May Christ Teach us to be a Gift for Others
1. "Puer natus est nobis, filius datus est nobis" (Is 9:5).
These words of the prophet Isaiah resound every year during the Mass on Christmas night. Isaiah is said to be almost an evangelist of the Old Testament. His soul's inspired gaze penetrates across the centuries, glimpsing future events and enabling us to contemplate them in the light of God.
"Puer natus est nobis"!
We will be the witnesses of precisely this, the day after tomorrow at midnight, at the solemn Eucharistic celebration that marks the extraordinary liturgy of the Lord's birth. We will listen to the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, which describes this event in detail, and then, during the Mass "at dawn" and the Mass during "the day", our eyes will open ever wider to the light that comes to us from the Prologue of John's Gospel.
"Filius datus est nobis"!
Filius: the eternal Word, the Son consubstantial with the Father. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). This is how John's Gospel begins, and a little later, still in the Prologue, we hear: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14).
"Filius datus est nobis".
Foretold by the prophet Isaiah, the Puer born in Bethlehem, Son of the Virgin Mary, is Son of God eternal, "Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5), "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God". The Father gave us this Son! "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). On Christmas night the supreme and ineffable gift, the gift of God himself, was bestowed upon humanity. This gift is not only generous; it is also irrevocable. It contains in itself God's munificence, which is not taken back in his eternal plan. "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.... To all who received him ... he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1, 14:12).
Man cannot fully discover himself except through sincere gift of self
2. This is why the Lord's birthday is an invitation to exchange gifts. Men, to whom God offers and gives his eternal Son in the unity of human nature, feel they must respond to this gift of God by offering presents to one another. If the readiness to give is a constant characteristic of the Christian vocation, in the Christmas season it is as if we seek special symbols.
These symbols are first and foremost meetings to exchange good wishes. The first place for these meetings is the family, especially at the supper on Christmas Eve, when parents, children and all the members of the family community come together with loved ones and acquaintances. In the country I come from, the tradition of breaking the so-called Christmas wafer, that is the bread of the Vigil, is linked to the Christmas Eve gatherings. This custom recalls the bread we place on the altar and which, by the Eucharistic consecration, becomes the Body of Christ. For believers, breaking bread, the fractio panis, recalls the most ancient Christian traditions and has a deeply religious character. By breaking bread with another, the intention is not only to express formal benevolence to him, but a total readiness to wish him and to do what is good for him.
In this way, breaking the white Christmas wafer on Christmas Eve reminds us in a certain sense of the definition of man given by the Second Vatican Council, the 30th anniversary of whose conclusion we are celebrating this year. The Council teaches that man cannot fully discover himself except through a sincere gift of self (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 24). The tradition of sharing the bread of the Vigil, a custom in which a reflection of the Eucharist can be recognized, recalls that by becoming flesh the Son of God made himself a gift for us; at the same time, it means to stress our availability to become a gift for others.
After the solemn moment of breaking the Christmas wafer the supper begins and table companions converse. This conversation has a particular character because it concerns the relations existing between people: they speak of what unites them and what possibly separates them. If misunderstandings arise, together they try to overcome them. Dear ones are remembered, especially those absent, the living and the dead. Meeting at table is a privileged opportunity to start a friendship, to encourage reconciliation and communion. At the Christmas Eve table, in a certain sense, there is room for all.
3. Your Eminences, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood, men and women religious, dear brothers and sisters, I address my cordial greetings to all. In the warm words of the Cardinal Dean whom I sincerely thank, I felt the sincere sentiments of each one of you vibrate and it brought me comfort. You all have your personal experience of the atmosphere we breathe on Christmas Eve. We would like this atmosphere in some way to mark our gathering today. This moment, this traditional meeting for the exchange of greetings also makes our curial community feel we are a family. In fact, the Apostolic See and the Roman Curia not only perform the duties connected with the ministerium petrinum of the Bishop of Rome, but they gather and unite people from every continent to work together to serve God's kingdom. This enables them to be a reciprocal gift for one another in various ways.
Dear brothers and sisters, the tasks and the service you carry out daily in the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia are an enormous help to the Pope. I realize this every day, and miss no opportunity to emphasize it. How valuable your competence, your zeal and your love of the Church is! Today I would like to underline it in a very special way, as I am pleased to renew my most sincere thanks for your irreplaceable collaboration. I wish to tell you what an important gift each one of you is to me, and how precious is the task that each one fulfils in the Catholic Church's central organization.
The Apostolic Constitution, which regulates the Roman Curia's structure and activities, begins with the words Pastor Bonus. These words witness to the need and the will to make him, the Good Shepherd, ever present among us to inspire our actions and our lives as persons called to a particular service in his flock.
The Pope's Pastoral Visits witness to the Church's vitality
4. The Apostolic See keeps its doors wide open. People from all over the world converge here: representatives of States and international organizations, representatives of culture, science, art and individual professions. Members of male and female religious families come; priests and especially Bishops, whose visits account for a major part of the Pope's daily activity. The ad limina visits in particular enable me to fulfil systematically my brotherly service with regard to all the particular Churches in the world.
What a joy it is for me to meet these Brothers in the episcopal ministry, not only at the official audience but also beforehand, at the Eucharistic table, during the concelebration of Mass, and afterwards at the fraternal agape shared together.
How great is my joy, when they tell me of their satisfaction with the warm welcome they receive in the individual dicasteries, and how they profit from their meetings with the Cardinals and their co-workers! They notice their readiness to serve and the excellent preparation of every meeting. They return comforted to their communities, in accordance with what the Lord Jesus said to Peter: "strengthen you brothers" (Lk 22:32). We all know that it is only possible to offer this comfort if each one of us is truly a gift for others.
5. We are meeting just before the Birthday of the Lord, pondering over the experiences of the year which is now drawing to a close. The Cardinal Dean mentioned this to you. The immense multitude which gathered in Manila last January for World Youth Day comes to mind, echoed in Europe by the youth pilgrimage to Loreto, which took place in September on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the Holy House.
Next I think of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of that of the birth of the United Nations Organization. Commemorating the end of the most terrible war in the history of humanity meant renewing the rejection of war as a means for solving conflicts and redoubling our efforts to end today's wars, and first of all that in the Balkans. After four years of prayer and constant efforts there is finally in Bosnia a glimpse of positive prospects of understanding which we hope will be stable and lasting. May the Lord bring this arduous journey of reconciliation and peace to completion!
In the speech I recently addressed to the General Assembly of the U.N., I also felt the duty to recall certain fundamental values on the basis of which the world can find fresh hope in peace and overcome the recurring temptation to discouragement and fear.
In addition, vivid in my mind and heart are the meetings of the Lord granted me with the peoples of Papua New Guinea, Australia and Sri Lanka, the Czech and Slovak Republics, the south of my own Poland, Belgium, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya and the United States of America. My Pastoral Visits are always privileged opportunities to witness to the Church's vitality and to proclaim to the world the never fading newness of the Gospel.
In the course of the year, with your help, I was able to publish important documents, among which are the Encyclical Letters Evangelium vitae and Ut unum sint, the Letter to Women, the Apostolic Letter Orientale lumen, that for the fourth centenary of the Union of Brest and the post-synodal Apostolic Letter Ecclesia in Africa.
Then, recently, the long-awaited Special Assembly for Lebanon of the Synod of Bishops took place in the Vatican, preceded by the meeting with the Bishops of Ukraine. In this regard, I would like to recall that precisely in this hall, on 23 December 1595, my predecessor Clement VIII received the Bishops representing the Metropolia of Kieve, reestablishing full communion with that ecclesial community. Tomorrow then is exactly the fourth centenary of this important event, which has passed into history as the "Union of Brest".
This historical perspective also helps us to interpret the above mentioned Synodal meetings as stages in the journey of the Christian people who, today, are preparing the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 on the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council.
Evangelizing mission in Rome must pave way to Year 2000
6. In the past few days, to give a fresh impetus to evangelization, with a view precisely to the event of the third millennium, I announced a great mission for the faithful of the Church in Rome. There are many lively energies present in this Church, from those more strictly diocesan to those of religious institutes and national and international lay movements, and those directly linked to the universal ministry of the Successor of Peter. I ask the greatest commitment of each and all, especially in prayer and in concrete cooperation, to prepare and carry out this project which, continuing on the way started with the diocesan Synod, desires to offer to all the possibility of a personal, living encounter with Christ and with his Gospel.
The mission has two objectives. The first is to reach individually the people of every neighborhood and suburb, even those who are usually indifferent or distant from the practice of the Christian faith, with a missionary style that involves every parish and community. A courageous and open pastoral action is essential, making it possible for the necessary work of the new evangelization to become permanent.
The other objective is to speak to the city as a whole, to its soul or collective culture, continuing the discourse which was begun during the Synod, through the "Confrontation with the City", in order to incarnate Christ's Gospel in social and cultural life. This will certainly be an arduous undertaking, but it must be faced with the confidence of those who trust in the gentle and mysterious power of Christ, Redeemer of man. To do this, it will be necessary to identify carefully both the contexts and developments that can best foster or hinder Rome's relationship with the Christian message, and the presence of Christians who individually or in groups already work in different capacities in the various sectors of the city's life. In fact, it is important to take advantage of their commitment and at the same time to encourage them, re-motivating them where necessary, to give them the sense and breadth of a common mission.
Let us ask the Lord to make this urban mission an authentic step forward in the preparation of the Great Jubilee, so that it may be an interesting proposal despite the diversity of situations, for other diocesan churches.
7. I would like to end this general picture by mentioning the Message for the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: "Let us give children a peaceful future!" May Jesus, God who became a child for our sake, obtain this gift for the human family!
May Christ, the divine, newborn child who came into the world in the stable of Bethlehem and made himself a gift for us, teach us how to be a gift for others. During the Christmas celebrations, we thank him for this above all.
And, as the Christmas liturgy invites us to do, let us return ideally to the place where "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14), let us return to Bethlehem where, together with the Savior's birth, the glory of God and heavenly peace to men on whom his favor rests, were announced (cf. Lk 2:14).
Dear friends, may this Christmas announcement be fulfilled once again in the life of all. This is my wish, which I willingly make for each one of you, enriching it with a special remembrance in prayer.
My blessing to all. Happy Christmas!
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