of consenting adults, sees marriage as only a difference in degree from other relationships. Instead, Anderson argued, marriage should be considered as different in kind from alternative forms of relationships.

After going into some of the philosophical reasons as to why marriage between a man and a woman is different Anderson then raised the question as to why the state is involved in marriage.

Just about every political community has regulated male-female relationships. This is because they are unique in that they are the way in which a new generation is born. Thus, marriage benefits society in a way in which no other form of relationship does.

Moreover, numerous studies show that children benefit from being raised in an environment with a father and a mother and therefore the state has a valid interest in promoting the flourishing of strong stable marriages between the biological parents.

If the state defines marriage as the union of a husband and wife it does not violate anyone’s liberty, Anderson continued. Adults still remain free concerning the types of relationships they wish to enter into, but the state protects and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childraising.

Redefining marriage as a genderless institution sends a signal that men and women are interchangeable, but this is simply not true, Anderson argued.

“The consent-based view of marriage now enshrined in law teaches that marriage is more about the desires of adults than about the needs – or rights – of children,” he explained. And changing the law sends a message that affects society, as happened with the introduction of no-fault divorce.

Equality

Anderson also examined the argument that opposition to same-sex marriage is similar to opposition to interracial marriage. If this affirmation is accepted then the next step is to say the government should treat opposition to same-sex marriage just as it would in the case of interracial marriage.

This, however, should not happen, Anderson argued, as the state has no compelling interest in forcing every citizen to treat a same-sex relationship as a marriage, thus violating their religious or moral convictions.

The assumption that marriage is the union of a man and a woman was almost universal until only a very short time ago and same-sex marriage “is the work of revisionism in historical reasoning about marriage,” he commented.

Racial segregation laws denied the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings and the race of the spouses has nothing to do with the nature of marriage. That is far from being the case with same-sex marriage.

A couple of the book’s chapters looked at the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision for religious freedom. Anderson presented a series of cases involving private businesses, institutions and charitable organizations that were penalized for not supporting same-sex marriage.

Making decisions on moral and religious grounds may well entail adverse consequences in the marketplace, Anderson pointed out, but governments should not constrain basic freedoms unless there is a compelling reason or the common good requires it.

Moreover, he argued that religious freedom is more than just tolerance, it is a fundamental natural right.

“Religious liberty is important because the search for truth about ultimate things and the effort to live according to that truth are valuable only if they are freely undertaken,” said Anderson.

There are, he explained, men, women, and institutions, who conclude that in good conscience they cannot support same-sex marriage, whether through the sale of goods such as flowers and cakes, or in the case of services provided by charities, schools and other groups.

They should not be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their religious beliefs, he insisted. One thing is certain — that the divisions caused by same-sex marriage will continue to be a cause of contention in the coming year.

 

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