View Articles

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

0321: Reflections on the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0321: Reflections on the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, by Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate 





On eight occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on December 31 and January 1 of the academic years 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013. Here are the texts of the 24 reflections delivered on these occasions.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD  

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI  

Saturday, 31 December 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of a year which has been particularly eventful for the Church and for the world, mindful of the Apostle’s order, “walk... established in the faith... abounding in thanksgiving” (cf. Col 2: 6-7), we are gathered together this evening to raise a hymn of thanksgiving to God, Lord of time and of history.  

I am thinking with a profound and spiritual sentiment of 12 months ago, when for the last time beloved Pope John Paul II made himself the voice of the People of God to give thanks to the Lord, like this evening, for the numerous benefits granted to the Church and to humanity. In the same evocative setting of the Vatican Basilica, it is now my turn to ideally gather from every corner of the earth the praise and thanksgiving raised to God at the end of 2005 and on the eve of 2006. Yes, it is our duty, as well as a need of our hearts, to praise and thank the eternal One who accompanies us through time, never abandoning us, and who always watches over humanity with the fidelity of his merciful love.  

We may well say that the Church lives to praise and thank God. She herself has been an “action of grace” down the ages, a faithful witness of a love that does not die, of a love that embraces people of every race and culture, fruitfully disseminating principles of true life.  

As the Second Vatican Council recalls, “the Church prays and likewise labors so that into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, may pass the fullness of the whole world, and that in Christ, the head of all things, all honor and glory may be rendered to the Creator, the Father of the universe” (Lumen Gentium, no. 17).  

Sustained by the Holy Spirit, she “presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God” (St Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XVIII, 51, 2), drawing strength from the Lord’s help. Thus, in patience and in love, she overcomes “her sorrows and her difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without”, and reveals “in the world, faithfully, however darkly, the mystery of her Lord until, in the consummation, it shall be manifested in full light” (Lumen Gentium, no. 8). The Church lives from Christ and with Christ. He offers her his spousal love, guiding her through the centuries; and she, with the abundance of her gifts, accompanies men and women on their journey so that those who accept Christ may have life and have it abundantly.  

This evening I make myself first of all the voice of the Church of Rome to raise to Heaven our common hymn of praise and thanksgiving. In the past 12 months, our Church of Rome has been visited by many other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to deepen the dialogue of truth in charity that unites all the baptized, and together to experience more keenly the desire for full communion. Many believers of other religions, however, also wanted to testify to their cordial and brotherly esteem for this Church and her Bishop, aware that the serene and respectful encounter conceals the heart of a harmonious action in favor of all humanity.  

And what can be said of the many people of good will who have turned their gaze to this See in order to build up a fruitful dialogue on the great values concerning the truth about man and life to be defended and promoted? The Church always desires to be welcoming, in truth and in charity.  

As regards the journey of the Diocese of Rome, I wish to reflect briefly on the diocesan pastoral programme, which this year has focused attention on the family, choosing as a theme: “Family and Christian community:  formation of the person and transmission of the faith”.  

My venerable Predecessors always made the family the centre of their attention, especially John Paul II, who dedicated numerous Interventions to it. He was convinced, and said so on many occasions, that the crisis of the family is a serious threat to our civilization itself.  

Precisely to underline the importance of the family based on marriage in the life of the Church and of society, I also wished to make my contribution by speaking at the Diocesan Congress in St John Lateran last 6 June. I am delighted because the diocesan programme is going smoothly with a far-reaching apostolic action which is carried out in the parishes, at the prefectures and in the various ecclesial associations.  

May the Lord grant that the common effort lead to an authentic renewal of Christian families.   

I take this opportunity to greet the representatives of the religious and civil Communities of Rome present at this end-of-year celebration. I greet in the first place the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, priests, Religious and lay faithful from various parishes who have gathered here; I also greet the City Mayor and the other Authorities. I extend my thoughts to the entire Roman community whose Pastor the Lord called me to be, and I renew to everyone the expression of my spiritual closeness.  

At the beginning of this celebration, enlightened by the Word of God, we sang the “Te Deum” with faith. There are so many reasons that render our thanksgiving intense, making it a unanimous prayer. While we consider the many events that have marked the succession of months in this year that is coming to its end, I would like to remember especially those who are in difficulty:  the poorest and the most abandoned people, those who have lost hope in a well-grounded sense of their own existence, or who involuntarily become the victims of selfish interests without being asked for their support or their opinion.  

Making their sufferings our own, let us entrust them all to God, who knows how to bring everything to a good end; to him let us entrust our aspiration that every person’s dignity as a child of God be respected.  

Let us ask the Lord of life to soothe with his grace the sufferings caused by evil, and to continue to fortify our earthy existence by giving us the Bread and Wine of salvation to sustain us on our way towards the Heavenly Homeland.  

While we take our leave of the year that is drawing to a close and set out for the new one, the liturgy of this First Vespers ushers us into the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Theotokos. Eight days after the birth of Jesus, we will be celebrating the one whom God chose in advance to be the Mother of the Savior “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4: 4).  

The mother is the one who gives life but also who helps and teaches how to live. Mary is a Mother, the Mother of Jesus, to whom she gave her blood and her body. And it is she who presents to us the eternal Word of the Father, who came to dwell among us. Let us ask Mary to intercede for us.

May her motherly protection accompany us today and for ever, so that Christ will one day welcome us into his glory, into the assembly of the Saints:  Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari. Amen!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY MOTHER OF GOD
 XXXIX WORLD PEACE DAY

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 1 January 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this first day of the year, the Church fixes her gaze on the heavenly Mother of God, who embraces the Child Jesus, source of every blessing. “Hail, Holy Mother”, the liturgy sings, “the Child to whom you gave birth is the King of Heaven and Earth for ever”.

The Angels’ proclamation at Bethlehem resounds in Mary’s motherly heart, filling it with wonder: “Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2: 14). And the Gospel adds that Mary “treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).

Like Mary, the Church also treasures and reflects upon the Word of God, comparing it to the various changing situations she encounters on her way.

Looking at Christ, who came to earth to give us his peace, we celebrate on New Year’s Day the “World Day of Peace”, begun by Pope Paul VI 38 years ago.

In my first Message for this occasion, I wanted to take up once more this year a recurring theme in the Magisterium of my venerable Predecessors, beginning with the memorable Encyclical Pacem in Terris of Bl. John XXIII:  the theme of truth as the foundation of authentic peace. “In truth, peace”:  this is the motto that I propose for the reflection of every person of good will.

When man allows himself to be enlightened by the splendor of truth, he inwardly becomes a courageous peacemaker. We learn a great lesson from this liturgical season that we are living:  to welcome the gift of peace, we must open ourselves to the truth that is revealed in the person of Jesus, who taught us the “content” and “method” of peace, that is, love.

Indeed, God, who is perfect and subsisting Love, has revealed himself in Jesus, embracing our human condition. In this way he has also pointed out to us the way of peace:  dialogue, forgiveness, solidarity. This is the only path that leads to true peace.

Let us turn our gaze to Mary Most Holy, who today blesses the entire world, pointing out her divine Son, the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9: 5). Let us trustfully invoke her powerful intercession so that the human family, opening itself to the evangelical message, may fraternally and peacefully pass the year which begins today.

With these sentiments, I address my most heartfelt best wishes of peace and goodness to everyone present here in St Peter’s Square, and to those who are joined by way of radio and television.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD AND
39th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 1 January 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s liturgy our gaze continues to be turned to the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, while with particular emphasis we contemplate the Motherhood of the Virgin Mary.

In the Pauline passage we have heard (see Gal 4: 4), the Apostle very discreetly points to the One through whom the Son of God enters the world:  Mary of Nazareth, Mother of God, Theotokos.

At the beginning of a new year, we are invited, as it were, to attend her school, the school of the faithful disciple of the Lord, in order to learn from her to accept in faith and prayer the salvation God desires to pour out upon those who trust in his merciful love.

Salvation is a gift of God; in the first reading, it was presented as a blessing:  “The Lord bless you and keep you!... The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Nm 6: 24, 26).

This is the blessing that priests used to invoke upon the people at the end of the great liturgical feasts, particularly the feast of the New Year. We are in the presence of a text packed with meaning, punctuated by the Name of the Lord which is repeated at the beginning of every verse. This text is not limited to the mere enunciation of principles but strives to realize what it says.

Indeed, as is widely known, in Semitic thought the blessing of the Lord produces well-being and salvation through its own power, just as cursing procures disgrace and ruin. The effectiveness of blessing is later more specifically brought about by God, who protects us (v. 24), favors us (v. 25) and gives us peace, which is to say in other words, he offers us an abundance of happiness.

By having us listen once again to this ancient blessing at the beginning of a new solar year, the liturgy, as it were, encourages us in turn to invoke the Lord’s blessing upon the New Year that is just beginning, so that it may be a year of prosperity and peace for us all. It is precisely this wish that I would like to address to the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who are taking part in today’s liturgical celebration.

I greet Cardinal Angelo Sodano, my Secretary of State. With him, I greet Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and all the members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I am particularly grateful to them for their commitment to disseminating the annual Message for the World Day of Peace, addressed to Christians and to all men and women of good will.

I also offer a cordial greeting to the many choirboys who with their singing add to the solemnity of this Holy Mass, during which we ask God for the gift of peace for the whole world.

By choosing the theme “In truth, peace” as the Message for the World Day of Peace, I wanted to express the conviction that “whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace” (no. 3). How can we not see in this an effective and appropriate realization of the Gospel just proclaimed, in which we contemplated the scene of the shepherds on their way to Bethlehem to adore the Child? (see Lk 2: 16).

Are not those shepherds, whom the Evangelist Luke describes to us in their poverty and simplicity, obedient to the Angel’s order and docile to God’s will, perhaps the image most easily accessible to each one of us of the person who allows himself to be enlightened by the truth and is thereby enabled to build a world of peace?

Peace! This great, heartfelt aspiration of every man and every woman is built day after day by the contribution of all and by treasuring the wonderful heritage passed down to us by the Second Vatican Council with the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which says, among other things, that humanity will not succeed in “the establishment of a truly human world for all men over the entire earth, unless everyone devotes himself to the cause of true peace with renewed vigor” (no. 77).

The time in history when the Constitution Gaudium et Spes was promulgated, 7 December 1965, was not very different from our time. Then, as unfortunately also in our day and age, tensions of various kinds were looming on the world horizon. In the face of the lasting situations of injustice and violence that continue to oppress various parts of the earth, in the face of those that are emerging as new and more insidious threats to peace - terrorism, nihilism and fanatical fundamentalism - it is becoming more necessary than ever to work together for peace!

A “start” of courage and trust in God and man is necessary if we are to choose the path of peace. And it must be on the part of all:  individuals and peoples, international organizations and world powers.

In the Message for today’s event, I wanted in particular to call the United Nations Organization to a renewed awareness of its responsibilities in encouraging the values of justice, solidarity and peace in a world that is ever more marked by the vast phenomenon of globalization.

If peace is the aspiration of every person of good will, for Christ’s disciples it is a permanent mandate that involves all; it is a demanding mission that impels them to announce and witness to “the Gospel of Peace”, proclaiming that recognition of God’s full truth is an indispensable pre-condition for the consolidation of the truth of peace.

May this awareness continue to grow so that every Christian community becomes the “leaven” of a humanity renewed by love.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).

The first day of the year is placed under the sign of a woman, Mary. The Evangelist Luke describes her as the silent Virgin who listens constantly to the eternal Word, who lives in the Word of God. Mary treasures in her heart the words that come from God and, piecing them together as in a mosaic, learns to understand them.

Let us too, at her school, learn to become attentive and docile disciples of the Lord. With her motherly help, let us commit ourselves to working enthusiastically in the “workshop” of peace, following Christ, the Prince of Peace.

After the example of the Blessed Virgin, may we let ourselves be guided always and only by Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever! (Heb 13: 8). Amen.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Sunday, 31 December 2006

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to give thanks to the Lord at the end of the year and to sing the Te Deum together. I cordially thank all of you for wishing to join me on such an important occasion.

In the first place, I greet the Cardinals, my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, the men and women Religious, the consecrated persons and all the lay faithful who represent the entire Ecclesial Community of Rome. In particular I greet the Mayor of Rome and the other Authorities present.

On this evening of 31 December, two different perspectives intersect: one is linked to the end of the civil year, the other to the liturgical Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, which concludes the Octave of Holy Christmas. The first event is common to all, the second concerns believers. Their intersection confers a special character upon this evening celebration, in a particular spiritual atmosphere that is conducive to reflection.

The first, most evocative, theme is linked to the dimension of time.

In the last hours of every solar year we participate in some worldly “rites” which in the contemporary context are mainly marked by amusement and often lived as an evasion from reality, as it were, to exorcise the negative aspects and propitiate improbable good luck. How different the attitude of the Christian Community must be!

The Church is called to live these hours, making the Virgin Mary’s sentiments her own. With her, the Church is invited to keep her gaze fixed on the Infant Jesus, the new Sun rising on the horizon of humanity and, comforted by his light, to take care to present to him “the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 1).

Consequently, two different evaluations of the dimension of “time” confront each other, one quantitative and the other qualitative.

On the one hand, the solar cycle with its rhythms; on the other, what St Paul called the “fullness of time” (see Gal 4: 4), that is, the culminating moment of the history of the universe and of the human race when the Son of God was born in the world. The time of the promises was fulfilled and, when Mary’s pregnancy reached its term, “the earth”, a Psalm says, “yielded its increase” (Ps 67[66]: [7]6)

The coming of the Messiah, foretold by the Prophets, is qualitatively the most important event of all history, on which it confers its ultimate and full meaning. It is not historical and political coordinates that condition God’s choice, but on the contrary, the event of the Incarnation that “fills” history with value and meaning.

We, who come 2,000 years after that event, can affirm this, so to speak, also a posteriori, after having known the whole life of Jesus, until his death and Resurrection. We are witnesses at the same time of his glory and his humility, of the immense value of his coming and of God’s infinite respect for us human beings and for our history.

He did not fill time by pouring himself into it from on high, but “from within”, making himself a tiny seed to lead humanity to its full maturation.

God’s style required a long period of preparation to reach from Abraham to Jesus Christ, and after the Messiah’s coming, history did not end but continued its course, apparently the same but in reality visited by God and oriented to the Lord’s second and definitive Coming at the end of time. We might say that Mary’s Motherhood is a real symbol and sacrament of all this, an event at the same time human and divine.

In the passage from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, St Paul said: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4: 4). Origen commented: “Note well that he did not say, “born by means of a woman’ but “born of a woman’“ (Comment on the Letter to the Galatians, PG 14, 1298).

This acute observation of the great exegete and ecclesiastical writer is important: in fact, if the Son of God had been born only “by means of” a woman, he would not truly have taken on our humanity, something which instead he did by taking flesh “of” Mary. Mary’s motherhood, therefore, is true and fully human.

The fundamental truth about Jesus as a divine Person who fully assumed our human nature is condensed in the phrase: “God sent forth his Son born of woman”. He is the Son of God, he is generated by God and at the same time he is the son of a woman, Mary. He comes from her. He is of God and of Mary.

For this reason one can and must call the Mother of Jesus the Mother of God. This title, rendered in Greek as Theotokos, probably appeared for the first time in the very region of Alexandria, Egypt, precisely where Origen lived in the first half of the third century. However, she was dogmatically defined as such only two centuries later, in 431 by the Council of Ephesus, a city to which I had the joy of going on pilgrimage a month ago during my Apostolic Visit to Turkey.

Indeed, thinking back to that unforgettable Visit, how could I fail to express all my filial gratitude to the Holy Mother of God for the special protection which she granted to me in those days of grace?

Theotokos, Mother of God: every time we recite the Hail Mary we address the Virgin with this title, imploring her to pray “for us sinners”.

At the end of a year, we feel a special need to call on the motherly intercession of Mary Most Holy for the city of Rome, for Italy, for Europe and for the whole world. Let us entrust to Mary, who is the Mother of Mercy incarnate, particularly those situations to which the Lord’s grace alone can bring peace, comfort and justice.

The Virgin heard the Angel announcing her divine Motherhood say to her: “With God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1: 37). Mary believed and for this reason she is blessed (see Lk 1: 45). What is impossible to man becomes possible to the one who believes (see Mk 9: 23).

Thus, as 2006 draws to a close and the dawn of 2007 can already be glimpsed, let us ask the Mother of God to obtain for us the gift of a mature faith: a faith that we would like to resemble hers as far as possible, a clear, genuine, humble and at the same time courageous faith, steeped in hope and enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God, a faith devoid of all fatalism and wholly set on cooperating with the divine will in full and joyful obedience and with the absolute certainty that God wants nothing but love and life, always and for everyone.

Obtain for us, O Mary, an authentic, pure faith. May you always be thanked and blessed, Holy Mother of God! Amen!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
XL WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Monday, 1 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the beginning of the New Year I am happy to greet all of you present here in St Peter’s Square, and to those who are joined with us by radio and television, the most cordial wishes of peace and goodness. Congratulations to all of you: peace and goodness! May the light of Christ, the Sun that appeared on the horizon of humanity, illuminate your way and accompany you throughout the whole of 2007!

With fortunate intuition, my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, wished the year to open under the protection of Mary Most Holy, venerated as the Mother of God.

The Christian community, which in these days has remained in prayerful adoration before the crib, looks with particular love to the Virgin Mary, identifying itself with her while contemplating the newborn Baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Like Mary, the Church also remains in silence in order to welcome and keep the interior resonances of the Word made flesh and in order not to lose the divine-human warmth that radiates from his presence.

The Church, like the Virgin, does none other than show Jesus, the Savior, to everyone, and reflects to each one the light of his face, the splendor of goodness and truth.

Today, we contemplate Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, in his prerogative of true “Prince of Peace” (Is 9: 6). He “is our peace”, come to break down the “wall of separation” that divides humanity and peoples, which is “enmity” (Eph 2: 14).

For this reason, Paul VI, of venerable memory, also wanted 1 January to become the World Day of Peace: so that each new year begins in the light of Christ, the great peacemaker of humanity.

True foundations of peace

Today, I renew my wish for peace to those governing and leading the nations and international organizations and to all men and women of good will. I do this particularly with the special Message that I have prepared, together with my collaborators of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and whose theme this year is: “The human person, heart of peace”.

It touches on an essential point, the value of the human person, which is the supporting column of the entire, great edifice of peace.

Today, much is spoken of human rights, but it is often forgotten that they need a stable, not relative, not optional, foundation. And this can be none other than the dignity of the human person. Respect for this dignity begins with the recognition and protection of the person’s right to life and to freely profess his or her own religion.

To the Most Holy Mother of God we confidently address our prayer, so that sacred respect for each human person and the firm refusal of war and violence may develop in consciences.

Mary, you who have given Jesus to the world, help us to welcome his gift of peace and to be sincere and courageous builders of peace.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD AND
40th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Monday, 1 January 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As in a mosaic, today’s liturgy contemplates different events and messianic situations, but attention is especially focused on Mary, Mother of God. Eight days after Jesus’ birth, we commemorate the Mother, the Theotokos, the one who gave birth to the Child who is King of Heaven and earth for ever (see Entrance Antiphon; Sedulius).

The liturgy today meditates on the Word made man and repeats that he is born of the Virgin. It reflects on the circumcision of Jesus as a rite of admission to the community and contemplates God who, by means of Mary, gave his Only-Begotten Son to lead the “new people”. It recalls the name given to the Messiah and listens to it spoken with tender sweetness by his Mother. It invokes peace for the world, Christ’s peace, and does so through Mary, Mediatrix and Cooperator of Christ (see Lumen Gentium, nos. 60-61).

We are beginning a new solar year which is a further period of time offered to us by divine Providence in the context of the salvation inaugurated by Christ. But did not the eternal Word enter time precisely through Mary? In the Second Reading we have just listened to, the Apostle Paul recalls this by saying that Jesus was born “of woman” (Gal 4: 4).

In today’s liturgy the figure of Mary, true Mother of Jesus, God-man, stands out. Thus, today’s Solemnity is not celebrating an abstract idea but a mystery and an historic event: Jesus Christ, a divine Person, is born of the Virgin Mary who is his Mother in the truest sense.

Today too, Mary’s virginity is highlighted, in addition to her motherhood. These are two prerogatives that are always proclaimed together, inseparably, because they complement and qualify each other. Mary is Mother, but a Virgin Mother; Mary is a virgin, but a Mother Virgin. If either of these aspects is ignored, the mystery of Mary as the Gospels present her to us, cannot be properly understood.

As Mother of Christ, Mary is also Mother of the Church, which my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI chose to proclaim on 21 November 1964 at the Second Vatican Council. Lastly, Mary is the Spiritual Mother of all humanity, because Jesus on the Cross shed his blood for all of us and from the Cross he entrusted us all to her maternal care.

Let us begin this new year, therefore, by looking at Mary whom we received from God’s hands as a precious “talent” to be made fruitful, a providential opportunity to contribute to bringing about the Kingdom of God.

In this atmosphere of prayer and gratitude to the Lord for the gift of a new year, I am pleased to address my respectful thoughts to the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who have desired to take part in today’s solemn Celebration.

I cordially greet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State. I greet Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and the members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and express to them my deep gratitude for the commitment with which they daily promote these values, so fundamental to social life.

For this World Day of Peace, I addressed the customary Message to the Governors and Leaders of Nations, as well as to all men and women of good will. Its theme this year is: The human person, the heart of peace.

I am deeply convinced that “respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism” (Message for World Peace Day, 1 January 2007, no. 1).

This commitment is especially incumbent on every Christian who is called “to be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defence of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights” (Message, no. 16). Precisely because he is created in the image and likeness of God (see Gn 1: 27), every human individual without distinction of race, culture or religion, as a person is clothed in God’s same dignity. For this reason he should be respected, nor can any reason ever justify an arbitrary use of him, as if he were an object.

In the face of the threats to peace that are unfortunately ever present, the situations of injustice and violence that persist in various areas of the earth and the continuing armed conflicts often overlooked by the majority of public opinion, as well as the danger of terrorism that clouds the serenity of peoples, it is becoming more necessary than ever to work for peace together. This, as I recalled in my Message, is “both gift and task” (no. 3): a gift to implore with prayer and a task to be carried out with courage, never tiring.

The Gospel narrative we have heard portrays the scene of the shepherds of Bethlehem, who after hearing the Angel’s announcement go to the grotto to worship the Child (see Lk 2: 16). Should we not look again at the dramatic situation marking the very Land in which Jesus was born? How can we not entreat God with insistent prayers for the day of peace to arrive as soon as possible in that region too, the day on which the current conflict that has lasted far too long will be resolved?

If a peace agreement is to endure, it must be based on respect for the dignity and rights of every person. I express to the representatives of the nations present here my hope that the International Community will muster its forces so that a world may be built in God’s Name in which the essential human rights are respected by all. For this to happen, people must recognize that these rights are not only based on human agreements but “on man’s very nature and his inalienable dignity as a person created by God” (Message, no. 13).

Indeed, were the constitutive elements of human dignity entrusted to changeable human opinions, even solemnly proclaimed human rights would end by being weakened and variously interpreted. “Consequently, it is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights” (ibid.).

“The Lord bless you and keep you... lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Nm 6: 24, 26). This is the formula of the Blessing we heard in the First Reading, taken from the Book of Numbers. The Lord’s Name is repeated in it three times. This gives one an idea of the intensity and power of the Blessing, whose last word is “peace”.

The biblical term shalom, which we translate as “peace”, implies that accumulation of good things in which consists the “salvation” brought by Christ, the Messiah announced by the Prophets. We Christians therefore recognize him as the Prince of Peace. He became a man and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem to bring peace to people of good will, to all who welcome him with faith and love.

Thus, peace is truly the gift and commitment of Christmas: the gift that must be accepted with humble docility and constantly invoked with prayerful trust, the task that makes every person of good will a “channel of peace”.

Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, to help us to welcome her Son and, in him, true peace. Let us ask her to sharpen our perception so that we may recognize in the face of every human person, the Face of Christ, the heart of peace!


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Monday, 31 December 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As this year is also ending, we are gathered in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. The liturgy makes this important Marian feast coincide with the end and the beginning of the solar year. Our hymn of gratitude for 2007 which is drawing to a close and for 2008 which we are already glimpsing is therefore combined with contemplation of the mystery of the divine motherhood. Time passes and its inexorable passing induces us to raise our gaze in deep gratitude to the One who is eternal, to the Lord of time. Let us thank him together, dear brothers and sisters, on behalf of the entire diocesan community of Rome. I address my greeting to each one of you. In the first place, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons as well as all the lay faithful who are gathered here. I greet Mr Mayor and the Authorities present, and I extend my thoughts to the entire population of Rome and in a special way to all those in conditions of difficulty and hardship. I assure them all of my cordial closeness, strengthened by constant remembrance in prayer.

In the short Reading from the Letter to the Galatians that we have just heard, speaking of the liberation of man brought about by God with the mystery of the Incarnation, St Paul very discreetly mentions the One through whom the Son of God entered the world: “when the time had fully come”, he wrote, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4: 4). The Church contemplates in the “woman” the features of Mary of Nazareth, a unique woman because she was called to carry out a mission that brought her into very close contact with Christ: indeed, it was an absolutely unique relationship, because Mary is Mother of the Savior. Just as obviously, however, we can and must affirm that she is our Mother because, by living her very special maternal relationship with the Son, she shared in his mission for us and for the salvation of all people. In contemplating her, the Church makes out her own features: Mary lives faith and charity; Mary is also a creature saved by the one Savior; Mary collaborates in the initiative of the salvation of all humanity. Thus, Mary constitutes for the Church her truest image: she in whom the Ecclesial Community must continually discover the authentic sense of its own vocation and its own mystery.

This short but intense Pauline passage then continues, showing how the fact that the Son assumed human nature unfolds the perspective of a radical change of the actual human condition. Paul says in it that “God sent forth his Son... to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4: 4-5). The Incarnate Word transforms human life from within, sharing with us his being as Son of the Father. He became like us in order for us to become like him: children of the Son, hence, people free from the law of sin. Is this not a fundamental reason to raise our thanksgiving to God? A thanksgiving which can only be even more motivated at the end of a year, considering the many benefits and his constant assistance that we have experienced over the period of the past 12 months. This is why every Christian community gathers together this evening and sings the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity. This is what we shall also do at the end of this liturgical meeting of ours, before the Most Blessed Sacrament.

As we sing we will pray: “Te ergo, quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti: Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood”. This is our prayer this evening: Come with your mercy, Lord, to the aid of the inhabitants of our City in which, as elsewhere, serious needs and poverty weigh on the lives of people and families, preventing them from looking with trust to the future. Many, especially young people, are attracted by a false exaltation or rather, by the profanation of the body and the trivialization of sexuality; so it is difficult to list the many challenges bound up with consumerism and secularism which call into question believers and people of good will. To say it in a word, in Rome one also notes that lack of hope and trust in life that constitutes the “obscure” evil of modern Western society.

But if the deficiencies are evident, there is no lack of light and reasons for hope on which to implore special divine blessings. Precisely in this perspective, in singing the Te Deum we shall pray: “Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuæ - Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance”. O Lord, look upon and protect the diocesan community in particular, committed on the educational front to responding ever more vigorously to that great “educational emergency” of which I spoke last 11 June when I met the participants in the diocesan convention, or in other words, the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and upright conduct to the new generations (see Address to the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 June, p. 3). Let us calmly and with patient trust face this emergency first of all in the context of the family. Moreover, it is certainly comforting to note that the work undertaken in recent years by parishes, movements and associations for the pastoral care of the family is continuing to develop and bear fruit.

Also protect, Lord, the missionary initiatives which involve the world of youth: they are increasing and there are now an important number of young people who are assuming responsibility and the joy of proclamation and Gospel witness in the first person. In this context, how can we fail to thank God for the precious pastoral service offered to the world by the Roman universities? It would be appropriate to start something similar in schools, despite the numerous difficulties.

Bless, Lord, the many young men and adults who in recent decades have been ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rome. At the present time there are 28 deacons who are awaiting priestly ordination, scheduled for next April. Thus, the average age of the clergy is rejuvenated and it is also possible to respond to the increase in pastoral needs, such as going to the help of other dioceses. Especially in the suburbs, the need for new parish complexes is growing, and there are eight currently under construction, after I myself had the pleasure not long ago of consecrating the one most recently completed: the Parish of Santa Maria del Rosario ai Martiri Portuensi. It is lovely to be able to tangibly feel the joy and gratitude of the inhabitants of a neighborhood as they enter their own new church for the first time.

“In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in æternum - Lord, show us your love and mercy; for we put our trust in you”. The majestic hymn of the Te Deum ends with this cry of faith, of total trust in God, with this solemn proclamation of our hope. Christ is our “trustworthy” hope, and to this theme I dedicated my recent Encyclical entitled Spe Salvi. But our hope is always essentially also hope for others, and only thus is it truly hope for each one of us (see no. 48). Dear brothers and sisters of the Church of Rome, let us ask the Lord to make each one of us authentic leaven of hope in our various milieus, so that it will be possible to build a better future for the whole city. This is my wish for everyone on the eve of a New Year, a wish that I entrust to the motherly intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Star of Hope. Amen!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
XLI WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have begun a new year and I hope that it may be serene and profitable for all. I entrust it to the heavenly protection of Mary, whom we invoke in today’s liturgy with her most ancient and important title, that of Mother of God. With her “yes” to the Angel on the day of the Annunciation, the Virgin conceived in her womb, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Eternal Word, and on Christmas Night gave birth to him. At Bethlehem, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born of Mary; the Son of God was made man for our salvation, and the Virgin became the true Mother of God. This immense gift that Mary has received is not reserved to her alone, but is for us all. In her fruitful virginity, in fact, God has given “to men the goods of eternal salvation..., because by means of her we have received the Author of Life” (see Collect Prayer). Mary, therefore, after having given flesh to the Only-Begotten Son of God, became the mother of believers and of all humanity.

And it is precisely in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of humanity, that we have been celebrating for 40 years on the first day of the year the World Day of Peace. The theme I selected for this year’s celebration is: “The human family, a community of peace”. The same love that builds and unites the family, the vital cell of society, supports the construction between the peoples of the earth of those relationships of solidarity and collaboration that are suitable to members of the one human family. Vatican Council II recalls this when it affirms that “all people comprise a single community, and have a single origin.... One also is their final goal: God” (see Nostra Aetate, no. 1). A strict bond therefore exists between families, society and peace. “Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family”, I note in the Message for this year’s World Day of Peace, “undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary “agency’ of peace” (no. 5). And then, “We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters” (no. 6). It is thus truly important that each one assumes the appropriate responsibilities before God and recognizes in him the original source of his own existence and that of others. From this knowledge flows a duty to make humanity into a true community of peace, based on a “common law..., one which would foster true freedom... and protect the weak from oppression by the strong” (no. 11).

May Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace, sustain the Church in her tireless work at the service of peace, and help the community of peoples, which celebrates in 2008 the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to travel a road of authentic solidarity and stable peace.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
AND 41st WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Tuesday, 1st January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we are beginning a new year and Christian hope takes us by the hand; let us begin it by invoking divine Blessings upon it and imploring, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, the gift of peace: for our families, for our cities, for the whole world. With this hope, I greet all of you present here, starting with the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who have gathered at this celebration on the occasion of the World Day of Peace. I greet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and all members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I am particularly grateful to them for their commitment to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace whose theme this year is: “The human family, a community of peace”.

Peace. In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers we heard the invocation: “The Lord... give you peace” (6: 26); may the Lord grant peace to each one of you, to your families and to the whole world. We all aspire to live in peace but true peace, the peace proclaimed by the Angels on Christmas night, is not merely a human triumph or the fruit of political agreements; it is first and foremost a divine gift to be ceaselessly implored, and at the same time a commitment to be carried forward patiently, always remaining docile to the Lord’s commands. This year, in my Message for today’s World Day of Peace, I wanted to highlight the close relationship that exists between the family and building peace in the world. The natural family, founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, is “a “cradle of life and love’“ and “the first and indispensable teacher of peace”. For this very reason the family is “the primary “agency’ of peace”, and “the denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace” (see nos. 1-5). Since humanity is a “great family”, if it wants to live in peace it cannot fail to draw inspiration from those values on which the family community is based and stands. The providential coincidence of various recurrences spur us this year to make an even greater effort to achieve peace in the world. Sixty years ago, in 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations published the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”; 40 years ago my venerable Predecessor Paul VI celebrated the first World Day of Peace; this year, in addition, we will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Holy See’s adoption of the “Charter of the Rights of the Family”. “In the light of these significant anniversaries” - I am repeating here what I wrote precisely at the end of the Message - “I invite every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace” [no. 15].

Our thoughts now turn spontaneously to Our Lady, whom we invoke today as the Mother of God. It was Pope Paul VI who moved to 1 January the Feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, which was formerly celebrated on 11 October. Indeed, even before the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council, the memorial of the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth - as a sign of submission to the law, his official insertion in the Chosen People - used to be celebrated on the first day of the year and the Feast of the Name of Jesus was celebrated the following Sunday. We perceive a few traces of these celebrations in the Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed, in which St Luke says that eight days after his birth the Child was circumcised and was given the name “Jesus”, “the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in [his Mother’s]... womb” (Lk 2: 21). Today’s feast, therefore, as well as being a particularly significant Marian feast, also preserves a strongly Christological content because, we might say, before the Mother, it concerns the Son, Jesus, true God and true Man.

The Apostle Paul refers to the mystery of the divine motherhood of Mary, the Theotokos, in his Letter to the Galatians. “When the time had fully come”, he writes, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (4: 4). We find the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word and the Divine Motherhood of Mary summed up in a few words: the Virgin’s great privilege is precisely to be Mother of the Son who is God. The most logical and proper place for this Marian feast is therefore eight days after Christmas. Indeed, in the night of Bethlehem, when “she gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2: 7), the prophesies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled. “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son”, Isaiah had foretold (7: 14); “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”, the Angel Gabriel said to Mary (Lk 1: 31); and again, an Angel of the Lord, the Evangelist Matthew recounts, appeared to Joseph in a dream to reassure him and said: “Do not fear to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son” (Mt 1: 20-21).

The title “Mother of God”, together with the title “Blessed Virgin”, is the oldest on which all the other titles with which Our Lady was venerated are based, and it continues to be invoked from generation to generation in the East and in the West. A multitude of hymns and a wealth of prayers of the Christian tradition refer to the mystery of her divine motherhood, such as, for example, a Marian antiphon of the Christmas season, Alma Redemptoris mater, with which we pray in these words: “Tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, Virgo prius ac posterius - You, in the wonder of all creation, have brought forth your Creator, Mother ever virgin”. Dear brothers and sisters, let us today contemplate Mary, ever-virgin Mother of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father; let us learn from her to welcome the Child who was born for us in Bethlehem. If we recognize in the Child born of her the Eternal Son of God and accept him as our one Savior, we can be called and we really are children of God: sons in the Son. The Apostle writes: “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4: 4).

The Evangelist Luke repeats several times that Our Lady meditated silently on these extraordinary events in which God had involved her. We also heard this in the short Gospel passage that the Liturgy presents to us today. “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).

The Greek verb used, sumbállousa, literally means “piecing together” and makes us think of a great mystery to be discovered little by little. Although the Child lying in a manger looks like all children in the world, at the same time he is totally different: he is the Son of God, he is God, true God and true man. This mystery - the Incarnation of the Word and the divine Motherhood of Mary - is great and certainly far from easy to understand with the human mind alone.

Yet, by learning from Mary, we can understand with our hearts what our eyes and minds do not manage to perceive or contain on their own. Indeed, this is such a great gift that only through faith are we granted to accept it, while not entirely understanding it. And it is precisely on this journey of faith that Mary comes to meet us as our support and guide. She is mother because she brought forth Jesus in the flesh; she is mother because she adhered totally to the Father’s will. St Augustine wrote: “The divine motherhood would have been of no value to her had Christ not borne her in his heart, with a destiny more fortunate than the moment when she conceived him in the flesh” (De Sancta Virginitate, 3, 3). And in her heart Mary continued to treasure, to “piece together” the subsequent events of which she was to be a witness and protagonist, even to the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of her Son Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience, that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow him on the path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service to the brethren. May the new year which we are confidently beginning today be a time in which to advance in that knowledge of the heart, which is the wisdom of saints. Let us pray, as we heard in the First Reading, that the Lord may “make his face to shine” upon us, “and be gracious” to us (see Nm 6: 24-7) and bless us. We may be certain of it: if we never tire of seeking his Face, if we never give in to the temptation of discouragement and doubt, if also among the many difficulties we encounter we always remain anchored to him, we will experience the power of his love and his mercy. May the fragile Child who today the Virgin shows to the world make us peacemakers, witnesses of him, the Prince of Peace. Amen!


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The year that is ending and that which is approaching on the horizon are both under the blessed gaze of the Most Holy Mother of God. The artistic polychrome sculpture set here next to the altar, which portrays her on a throne with the Child giving his Blessing, also recalls her motherly presence. We are celebrating the First Vespers of this Marian Solemnity, in which there are numerous liturgical references to the mystery of the Virgin’s divine motherhood.

O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!” Thus begins the Antiphon of the first Psalm, to then continue: “man’s Creator has become man, born of a virgin”. “By your miraculous birth of the Virgin you have fulfilled the Scriptures”, proclaims the Antiphon of the Second Psalm, which is echoed by the words of the third Antiphon that introduce us to the canticle taken from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians: “Your blessed and fruitful virginity is like the bush, flaming yet unburned, which Moses saw on Sinai. Pray for us, Mother of God”. Mary’s divine motherhood is also highlighted in the brief Reading proclaimed shortly beforehand, which proposes anew the well-known verses of the Letter to the Galatians: “When the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman... so that we might our status as adopted sons” (Gal 4: 4-5). And again, in the traditional Te Deum that we will raise at the end of our celebration before the Most Holy Sacrament solemnly exposed for our adoration singing, “Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum”, in English: “when you, O Christ, became man to set us free you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb”.

Thus everything this evening invites us to turn our gaze to the one who “received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world”, and for this very reason the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recalls “is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God” (Lumen gentium, no. 53). Christ’s Nativity, which we are commemorating in these days, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, while we pause at the manger to contemplate the Child, our gaze cannot fail to turn in gratitude also to his Mother, who with her “yes” made possible the gift of Redemption. This is why the Christmas Season brings with it a profoundly Marian connotation; the birth of Jesus as God and man and Mary’s divine motherhood are inseparable realities; the mystery of Mary and the mystery of the Only-Begotten Son of God who was made man form a single mystery, in which the one helps to better understand the other.

Mary Mother of God Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. Since ancient times Our Lady has been honored with this title. However, for many centuries in the West there was no feast specifically dedicated to the divine Motherhood of Mary. It was introduced into the Latin Church by Pope Pius XI in 1931 on the occasion of the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus, and he chose to establish it on 11 October. On that date, in 1962, the Second Vatican Council was inaugurated. It was then the Servant of God Paul VI who restored an ancient tradition in 1969, fixing this Solemnity on 1 January. In the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus of 2 February 1974, he explained the reason for his decision and its connection with the World Day of Peace. “In the revised ordering of the Christmas period it seems to us that the attention of all should be directed towards the restored Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God,” Paul VI wrote. “This celebration... is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the “holy Mother’.... It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration to the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (see Lk 2: 14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace” (no. 5).

This evening, let us place in the hands of the heavenly Mother of God our choral hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord for the gifts he has generously granted us during the past 12 months. The first sentiment which spontaneously rises in our hearts this evening is precisely that of praise and thanksgiving to the One who gave us time, a precious opportunity to do good; let us combine with it our request for forgiveness for perhaps not always having spent it usefully. I am glad to share this thanksgiving with you, dear brothers and sisters who represent the whole of our diocesan community to which I address my cordial greeting, extending it to all the inhabitants of Rome. I extend a particular greeting to the Cardinal Vicar and to the Mayor, both of whom have begun their different missions this year one spiritual and religious, the other civil and administrative at the service of this city of ours. I extend my greeting to the Auxiliary Bishops, priests, consecrated people and the very many lay faithful who have gathered here, as well as to the authorities present. By coming into the world, the eternal Word of the Father revealed to us God’s closeness and the ultimate truth about man and his eternal destiny; he came to stay with us to be our irreplaceable support, especially in the inevitable daily difficulties. And this evening the Virgin herself reminds us of what a great gift Jesus gave us with his Birth, of what a precious “treasure” his Incarnation constitutes for us. In his Nativity Jesus comes to offer us his Word as a lamp to guide our steps; he comes to offer us himself and we must always affirm him as our unfailing hope in our daily life, aware that “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et spes, no. 22).

Christ’s presence is a gift that we must be able to share with everyone. It is for this purpose that the diocesan community is making an effort to form pastoral workers, so as to equip them to respond to the challenges modern culture poses to the Christian faith. The presence of numerous highly qualified academic institutions in Rome and the many initiatives promoted by the parishes enable us to look confidently to the future of Christianity in this city. As you well know, encountering Christ renews our personal life and helps us to contribute to building a just and fraternal society. This is why we as believers can also make a great contribution to overcoming the current educational emergency. Thus, for a profound evangelization and a courageous human promotion that can communicate the riches that derive from the encounter with Christ to as many people as possible, an increase in synergy among families, school and parishes is more important than ever. For this I encourage each member of our diocese to continue on the journey they have undertaken, together carrying out the programme for the current pastoral year which aims precisely to “educate to hope through prayer, action and suffering”.

In our times, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, Star of Hope who leads us to him. It is she, with her maternal love, who can guide young people especially who bear in their hearts an irrepressible question about the meaning of human existence to Jesus. I know that various groups of parents, meeting in order to deepen their vocation, are seeking new ways to help their children respond to the big existential questions. I cordially urge them, together with the whole Christian community, to bear witness to the new generations of the joy that stems from encountering Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and did not come to take something from us but rather to give us everything.

On Christmas night I had a special thought for children; instead, this evening it is young people above all on whom I wish to focus my attention. Dear young people, responsible for the future of this our city, do not be afraid of the apostolic task that the Lord is entrusting to you. Do not hesitate to choose a lifestyle that does not follow the current hedonistic mindset. The Holy Spirit assures you of the strength you need to witness to the joy of faith and the beauty of being Christian. The growing need for evangelization requires many laborers in the Lord’s vineyard; do not hesitate to respond to him promptly if he calls you. Society needs citizens who are not concerned solely with their own interests because, as I recalled on Christmas Day, “If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart”.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year is ending with an awareness of the spreading social and financial crisis that now involves the whole world; a crisis that asks for greater moderation and solidarity from all, so that they may go to the aid especially of the individuals and families who are in the most serious difficulty. The Christian community is already making efforts toward this and I know that the diocesan Caritas and other relief agencies are doing their utmost. Nonetheless, everyone’s collaboration is necessary, for no one can think of building his own happiness alone. Although many clouds are gathering on the horizon of our future, we must not be afraid. Our great hope as believers is eternal life in communion with Christ and the whole family of God. This great hope gives us the strength to face and to overcome the difficulties of life in this world. This evening the motherly presence of Mary assures us that God never abandons us if we entrust ourselves to him and follow his teachings. Therefore, while we take our leave of 2008 and prepare to welcome 2009, let us present to Mary our expectations and hopes, as well as our fears and the difficulties that dwell in our hearts, with filial affection and trust. She, the Virgin Mother, offers us the Child who lies in the manger as our sure hope. Full of trust, we shall then be able to sing at the end of the Te Deum: “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum - In you, Lord, is our hope: and we shall never hope in vain”. Yes, Lord, in you we hope, today and for ever; you are our hope. Amen!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
XLII WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this first day of the year, I am pleased to extend my very best wishes for peace and every good to all of you present in St Peter’s Square and to those linked to us through radio and television. They are wishes that the Christian faith renders, so to speak, “reliable”, anchoring them in the event that we are celebrating in these days: the Incarnation of the Word of God, born of the Virgin Mary. In effect, with and only with the grace of the Lord can we always hope anew that the future will be better than the past. This does not in fact mean to trust in a more fortunate destiny, or in the modern trends of markets and of finance, but rather to make the effort ourselves to be a little better and more responsible, to be able to count on the kindness of the Lord. And this is always possible, because “[God] has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1: 2) and speaks to us continually, through the preaching of the Gospel and through the voice of our conscience. In Jesus Christ the road to salvation has been shown to all people a salvation that is first of all spiritual redemption but that involves the entire human, including the social and historical, dimensions.

For this reason, while the Church celebrates the divine Motherhood of Mary Most Holy on this day that has been for more than 40 years the World Day of Peace, she points to Jesus Christ as Prince of Peace to all. According to the tradition begun by the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, I have written for this occasion a special Message, choosing as its theme: “Fighting poverty to build peace”. In this way I wish to place myself in dialogue once again with the leaders of nations and of international institutions, offering the Catholic Church’s contribution for the promotion of a world order worthy of man. At the beginning of a new year, my first goal is precisely that of inviting all political leaders and ordinary citizens to not be discouraged in the face of difficulties and failures, but instead to renew their efforts. In the second half of 2008 an economic crisis of vast proportions emerged. That crisis must be studied in depth, like a grave symptom whose cause requires investigation. It is not enough as Jesus would say to sew new patches onto an old garment (see Mk 2: 21). To put the poor in first place means to decisively implement that kind of global solidarity that John Paul II had already indicated as necessary, uniting market potential with that of civil society (cf. Message, 12), in constant respect for the law and always in view of the common good.

Jesus Christ did not organize campaigns against poverty, but he proclaimed the Gospel to the poor, providing an integral redemption from moral and material misery. The Church does the same, with its tireless work of evangelization and of human advancement. Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, so that she may help all peoples to walk together on the Way of peace.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
AND 42nd WORLD DAY OF PEACE


HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Thursday, 1st January 2009

Venerable Brothers,
Mr Ambassadors,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the first day of the year, divine Providence brings us together for a celebration that moves us each time because of the riches and beauty of its correspondence: the civil New Year converges with the culmination of the Octave of Christmas on which the divine Motherhood of Mary is celebrated, and this gathering is summed up felicitously in the World Day of Peace. In the light of Christ’s Nativity, I am pleased to address my best wishes to each one for the year that has just begun. I address them in particular to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and his collaborators of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, with special gratitude for their precious service. I also address them to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and to the entire Secretariat of State; and likewise, with deep cordiality, I address them to the large number of Ambassadors present today. My good wishes echo the good wishes that the Lord himself has just addressed to us in the liturgy of the Word. A Word which, starting with the event in Bethlehem, recalled in its historical actuality by the Gospel of Luke (2: 16-21) and reinterpreted in all its saving importance by the Apostle Paul (Gal 4: 4-7), becomes a Blessing for the People of God and for all humanity.

Thus the ancient Jewish tradition of blessing is brought to completion (Nm 6: 22-27): the priests of Israel blessed the people by putting the Lord’s Name upon them: “so shall they put my name upon the people of Israel”. With a triple formula present in the First Reading the sacred Name was invoked upon the faithful three times, as a wish for grace and peace. This remote custom brings us back to an essential reality: to be able to walk on the way of peace, men and women and peoples need to be illumined by the “Face” of God and to be blessed by his “Name”. Precisely this came about definitively with the Incarnation: the coming of the Son of God in our flesh and in history brought an irrevocable blessing, a light that is never to be extinguished and offers believers and people of good-will alike the possibility of building the civilization of love and peace.

The Second Vatican Council said in this regard that “by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man” (Gaudium et spes, no. 22). This union confirms the original design of a humanity created in the “image and likeness” of God. In fact, the Incarnate Word is the one, perfect and consubstantial image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ is the perfect man. “Human nature”, the Council reaffirms: “by the very fact that it was assumed... in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare” (ibid.). For this reason the earthly history of Jesus that culminated in the Paschal Mystery is the beginning of a new world, because he truly inaugurated a new humanity, ever and only with Christ’s grace, capable of bringing about a peaceful “revolution”. This revolution was not an ideological but spiritual revolution, not utopian but real, and for this reason in need of infinite patience, sometimes of very long periods, avoiding any short cuts and taking the hardest path: the path of the development of responsibility in consciences.

Dear friends, this is the Gospel way to peace, the way that the Bishop of Rome is called to reproprose with constancy every time that he sets his hand to writing the annual Message for the World Day of Peace. In taking this path it is at times necessary to review aspects and problems that have already been faced but that are so important that they constantly require fresh attention. This is the case of the theme I have chosen for the Message this year: “Fighting poverty to build peace”. This is a theme that lends itself to a dual order of considerations which I can only mention briefly here. On the one hand the poverty Jesus chose and proposed and on the other, the poverty to be combated in order to bring the world greater justice and solidarity.

The first aspect acquires its ideal context during these days in the Christmas Season. The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem reveals to us that God chose poverty for himself in coming among us. The scene that the shepherds were the first to see and that confirmed the angel’s announcement to them, was a stable in which Mary and Joseph had found shelter, and a manger in which the Virgin had laid the newborn Child wrapped in swaddling clothes (see Lk 2: 7, 12, 16). God chose this poverty. He wanted to be born thus but we can immediately add: he wanted to live and also to die in this condition. Why? St Alphonsus Maria Liguori explains it in a Christmas carol that is known all over Italy: “You, Creator of the world had no clothes, no fire, O my Lord. My dear Divine Child, how I love this poverty, since for love you made yourself poorer still”. This is the answer: love for us impelled Jesus not only to make himself man, but also to make himself poor. Along these same lines we can quote St Paul’s words in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “For you are well acquainted”, he writes, with “the favor shown you by our Lord Jesus Christ: how for your sake he made himself poor though he was rich, so that you might become rich by his poverty” (8: 9). St Francis of Assisi was an exemplary witness of this poverty chosen for love. The Franciscan charism, in the history of the Church and of Christian civilization, constitutes a widespread trend of evangelical poverty which has done and continues to do such great good for the Church and for the human family. Returning to St Paul’s wonderful synthesis on Jesus, it is significant also for our reflection today that it was inspired in the Apostle precisely while he was urging the Christians of Corinth to be generous in collecting money for the poor. He explains: “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want” (2 Cor 8: 13).

This is a crucial point that brings us to the second aspect: there is a poverty, a deprivation, which God does not desire and which should be “fought” as the theme of this World Day of Peace says; a poverty that prevents people and families from living as befits their dignity; a poverty that offends justice and equality and that, as such, threatens peaceful co-existence. This negative acceptation also includes all the non-material forms of poverty that are also to be found in the rich and developed societies: marginalization, relational, moral and spiritual poverty (see Message for the World Day of Peace 2009, no. 2). In my Message I wanted once again, following in the wake of my Predecessors, to consider attentively the complex phenomenon of globalization and its relation to widespread poverty. In the face of widespread scourges such as pandemic diseases (ibid., no. 4), child poverty (ibid., no. 5), the food crisis (ibid., no. 7), I have unfortunately had to return to denouncing the unacceptable arms race. On the one hand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being celebrated, and on the other, military expenditure is increasing, thereby violating the Charter of the United Nations, which endeavors to reduce this expenditure to the minimum (see art. 26). Furthermore, globalization eliminates certain barriers but it can build others (op. cit. Message for the World Day of Peace 2009, no. 8). The international community and the individual States must therefore always be alert; they must never lose sight of the dangers of conflict. On the contrary, they must strive to keep the level of solidarity high. The current global financial crisis must be seen in this regard also as a bench test: are we ready to interpret it, in its complexity, as a challenge for the future and not only as an emergency to which we must find short-term solutions? Are we prepared to undertake a profound revision of the prevalent model of development in order to correct it with concerted, far-sighted interventions? In reality, this is required by the state of the planet’s ecological health and especially the cultural and moral crisis whose symptoms have been visible for some time in every part of the world, far more than by the immediate financial problems.

Thus it is necessary to seek to establish a “virtuous circle” between the poverty “to be chosen” and the poverty “to be fought”. This gives access to a path rich in fruits for humanity’s present and future and which could be summarized thus: to fight the evil poverty that oppresses so many men and women and threatens the peace of all, it is necessary to rediscover moderation and solidarity as evangelical, and at the same time universal, values. More practically, it is impossible to combat poverty effectively unless one does what St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in other words if one does not seek “to create equality”, reducing the gap between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack what they need. This entails just and sober decisions, which are moreover made obligatory by the need to administer the earth’s limited resources wisely. When he says that Jesus Christ “for [our] sake became poor”, St Paul offers an important indication not only from the theological point of view but also at the sociological level; not in the sense that poverty is a value in itself, but because it is a condition that demonstrates solidarity. When Francis of Assisi stripped himself of his possessions, it was a decision to witness that was inspired in him directly by God, but at the same time it shows everyone the way of trust in Providence. Thus, in the Church, the vow of poverty is the commitment of some, but it reminds all of the need to be detached from material goods and of the primacy of spiritual riches. This is therefore the message for us today: the poverty of Christ’s Birth in Bethlehem, as well as being the subject of adoration for Christians, is also a school of life for every man. It teaches us that to fight both material and spiritual poverty, the path to take is the path of solidarity that impelled Jesus to share our human condition.

Dear brothers and sisters, I believe that the Virgin Mary must have asked herself this question several times: why did Jesus choose to be born of a simple, humble girl like me? And then, why did he want to come into the world in a stable and have his first visit from the shepherds of Bethlehem? Mary received her answer in full at the end, having laid in the tomb the Body of Jesus, dead and wrapped in a linen shroud (see Lk 23: 53). She must then have fully understood the mystery of the poverty of God. She understood that God made himself poor for our sake, to enrich us with his poverty full of love, to urge us to impede the insatiable greed that sparks conflicts and divisions, to invite us to moderate the mania to possess and thus to be open to reciprocal sharing and acceptance. Let us trustingly address to Mary, Mother of the Son of God who made himself our brother, our prayer that she will help us follow in his footsteps, to fight and overcome poverty, to build true peace, which is opus iustitiae. Let us entrust to her the profound desire to live in peace that wells up in the hearts of the vast majority of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, once again jeopardized by the outbreak of violence on a massive scale in the Gaza Strip, in response to other violent incidents. Even violence, even hatred and distrust are forms of poverty perhaps the most appalling “to fight”. May they not get the upper hand! In this regard the Pastors of those Churches, in these distressing days, have made their voices heard. Together with them and their beloved faithful, especially those of the small but fervent parish of Gaza, let us place at Mary’s feet our anxieties for the present and our fears for the future, and likewise the well-founded hope that with the wise and far-sighted contribution of all it will not be impossible to listen to one another, to come to one another’s help and to give concrete responses to the widespread aspiration to live in peace, safety and dignity. Let us say to Mary: accompany us, heavenly Mother of the Redeemer, throughout the year that begins today, and obtain from God the gift of peace for the Holy Land and for all humanity. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. Amen.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Thursday, 31 December 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of a year full of events for both the Church and the world we are meeting this evening in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and to raise a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord of time and history.

It is first of all the words of the Apostle Paul that we have just heard which shed a special light on the conclusion of the year: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman... so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4: 4-5).

The concentrated Pauline passage speaks to us of “time... fully come”, and enlightens us as to the content of these words. In the history of the human family, God wanted to introduce his eternal Word, making him take on a humanity like our own. With the Incarnation of the Son of God, eternity entered time and human history was opened to absolute fulfilment in God. Time was, so to speak, “touched” by Christ, the Son of God and of Mary, and received from him new and surprising significance: it became a time of salvation and grace. In this same perspective, we must consider the time of the year that is ending and of that which is beginning so that we may put the most different events of our life important or small, simple or undecipherable, joyful or sad under the sign of salvation and hear the call God is addressing to us in order to lead us toward a goal that lies beyond time itself: eternity.

The Pauline text also means to underline the mystery of God’s closeness to all humankind. It is the closeness proper to the mystery of Christmas: God makes himself man and man is given the unheard-of possibility to be a son of God. All this fills us with great joy and leads us to offer praise to God. We are called to say with our voices, our hearts and our lives “thank you” to God for the gift of the Son, the source and fulfilment of all the other gifts with which divine love fills the existence of each one of us, of families, of communities, of the Church and of the world. The hymn of the Te Deum which today rings out in churches in every corner of the earth is intended as a sign of the joyful gratitude with which we address God for all that he has offered us in Christ. Truly “from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1: 16).

In keeping with a happy custom, this evening I would like to thank the Lord with you in particular for the superabundance of graces he has lavished upon our diocesan community of Rome in the course of the year that is coming to a close. I would like first of all to address a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, to the Auxiliary Bishops, to the priests, to the consecrated people, as well as to the many lay faithful who are gathered here. I likewise greet the Mayor and Authorities present with respectful cordiality. I then extend my thoughts to all who live in our city, particularly those who are in situations of difficulty and hardship: I assure to each and every one my spiritual closeness, strengthened by constant remembrance in prayer.

As regards the progress of the Diocese of Rome, I renew my appreciation of the pastoral decision to dedicate time to review the ground covered in order to increase the sense of belonging to the Church and to foster pastoral co-responsibility. To emphasize the importance of this reappraisal, I too wished to make my own contribution by addressing the Diocesan Convention at St John Lateran, in the afternoon of last 26 May. I rejoice because the diocesan programme is proceeding positively, with a far-reaching apostolic action. It is being carried out in the parishes, the prefectures and the various ecclesial associations in two essential contexts for the life and mission of the Church: the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist and the witness of charity. I would like to encourage the faithful to participate in large numbers in the assemblies that will be held in the various parishes so as to make an effective contribution to building up the Church. Today too, the Lord wants to make his love for humanity known to the inhabitants of Rome and entrusts to each one, in the diversity of ministries and responsibilities, the mission of proclaiming his word of truth and of witnessing to charity and solidarity.

Only by contemplating the mystery of the Incarnate Word can human beings find the answer to the great questions of human existence and thus discover the truth of their own identity. For this reason the Church, throughout the world and also here in the City, is working to promote the integral development of the human person. I was therefore pleased to learn that a series of “cultural meetings in the Cathedral” have been planned, whose theme will be my recent Encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

For some years many families, numerous teachers and parish communities have been dedicated to helping young people build their future on firm foundations, especially on the rock that is Jesus Christ. I hope that this renewed educational commitment may increasingly achieve a fertile synergy between the ecclesial community and the City so as to help young people plan their own lives. I likewise express the wish that a precious contribution in this important area may come from the Convention promoted by the Vicariate that will be held next March.

To be authoritative witnesses of the truth about the human being prayerful listening to the word of God is essential. In this regard, I would like above all to recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina. The parishes and the various ecclesial realities, also thanks to the booklet prepared by the Vicariate, will be able to promote this ancient practice and put it to good use so that it becomes an essential part of ordinary pastoral care.

The word, believed, proclaimed and lived impels us to acts of solidarity and sharing. In praising the Lord for the help that the Christian communities have been able to offer generously to all who have knocked at their door, I would like to encourage all to persevere in their commitment to alleviating the difficulties besetting many families, sorely tried by the economic crisis and unemployment. May the Nativity of the Lord which reminds us of how God came to save us of his own free will, taking on our humanity and giving us his divine life help every person of good will to understand that it is only by opening oneself to God’s love that human action is changed and transformed, becoming the leaven of a better future for all.

Dear brothers and sisters, Rome needs priests who are courageous heralds of the Gospel and, at the same time, reveal the merciful face of the Father. I invite young people not to be afraid to respond with the complete gift of their lives to the call that the Lord addresses to them to follow him on the path of priesthood or of consecrated life.

I hope, from this moment, that the meeting next 25 March, the 25th anniversary of the institution of the World Youth Day and the 10th anniversary of the unforgettable Day at Tor Vergata, may be for all the parish and religious communities, and for the movements and associations, a strong moment of reflection and invocation, to obtain from the Lord the gift of numerous vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

As we take our leave of the year that is ending and set out towards the new one, today’s Liturgy ushers us into the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin is Mother of the Church and Mother of each one of her members, that is, Mother of each of us, in Christ. Let us ask her to accompany us with her caring protection, today and for ever, so that Christ may one day welcome into his glory, into the assembly of the Saints: Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari. Alleluia! Amen!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
43rd WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Friday, 1st January 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Lord grants us to begin a new year in his Name and under the gaze of Mary Most Holy, the Solemnity of whose Divine Motherhood we are celebrating today. I am glad to meet you for this first Angelus of 2010. I address those of you who have gathered in large numbers in St Peter’s Square and also those who have joined us in our prayer via radio and television. I wish for you all that the year which has just begun may be a time in which, with the Lord’s help, we may satisfy Christ and God’s will, and thus also improve this world of ours.

One objective that may be shared by everyone, an indispensable condition for peace, is the administration of the earth’s natural resources fairly and wisely. “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation”, is the timely theme to which I have dedicated my Message for today’s 43rd World Day of Peace. When the Message was published, the Heads of State and Government were meeting in Copenhagen for the Summit on the climate at which, once again, the urgent need for concerted approaches at the global level became apparent. At this moment, however, I would like to stress the importance that the decisions of individuals, families and local administrations also have in the preservation of the environment. “We can no longer do without a real change of outlook which will result in new life-styles” (see Message, no. 11). In fact we are all responsible for the protection and care of creation. Therefore in this field too education is fundamental; to learn to respect nature, to be increasingly disposed; to begin building peace “with far-reaching decisions on the part of individuals, families, communities and states” (ibid.).

If we must care for the creatures that surround us, what consideration we should have for people, our brothers and sisters! What respect for human life! On the first day of the year I would like to address an appeal to the consciences of all who belong to armed groups of any kind. I say to each and every one: stop, think and abandon the path of violence! At the moment this step might seem impossible to you; but if you have the courage to take it, God will assist you and you will feel returning to your hearts the joy of peace which perhaps you have forgotten for some time. I entrust this appeal to the intercession of Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God. The Liturgy today reminds us that eight days after the birth of the Child, together with Joseph her husband she had him circumcised, in accordance with Mosaic law, and called him Jesus, the name given to him by the Angel (see Lk 2: 21). This name, which means “God saves”, is the fulfilment of God’s revelation. Jesus is the Face of God, he is the blessing for every person and for all peoples, he is peace for the world. Thank you, Blessed Mother, who gave birth to the Savior, the Prince of Peace!


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
43rd WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Friday, 1st January 2010

Venerable Brothers,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the first day of the New Year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both these events we are celebrating Christ, Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and our true peace! To all of you who are gathered here: representatives of the world’s peoples, of the Roman and universal Church, priests and faithful; and to all who are connected via radio and television, I repeat the words of the ancient Blessing: “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Nm 6: 26). Today I wish to develop precisely the theme of the Face and of faces, in the light of the word of God the Face of God and human faces a theme that also gives us a key to the interpretation of the problem of peace in the world.

We heard in both the First Reading from the Book of Numbers and in the Responsorial Psalm, several expressions with reference to God that contain the metaphor of the face: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you, / and be gracious to you” (Nm 6: 25). “May God be gracious to us and bless us /and make his face to shine upon us / that your way may be known upon earth, / your saving power among all nations” (Ps 67[66]: 1-3). The face is the expression of the person par excellence. It is what makes him or her recognizable and from it transpire sentiments, thoughts and heartfelt intentions. God by his nature is invisible, yet the Bible applies this image to him too. Showing his face is an expression of his benevolence, whereas hiding it indicates his anger and indignation. The Book of Exodus says that “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33: 11), and again it was to Moses that the Lord promised his closeness with a very unusual formula: “my presence [face] will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex 33: 14). The Psalms show believers to us as those who seek God’s Face (see Ps 27[26]: 8); 105[104]: 4), and who, in worship, long to see him (Ps 42[41]: 3) and tell us that “the upright” shall “behold his face” (Ps 11[10]: 7).

One may interpret the whole biblical narrative as the gradual revelation of the Face of God, until it reaches his full manifestation in Jesus Christ. “When the time had fully come”, the Apostle Paul has reminded us today too, “God sent forth his Son”, (Gal 4: 4), immediately adding, “born of woman, born under the law”. God’s Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of “Mother of God”. She, who had preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb. The Mother had a very special, unique and, in a certain way, exclusive relationship with the newborn Son. The first face a child sees is that of his mother and this gaze is crucial for his relationship with life, with himself, with others and with God; it is also crucial if he is to become a “son of peace” (Lk 10: 6). Among the many typologies of icons of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition is the one called “of tenderness” that portrays the Child Jesus with his face resting, cheek to cheek, against his Mother’s. The Child gazes at the Mother and she is looking at us, almost as if to mirror for those who are observing and praying the tenderness of God who came down to her from Heaven and was incarnate in the Son of man, whom she holds in her arms. We can contemplate in this Marian image something of God himself: a sign of the ineffable love that impelled him “to give his Only Son” (see Jn 3: 16). But that same icon also shows us, in Mary, the face of the Church which reflects Christ’s light upon us and upon the whole world, the Church through which the Good News reaches every person: “You are no longer a slave but a son” (Gal 4: 7), as once again we read in St Paul.

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Mr Ambassadors, dear friends, meditating on the mystery of the Face of God and on the human face is a privileged path that leads to peace. It starts, in fact, with a respectful look that recognizes a person in the face of the other, whatever the color of his skin, whatever his nationality, language or religion. But who, other than God, can guarantee, so to speak, the “depth” of the human face? In fact, only if we have God in our hearts are we able to perceive in the face of the other a brother in humanity, not a means but an end, not a rival or enemy but another self, another facet of the infinite mystery of the human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of our fellows, depends essentially on the presence within us of God’s Spirit. It is a sort of “resonance”: those whose hearts are empty only perceive flat images lacking in depth. On the other hand, the more we are inhabited by God the more we are sensitive to his presence in our surroundings: in all creatures and especially in other human beings, although the human face, in turn marked by the trials of life and by evil, may be difficult to appreciate and accept as an epiphany of God. With all the more reason then, to recognize and respect each other as we really are, in other words as brothers and sisters, we need to refer to the Face of a common Father who loves us all despite our limitations and failings.

It is important to be taught respect for others, even when they are different from us, from an early age. Increasingly today classes in schools consist of children of various nationalities but even when this is not the case their faces are a prophecy of the humanity we are called to form: a family of families and peoples. The smaller these children are, the more they awaken in us tenderness and joy at an innocence and brotherhood that seem obvious to us despite their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, they have the same needs, they communicate spontaneously, they play together.... Children’s faces are like a reflection of God’s gaze on the world. So why extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts? Unfortunately the icon of the Mother of the God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the sorrowful images of so many children and their mothers at the mercy of war and violence, refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger and disease, faces disfigured by suffering and desperation and the faces of little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility: before their helpless plight, all the false justifications of war and violence fall away. We must simply convert to projects of peace, lay down every kind of weapon and strive all together to build a world that is worthier of the human being.

My Message for today’s 43rd World Day of Peace, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation”, fits within the perspective of God’s Face and of human faces. Indeed, we can say that the human being is capable of respecting creatures insofar as he bears in his mind a full sense of life, otherwise he will be inclined to despise himself and all that surrounds him, to have no respect for the environment in which he lives and no respect for Creation. Those who can recognize in the cosmos the reflections of the Creator’s invisible face, tend to have greater love for creatures and greater sensitivity to their symbolic value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in testimonies of this truly human way of relating to nature: to the sky, the sea, mountains, hills, rivers, animals.... “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” the Psalmist explains: “In wisdom have you made them all; / the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps 104[103]: 24).

The perspective of the “face” in particular invites us to reflect on what, also in this Message, I have called “human ecology”. In fact there is a very close connection between respect for the human being and the safeguard of creation. “Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others” (no. 12). If the person becomes degenerate the environment in which he lives deteriorates; if culture is inclined to nihilism if not theoretical practical nature cannot but pay the consequences. In fact, it is possible to note a reciprocal influence between the human face and the “face” of the environment: “when “human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits” (Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, no. 51). I therefore renew my appeal to invest in education, proposing as an objective, in addition to the necessary transmission of technical and scientific notions, a broader and deeper “ecological responsibility”, based on respect for human beings and their fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way can the commitment to the environment truly become an education in peace and in building peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, a Psalm recurs in the Christmas Season that contains, amongst other things, a wonderful example of how God’s coming will transfigure the creation and give rise to a sort of cosmic celebration. This hymn begins with an invitation to all peoples to praise: “Sing to the Lord a new song; / sing to the Lord, all the earth! / Sing to the Lord, bless his Name” (Ps 96[95]: 1). Yet at a certain point this appeal for exultation is extended to the whole of creation: “Let the Heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; / let the sea roar, and all that fills it; / let the field exalt, and everything in it! / Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy” (vv. 11-12). The celebration of faith becomes a celebration of the human being and of creation: that celebration which is also expressed at Christmas in decorations on trees, in streets and in houses. Everything flourishes anew because God has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (see Lk 2: 20). The Church renews the mystery for people of every generation, she shows them God’s Face so that, with his Blessing, they may walk on the path of peace.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Friday, 31 December 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of a year we meet this evening in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God and to raise a hymn of thanksgiving for the innumerable graces she has given us, but also and above all for Grace in person, namely for the living and personal Gift of the Father which is his beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is this gratitude for the gifts received from God in the time we are granted to live that helps us to discover a great value inscribed in time: marked in its annual, monthly, weekly and daily seasons, it is inhabited by the love of God, by his gifts of grace; it is the time of salvation. Yes, eternal God has entered and remains in human time. He has entered and remains in it with the Person of Jesus, the Son of God made man, the Savior of the world. It is of this that the Apostle Paul has reminded us in the brief Reading just proclaimed: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son… so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

Thus the Eternal enters time and renews it from the roots, freeing man from sin and making him a son of God. Already “in the beginning”, that is, with the creation of the world and of man in the world, the eternity of God caused time — in which human history takes place from generation to generation — to unfold. With the coming of Christ and with his redemption, we are now in the time that has “fully come”.

As St Paul points out, with Jesus time fully comes, it reaches fulfilment, acquiring that meaning of salvation and grace for which it was desired by God before the creation of the world.

Christmas reminds us of this “fullness” of time, in other words of the renewing salvation which Jesus brought to all mankind. It reminds us of it and, mysteriously but really, gives it to us ever anew. Our human time is full of evil, of suffering, every kind of tragedy — from those caused by the wickedness of human beings to those that derive from inauspicious natural events, — but henceforth and in a definitive and indelible manner it contains 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 encounter of eternity with time, as the Church’s Liturgy likes to express it. Christmas makes us rediscover God in the humble, frail flesh of a Child.

Is this not perhaps an invitation to rediscover God’s presence and his love which gives salvation even in the brief and stressful hours of our daily life? Is it not perhaps an invitation to discover that our human time — even in difficult and demanding moments — is ceaselessly enriched by the Lord’s grace, indeed by Grace, which is the Lord himself?

At the end of this year 2010, before consigning the days and hours to God and to his just and merciful judgment, I feel the need in my heart to raise our “thank you” to him for his love for us.

In this atmosphere of gratitude, I would like to address a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, to the Auxiliary Bishops, to the priests, to the consecrated people, as well as to the many lay faithful who are gathered here. I greet Hon. Mr Mayor and the Authorities present. A special remembrance goes to all those who are in difficulty and are spending these days of festivity in hardship and suffering. I assure each and every one of 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 to the beauty of faith. In order to be authentic disciples of Christ, an essential aid comes to us in the daily meditation of the word of God which “is the basis”, as I wrote in my recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini “of all authentic Christian spirituality” (no. 86).

For this reason I wish to encourage everyone to cultivate an intense relationship with it, in particular through the lectio divina, in order to have that light we need to discern the signs of God in the present time and to proclaim the Gospel effectively.

In Rome too, in fact, there is an ever greater need for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel so that the hearts of our city’s inhabitants may be opened to the encounter with that Child, who was born for us, with Christ, Redeemer of man. For, as the Apostle Paul recalls: “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17), a useful help in this evangelizing action can come — as was previously experienced during the City Mission in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 — from “Centers for listening to the Gospel”, whose refoundation or revitalization I encourage, not only in condominiums but also in hospitals, in work places and in those where the new generations are formed and where culture is elaborated.

Indeed, the Word of God became flesh for all and his truth is accessible to every human being and to every culture.

I learned with appreciation of the most recent commitment of the Vicariate in organizing the “Dialogues in the Cathedral”, which have been held in the Basilica of St John Lateran. These important meetings express the Church’s desire to encounter all those who are in search of answers to the deep questioning of human life.

The privileged place for listening to the Word of God is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Diocesan Convention last June, in which I took part, wanted to highlight the centrality of Holy Mass on Sundays in the life of every Christian community and offered guidelines so that the beauty of the divine mysteries might be more resplendent in the celebrative act and in the spiritual fruits that derive from it.

I encourage parish priests and priests to put into practice what was pointed out in the pastoral programme: the formation of a liturgical group to animate the celebration and a catechesis that helps everyone to become better acquainted with the Eucharistic Mystery from which flows the witness of charity.

Nourished by Christ, we too are attracted by the very act of total giving that impelled the Lord to give his life itself, revealing in this way the immense love of the Father. The witness of charity therefore possesses an essential theological dimension and is profoundly united with the proclamation of the word.

At this celebration of thanksgiving to God for the gifts received during the year, I remember in particular the Visit I made to the Caritas Hostel at Termini Station, where, through the service and generous dedication of numerous volunteers, so many men and women can tangibly feel God’s love.

The present time is still giving rise to anxiety about the precarious plight of many families and asks the entire diocesan community to be close to those who are living in conditions of poverty and hardship.

May God, infinite Love, enflame the heart of each one of us with that love which impelled him to give us his Only-Begotten Son.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are asked to look to the future and to look to it with that hope [trust] which is the last word of the “Te Deum”: “In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum! — O Lord, in you have I trusted, let me never be confounded”. It is always Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, who gives us Christ our Hope. May her arms, and especially her heart, continue to offer to the world Jesus, her Son and our Savior, as they did to the shepherds and to the Magi. All our hope is in him, because salvation and peace came from him for every human being. Amen.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
44th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Saturday, 1st January 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this first Angelus of 2011, I offer everyone my good wishes for peace and well-being as I entrust them to Mary Most Holy, whom we celebrate today as Mother of God. At the beginning of a new year the Christian people gathers in spirit at the Grotto in Bethlehem, where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

We ask the Mother for her Blessing and she blesses us by showing us the Son: indeed, he in person, is the Blessing. In giving us Jesus God has given us everything: his love, his life, the light of truth, the forgiveness of sins; he has given us peace. Yes, Jesus Christ is our peace (see Eph 2:14). He brought into the world the seed of love and peace, that is stronger than the seed of hatred and violence; stronger, because the Name of Jesus is superior to any other name, it contains the whole Lordship of God, as the Prophet Micah announced: “But you, O Bethlehem... from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler.... He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.... And this shall be peace” (5:1-4).

This is why on this day, in front of the icon of the Virgin Mother, the Church invokes from God, through Jesus Christ, the gift of peace: the World Day of Peace is a favorable opportunity to reflect together on the great challenges our epoch confronts humanity with.

One such is religious freedom, dramatically urgent in our day. For this reason, this year I have chosen to dedicate my Message to the theme: “Religious freedom, the path to peace”.

Today we are witnessing two opposing trends, two extremes, both negative: on the one hand secularism, which marginalizes religion in order to confine it to the private sphere; and on the other, fundamentalism which, on the contrary, would like to impose it upon everyone by force.

In reality, “God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian” (Message for the World Day of Peace 2011, no. 8).

Wherever religious freedom is effectively acknowledged the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and through a sincere search for the true and the good, the moral conscience and the institutions and civil coexistence themselves are strengthened (see ibid., no. 5). Religious freedom is therefore a privileged path for building peace.

Dear friends, let us once again turn our gaze to Jesus in the arms of Mary, his Mother. In looking at the One who is the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6), we understand that peace is not obtained with weapons nor with the power of economics, politics, culture or the media.

Peace is achieved by consciences that are open to the truth and to love. May God help us to progress on this path in the New Year he is granting us to live.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
44th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 1st January 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Still immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Christmas, in which we have contemplated the mystery of Christ’s birth, today we are celebrating the Virgin Mary, whom the Church venerates as Mother of God with the same sentiments since she gave flesh to the Son of the Eternal Father. The biblical Readings of this Solemnity put the emphasis mainly on the Son of God made man and on the “Name” of the Lord. The First Reading presents to us the solemn Blessing that the priests pronounced over the Israelites on the great religious feasts: it is marked, precisely, by the Name of the Lord, repeated three times, as if to express the fullness and power that derive from this invocation. This text of liturgical Blessing, in fact, calls to mind the riches of grace and peace that God gives to man, with a benevolent attitude to him, and which is expressed by the “shining” of the divine face and his “turning” it to us.

Today the Church listens once again to these words, while she asks the Lord to bless the New Year that has just begun, in the awareness that in the face of the tragic events that mark history, in the face of the logistics of war that unfortunately have not yet been fully overcome, God alone can move the human spirit in its depths and assure hope and peace to humanity. By now it is a firm tradition, on the first day of the year that, the Church throughout the world raise a unanimous prayer to invoke peace. It is good to begin a new stretch of the journey by setting out with determination on the path of peace. Today let us respond to the cry of so many men, women, children and elderly people who are the victims of war, which is the most appalling and violent face of history. Let us pray today that peace, which the Angels announced to the shepherds on Christmas night, may reach everywhere: “super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis” (Lk 2:14). For this reason, especially with our prayers, we wish to help every person and every people, in particular all those who have the responsibility of government, to walk with ever grater determination on the path of peace.

In the Second Reading St Paul sums up in the adoption as sons the work of salvation brought about by Christ in which the figure of Mary is honored. Thanks to her the Son of God, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4), was able to come into the world as a real man, in the fullness of time. This fulfilment, this fullness, concerns the past and the messianic expectations, which were brought about, but at the same time also refers to fullness in the absolute sense: in the Word made flesh, God said his ultimate and definitive word. Thus on the threshold of a new year, the invitation to walk joyfully towards the light of the “day that shall dawn... from on high” (Lk 1:78) resounds in this way, because in the Christian perspective all time is inhabited by God, there is no future that is not oriented to Christ and no fullness exists outside that of Christ.

Today’s Gospel passage ends with the imposition of the Name of Jesus, while Mary participates in silence, meditating in her heart upon the mystery of this Son of hers who in a completely unique way is a gift of God. But the Gospel passage we have heard particularly highlights the shepherds who returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). The Angel had announced to them that in the city of David, that is, Bethlehem, the Savior was born and that they would find the sign: a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (see Lk 2:11-12). Having left in haste, they had found Mary and Joseph and the Child. Let us note that the Evangelist speaks of Mary’s motherhood starting with the Son, with that “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes”, because it is he — the Word of God (Jn 1:14) — who is the reference point, the centre of the event that is being brought about, and it is he who ensures that Mary’s motherhood is described as “divine”.

This priority attention that today’s Readings pay to the “Son”, to Jesus, does not lessen the Mother’s role, on the contrary, it puts it in the right perspective: Mary, in fact, is the true Mother of God precisely by virtue of her total relationship to Christ. Therefore, in glorifying the Son one honors the Mother and in honoring the Mother one glorifies the Son. The title of “Mother of God” which the Liturgy highlights today, stresses the unique mission of the Blessed Virgin in the history of salvation: a mission that is at the root of the worship and devotion which the Christian people reserve for her. Indeed, Mary did not receive God’s gift for herself alone, but in order to bring him into the world: in her fruitful virginity, God gave men and women the gifts of eternal salvation (see Collect). And Mary continually offers her mediation to the People of God, on pilgrimage through history towards eternity, just as she once offered it to the shepherds of Bethlehem. She, who gave earthly life to the Son of God, continues to give human beings divine life, which is Jesus himself and his Holy Spirit. For this reason she is considered the Mother of every human being who is born to Grace and at the same time is invoked as Mother of the Church.

It is in the name of Mary, Mother of God and of men, that since 1 January 1968 the World Day of Peace has been celebrated throughout the world. Peace is a gift of God, as we heard in the First Reading: May “the Lord… give you peace” (Nm 6:26). It is a messianic gift par excellence, the first fruit of the love that Jesus gave us, it is our reconciliation and pacification with God. Peace is also a human value to be achieved at the social and political levels, but it is rooted in the mystery of Christ (see Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, nos. 77-90).

In this solemn celebration, on the occasion of the 44th World Day of Peace, I am glad to address my respectful greeting to the distinguished Ambassadors to the Holy See, with my best wishes for their mission. Then a cordial brotherly greeting goes to my Secretary of State and to the Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with a special thought for the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and for his collaborators. I would like to express to them my deep gratitude for their daily commitment to promote peaceful coexistence among the peoples and arouse an ever deeper awareness of peace in the Church and in the world. In this perspective, the ecclesial community is ever more committed to working, in accordance with the instructions of the Magisterium, to provide a reliable spiritual patrimony of values and principles in the continuous quest for peace.

I wished to recall in my Message for today’s Day, entitled “Religious freedom, the path to peace”: “The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels” (no. 15). I therefore stressed that “religious freedom… is an essential element of a constitutional State; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone” (no. 5).

Humanity cannot appear to be resigned to the negative power of selfishness and violence; it must not become accustomed to conflicts that claim victims and jeopardize the future of peoples. Before the threatening tensions of the moment and, especially, before the discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance that today are striking Christians in particular (see ibid., no. 1), I once again address a pressing invitation not to give in to discouragement and resignation. I urge everyone to pray so that the efforts made by various parties to promote and build peace in the world may be successful. For this difficult task words do not suffice; what is needed is the practical and constant effort of the leaders of Nations, and it is necessary above all that every person be motivated by the authentic spirit of peace, to be implored ever anew in prayer and to be lived in daily relations in every environment.

In this Eucharistic celebration we have before our eyes, for our veneration, the image of Our Lady of the Sacro Monte di Viggiano, so dear to the peoples of Basilicata. May the Virgin Mary give us her Son, may she show us the Face of her Son, the Prince of Peace. May she help us to remain in the light of this face that shines upon us (see Nm 6:25), in order to rediscover all the tenderness of God the Father; may it be she who supports us in invoking the Holy Spirit, so that he will renew the face of the earth and transform hearts, dissolving their hardness in the face of the disarming goodness of the Child who was born for us. May the Mother of God accompany us in this New Year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace. Amen.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

We have come together in the Vatican Basilica to celebrate First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and to give thanks to the Lord at the end of the year by singing the Te Deum together. I thank all of you for choosing to join me for this occasion that is always so poignant and significant. In the first place I greet the Cardinals, my brother Bishops and Priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons and members of the lay faithful representing the entire ecclesial community of Rome. In a particular way I greet the Authorities present, beginning with the Mayor of Rome, and I thank him for the gift of a chalice, a gift that is renewed every year, in accordance with a fine tradition. I hope and pray that all will remain committed to making this City ever more in tune with the values of faith, culture and civilization that form an integral part of its vocation and its thousands of years of history.

Another year is drawing to a close, as we await the start of a new one: with some trepidation, with our perennial desires and expectations. Reflecting on our life experience, we are continually astonished by how ultimately short and ephemeral life is. So we often find ourselves asking: what meaning can we give to our days? What meaning, in particular, can we give to the days of toil and grief? This is a question that permeates history, indeed it runs through the heart of every generation and every individual. But there is an answer: it is written on the face of a Child who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and is today the Living One, risen for ever from the dead. From within the fabric of humanity, rent asunder by so much injustice, wickedness and violence, there bursts forth in an unforeseen way the joyful and liberating novelty of Christ our Savior, who leads us to contemplate the goodness and tenderness of God through the mystery of his Incarnation and Birth. The everlasting God has entered our history and he remains present in a unique way in the person of Jesus, his incarnate Son, our Savior, who came down to earth to renew humanity radically and to free us from sin and death, to raise us to the dignity of God’s children. Christmas not only recalls the historical fulfilment of this truth that concerns us directly, but in a mysterious and real way, gives it to us afresh.

How evocative it is, at this close of a year, to listen again to the joyful message addressed by Saint Paul to the Christians of Galatia: “when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). These words penetrate the heart of the history of us all and illumine it, or rather, they save it, because since the Day of the Lord’s Nativity, the fullness of time has reached us. So there is no more room for anxiety in the face of time that passes, never to return; now there is room for unlimited trust in God, by whom we know we are loved, for whom we live and to whom our life is directed as we await his definitive return. Since the Savior came down from heaven, man has ceased to be the slave of time that passes to no avail, marked by toil, sadness and pain. Man is son of a God who has entered time so as to redeem it from meaninglessness and negativity, a God who has redeemed all humanity, giving it everlasting love as a new perspective of life.

The Church lives and professes this truth and intends to proclaim it today with fresh spiritual vigor. In tonight’s celebration we have special reasons to praise God for his mystery of salvation, active in the world through the ministry of the Church. We have so many reasons to thank the Lord for what our ecclesial community, at the heart of the universal Church, is accomplishing in the service of the Gospel in this City. In that regard, together with the Vicar General, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Auxiliary Bishops, parish priests and the whole diocesan presbyterate, I would like to thank the Lord especially for the promising communal project aimed at tailoring day-to-day pastoral work to the demands of our time, through the programme “Belonging to the Church and Pastoral Co-responsibility”. The aim is give first priority to evangelization, so as to make the participation of the faithful in the sacraments more responsible and more fruitful, so that every person can speak of God to modern man and proclaim the Gospel incisively to those who have never known it or have forgotten it.

In the Diocese of Rome, as elsewhere, the most urgent pastoral challenge facing us is the quaestio fidei. Christ’s disciples are called to reawaken in themselves and in others the longing for God and the joy of living him and bearing witness to him, on the basis of what is always a deeply personal question: why do I believe? We must give primacy to truth, seeing the combination of faith and reason as two wings with which the human spirit can rise to the contemplation of the Truth (see Fides et Ratio, Prologue); we must ensure that the dialogue between Christianity and modern culture bears fruit; we must see to it that the beauty and contemporary relevance of the faith is rediscovered, not as an isolated event, affecting some particular moment in our lives, but as a constant orientation, affecting even the simplest choices, establishing a profound unity within the person, so that he becomes just, hard-working, generous and good. What is needed is to give new life to a faith that can serve as a basis for a new humanism, one that is able to generate culture and social commitment.

Within this framework, at the Diocesan Conference held last June, the Diocese of Rome launched a programme which sets out to explore more deeply the meaning of Christian initiation and the joy of bringing new Christians into the faith. To proclaim faith in the Word made flesh is, after all, at the heart of the Church’s mission, and the entire ecclesial community needs to rediscover this indispensable task with renewed missionary zeal. Young generations have an especially keen sense of the present disorientation, magnified by the crisis in economic affairs which is also a crisis of values, and so they in particular need to recognize in Jesus Christ “the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of human history” (Gaudium et Spes, 10).

Parents are the first educators in faith of their children, starting from a most tender age, and families must therefore be supported in their educational mission by appropriate initiatives. At the same time it is desirable that the baptismal journey, the first stage along the formative path of Christian initiation, in addition to fostering conscious and worthy preparation for the celebration of the Sacrament, should devote adequate attention to the years following Baptism, with appropriate programmes that take account of the life conditions that families must address. I therefore encourage parish communities and other ecclesial groupings to engage in continuing reflection on ways to promote a better understanding and reception of the sacraments, by which man comes to share in the very life of God. May the Church of Rome have no shortage of lay faithful who are ready to make their own contribution to building living communities that allow the Word of God to burst forth in the hearts of those who have not yet known the Lord or have moved away from him. At the same time, it is appropriate to create opportunities to encounter the City, giving rise to fruitful dialogue with those who are searching for Truth.

Dear friends, ever since God sent his only-begotten Son, so that we might obtain adoptive sonship (see Gal 4:5), we can have no greater task than to be totally at the service of God’s plan. And so I would like to encourage and thank all the faithful from the Diocese of Rome who feel a responsibility to restore our society’s soul. Thank you, Roman families, the first and fundamental cells of society! Thank you, members of the many Communities, Associations and Movements that are committed to animating the Christian life of our City.

Te Deum laudamus! We praise you, O God! The Church suggests that we should not end the year without expressing our thanks to the Lord for all his benefits. It is in God that our last hour must come to a close, the last hour of time and history. To overlook this goal of our lives would be to fall into the void, to live without meaning. Hence the Church places on our lips the ancient hymn Te Deum. It is a hymn filled with the wisdom of many Christian generations, who feel the need to address on high their heart’s desires, knowing that all of us are in the Lord’s merciful hands.

Te Deum laudamus! This is also the song of the Church in Rome, for the wonders that God has worked and continues to work in her. With hearts full of thanksgiving, let us prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord is watching over us and guarding us. To him this evening we wish to entrust the whole world. Let us place in his hands the tragedies of this world and let us also offer him our hopes for a brighter future. And let us place these prayers in the hands of Mary, Mother of God, Salus Populi Romani. Amen.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
45th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Sunday, 1st January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The triple biblical blessing rings out in the liturgy on this first day of the year. “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). We can contemplate the Face of God he himself made visible, he revealed himself in Jesus; he is the visible image of the invisible God. And this is also thanks to the Virgin Mary, whose greatest title we celebrate today; the title with which she plays a unique role in the history of salvation, as Mother of God. In her womb the Son of the Most High took our flesh and we can contemplate his glory (see Jn 1:14), and feel his presence as God-with-us.

Thus we begin the New Year 2012 by fixing our gaze on the Face of God, who is revealed in the Child of Bethlehem, and on his Mother Mary who accepted the divine plan with humble abandonment. Thanks to her generous “yes”, the true light that enlightens every man appeared in the world (see Jn 1:9) and the way of peace was reopened to us.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, by now a felicitous custom, we are celebrating the 45th World Day of Peace. In the Message I addressed to Heads of State, Representatives of Nations and to all people of good will whose theme is “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace”, I wished to recall the need to offer the future generations suitable educational curricula for an integral formation of the person which includes the moral and spiritual dimension (see no. 3).

I wished to underline in particular the importance of teaching  the values of justice and peace. Young people today look to the future with a certain apprehension, drawing attention to certain aspects of their life that need to be addressed, for example: “they want to receive an education which prepares them more fully to deal with the real world, they see how difficult it is to form a family and to find stable employment; they wonder if they can really contribute to political, cultural and economic life in order to build a society with a more human and fraternal face” (no. 1).

I ask you all to have the patience and perseverance to seek justice and peace, to cultivate the taste for what is just and true (see no. 5). Peace is never a good fully achieved, but a goal for which we must all strive and for which we must all work.

Let us therefore pray, despite the difficulties that sometimes make our way arduous, that this profound aspiration may be expressed in concrete gestures of reconciliation, justice and peace. Let us also pray that the leaders of nations may renew their readiness and commitment to accept and encourage this irrepressible longing of humanity. Let us entrust these wishes to the intercession of the Mother of the “King of Peace”, so that the year which is beginning may be a time of hope and of peaceful coexistence for the whole world.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
45th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 1st January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

On the first day of the year, the liturgy resounds in the Church throughout the world with the ancient priestly blessing that we heard during today’s first reading: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. It is a triple blessing filled with light, radiating from the repetition of the name of God, the Lord, and from the image of his face. In fact, in order to be blessed, we have to stand in God’s presence, take his Name upon us and remain in the cone of light that issues from his Face, in a space lit up by his gaze, diffusing grace and peace.

This was the very experience that the shepherds of Bethlehem had, who reappear in today’s Gospel. They had the experience of standing in God’s presence, they received his blessing not in the hall of a majestic palace, in the presence of a great sovereign, but in a stable, before a “babe lying in a manger” (Lk 2:16). From this child, a new light issues forth, shining in the darkness of the night, as we can see in so many paintings depicting Christ’s Nativity. Henceforth, it is from him that blessing comes, from his name – Jesus, meaning “God saves” – and from his human face, in which God, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, chose to become incarnate, concealing his glory under the veil of our flesh, so as to reveal fully to us his goodness (see Tit 3:4).

The first to be swept up by this blessing was Mary the virgin, the spouse of Joseph, chosen by God from the first moment of her existence to be the mother of his incarnate Son. She is the “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42) – in the words of Saint Elizabeth’s greeting. Her whole life was spent in the light of the Lord, within the radius of his name and of the face of God incarnate in Jesus, the “blessed fruit of her womb”. This is how Luke’s Gospel presents her to us: fully intent upon guarding and meditating in her heart upon everything concerning her son Jesus (see Lk 2:19, 51). The mystery of her divine motherhood that we celebrate today contains in superabundant measure the gift of grace that all human motherhood bears within it, so much so that the fruitfulness of the womb has always been associated with God’s blessing. The Mother of God is the first of the blessed, and it is she who bears the blessing; she is the woman who received Jesus into herself and brought him forth for the whole human family. In the words of the liturgy: “without losing the glory of virginity, [she] brought forth into the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Preface I of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Mary is the mother and model of the Church, who receives the divine Word in faith and offers herself to God as the “good soil” in which he can continue to accomplish his mystery of salvation. The Church also participates in the mystery of divine motherhood, through preaching, which sows the seed of the Gospel throughout the world, and through the sacraments, which communicate grace and divine life to men. The Church exercises her motherhood especially in the sacrament of Baptism, when she generates God’s children from water and the Holy Spirit, who cries out in each of them: “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6). Like Mary, the Church is the mediator of God’s blessing for the world: she receives it in receiving Jesus and she transmits it in bearing Jesus. He is the mercy and the peace that the world, of itself, cannot give, and which it needs always, at least as much as bread.

Dear friends, peace, in the fullest and highest sense, is the sum and synthesis of all blessings. So when two friends meet, they greet one another, wishing each other peace. The Church too, on the first day of the year, invokes this supreme good in a special way; she does so, like the Virgin Mary, by revealing Jesus to all, for as Saint Paul says, “He is our peace” (Eph 2:14), and at the same time the “way” by which individuals and peoples can reach this goal to which we all aspire. With this deep desire in my heart, I am glad to welcome and greet all of you who have come to Saint Peter’s Basilica on this 45th World Day of Peace: Cardinals, Ambassadors from so many friendly countries, who more than ever on this happy occasion share with me and with the Holy See the desire for renewed commitment to the promotion of peace in the world; the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who with the Secretary and the officials of the Dicastery work in a particular way towards this goal; the other Bishops and Authorities present; the representatives of ecclesial Associations and Movements and all of you, brothers and sisters, especially those among you who work in the field of educating the young. Indeed – as you know – the role of education is what I highlighted in my Message for this year.

“Educating Young People in Justice and Peace” is a task for every generation, and thanks be to God, after the tragedies of the two great world wars, the human family has shown increasing awareness of it, as we can witness, on the one hand, from international statements and initiatives, and on the other, from the emergence among young people themselves, in recent decades, of many different forms of social commitment in this field. For the ecclesial community, educating men and women in peace is part of the mission received from Christ, it is an integral part of evangelization, because the Gospel of Christ is also the Gospel of justice and peace. But the Church, in recent times, has articulated a demand that affects everyone with a sensitive and responsible conscience regarding humanity’s future; the demand to respond to a decisive challenge that consists precisely in education. Why is this a “challenge”? For at least two reasons: in the first place, because in the present age, so strongly marked by a technological mentality, the desire to educate and not merely to instruct cannot be taken for granted, it is a choice; in the second place, because the culture of relativism raises a radical question: does it still make sense to educate? And then, to educate for what?

Naturally now is not the time to address these fundamental questions, which I have tried to answer on other occasions. Instead I would like to underline the fact that, in the face of the shadows that obscure the horizon of today’s world, to assume responsibility for educating young people in knowledge of the truth, in fundamental values and virtues, is to look to the future with hope. And in this commitment to a holistic education, formation in justice and peace has a place. Boys and girls today are growing up in a world that has, so to speak, become smaller, where contacts between different cultures and traditions, even if not always direct, are constant. For them, now more than ever, it is indispensable to learn the importance and the art of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding. Young people by their nature are open to these attitudes, but the social reality in which they grow up can lead them to think and act in the opposite way, even to be intolerant and violent. Only a solid education of their consciences can protect them from these risks and make them capable of carrying on the fight, depending always and solely on the power of truth and good. This education begins in the family and is developed at school and in other formative experiences. It is essentially about helping infants, children and adolescents to develop a personality that combines a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbour, with a capacity to address conflicts without arrogance, with the inner strength to bear witness to good, even when it involves sacrifice, with forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus they will be able to become people of peace and builders of peace.

In this task of educating young generations, a particular responsibility lies with religious communities. Every pathway of authentic religious formation guides the person, from the most tender age, to know God, to love him and to do his will. God is love, he is just and peaceable, and anyone wishing to honor him must first of all act like a child following his father’s example. One of the Psalms says: “The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgment for all who are oppressed ... The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy” (Ps 102:6,8). In God, justice and mercy come together perfectly, as Jesus showed us through the testimony of his life. In Jesus, “love and truth” have met, “justice and peace” have embraced (see Ps 84:11). In these days, the Church is celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation: God’s truth has sprung from the earth and justice looks down from heaven, the earth has yielded its fruit (see Ps 84:12,13). God has spoken to us in his Son Jesus. Let us hear what God has to say: “a voice that speaks of peace” (Ps 84:9). Jesus is a way that can be traveled, open to everyone. He is the path of peace. Today the Virgin Mary points him out to us, she shows us the Way: let us walk in it! And you, Holy Mother of God, accompany us with your protection. Amen.


TE DEUM AND FIRST VESPERS
OF THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

St Peter’s Basilica, Monday, 31 December 2012

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Presbyterate,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank all of you who have wished to take part in this liturgy of the last hour of the year of the Lord 2012. This “hour” has a special intensity and in a certain way sums up all the hours of the year that is about to end. I cordially greet the cardinals, bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, especially those who represent the ecclesial community of Rome. In a special way I greet all the authorities present, starting with the mayor of the city, and I thank them for having come to share with us this moment of prayer and thanksgiving to God.

The Te Deum we are raising to the Lord this evening, at the end of a solar year, is a hymn of thanksgiving that opens with praise: “We praise you, O God: We acclaim you as Lord” — and ends with a profession of trust — “in you, Lord, we put our trust; we shall not be put to shame”. However the year went, whether it was easy or difficult, barren or fruitful, let us give thanks to God. Indeed the Te Deum contains deep wisdom, that wisdom which makes us say that in spite of all good exists in the world and that this good is bound to win thanks be to God, the God of Jesus Christ, who was born, died and rose again.

At times of course it is hard to understand this profound reality, because evil is noisier than goodness; an atrocious murder, widespread violence, grave forms of injustice hit the headlines; whereas acts of love and service, the daily effort sustained with fidelity and patience are often left in the dark, they pass unnoticed. For this reason too, we cannot stop at reading the news if we wish to understand the world and life; we must be able to pause in silence, in meditation, in calm, prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think. In this way our mind can find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life, it can penetrate the events that occur in our life and in the world and can attain that wisdom which makes it possible to see things with new eyes.

It is above all in the recollection of the conscience that God speaks to us, so that we can learn to evaluate truthfully our own actions and also the evil present within us and around us. In this way we are able to start out afresh on a journey of conversion that makes us wiser and better people, more capable of generating solidarity and communion and of overcoming evil with good. Christians are people of hope, even and above all when they face the darkness that often exists in the world and has nothing to do with God’s plan but is the result of the erroneous choices of human beings, for Christians know that the power of faith can move mountains (see Mt 17:20): The Lord can illuminate even the thickest darkness.

The Year of Faith, which the Church is living, aims to inspire in every believer’s heart a greater awareness that the encounter with Christ is the fount of true life and of sound hope. Faith in Jesus makes possible a constant renewal in goodness, as well as the ability to extricate ourselves from the quicksands of sin and to start out afresh.

In the Word made flesh it is possible, ever anew, to find the true identity of the human being who realizes that he or she is the recipient of God’s infinite love and is called to personal communion with him. The truth that Jesus Christ came to reveal is the certainty that urges us to look with trust to the year we are about to begin.

The Church, which received the mission to evangelize from her Lord, knows well that the Gospel is destined for all people — and in particular for the new generations — to quench that thirst for truth which all people carry in their heart and which is all too often obscured by the many things that fill life. This apostolic commitment is all the more necessary when faith risks being clouded over in cultural contexts that prevent it from taking root in individuals and from being present in society.

Rome too is a city where the Christian faith must be proclaimed ever anew and demands a credible witness.

On the one hand, the growing number of believers of other religions, the difficulty of parish communities in approaching youth and the spread of lifestyles impressed with individualism and ethical relativism; and, on the other, the search of so many people for meaning in their life and for a hope that does not disappoint cannot leave us indifferent. Like the Apostle Paul (see Rom 1:14-15), each and every member of the faithful in this city must feel that they owe it to the other inhabitants to spread the Gospel!

For this very reason, our Diocese has been committed for several years now to highlighting the missionary dimension of ordinary pastoral care, so that believers, sustained especially by the Sunday Eucharist, may become consistent disciples and witnesses of Jesus Christ. Christian parents, who are the first to inculcate the faith in their children, are called in a very special way to this consistency of life.

The complexity of life in a large city like Rome and in a culture that frequently seems indifferent to God, makes it obligatory not to leave fathers and mothers alone in this most crucial task; on the contrary, it obliges us to sustain them and to accompany them in their spiritual life.

With this in mind I encourage all those who work in family ministry to implement the pastoral guidelines that resulted from the last Diocesan Convention dedicated to baptismal and post-baptismal pastoral care. To keep the flame of faith alive we need a generous commitment to developing programmes of spiritual formation to accompany parents after the Baptism of their children and to offer them practical suggestions so that, from the most tender age, the Gospel of Jesus may be proclaimed.

The creation of family groups in which people listen to the word of God and share their experiences of Christian life helps to reinforce their feeling of belonging to the ecclesial community and helps them to develop in friendship with the Lord. It is likewise important also to build a relationship of cordial friendship with those members of the faithful who, having had their child baptized, distracted by the pressing needs of daily life, do not show much interest in following up this experience: thus they will be able to feel the affection of the Church which, like a caring mother, sets herself beside them to encourage them in their spiritual life.

In order to proclaim the Gospel and to enable all who do not yet know Jesus, or who have abandoned him, to cross the threshold of the door of faith once again and to live communion with God, it is indispensable to know in depth the meaning of the truths contained in the Profession of Faith.

Therefore the commitment to provide pastoral workers with a systematic formation that has existed in the various Prefectures of the Diocese of Rome is a precious means that must be pursued with commitment in the future too, to form lay people who can readily echo the Gospel in every home and in every walk of life. This may also be done through “listening centers” which proved so effective at the time of the City Mission.

In this regard the “Dialogues in the Cathedral” which have been held for years in the Basilica of St John Lateran are an especially appropriate experience for meeting the city and for having a dialogue with all those in search of God and of the truth who are wondering about the great questions of human life.

As in past centuries, so today too the Church of Rome is called to proclaim and to witness tirelessly to the riches of Christ’s Gospel. Moreover she is called to do this by supporting those who live in situations of poverty and marginalization, as well as families in difficulty, especially when they have to help sick and disabled people. I feel confident that the institutions, at their various levels, will not fail in their action to ensure that all citizens have access to what they need to live a dignified life.

Dear friends, on the last evening of the year which is coming to its end and on the threshold of the new one, let us praise the Lord! Let us express to “the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:8), repentance and the request for forgiveness for our shortcomings, as well as sincere gratitude for the innumerable benefits granted to us by the divine Good. In particular, let us thank him for the grace and truth that have come to us through Jesus Christ. In him lies the fullness of all human time. In him lies the future of every human being. In him will be brought about the fulfilment of the hopes of the Church and of the world. Amen.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
46th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Tuesday, 1st January 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

A happy New Year to you all! On the first day of 2013 I would like the blessing of God to reach each and every man and woman of the world. I bless you with the ancient formula contained in Sacred Scripture: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

Just as the light and the warmth of the sun are a blessing for the earth, so the light of God is for humanity, when he causes his countenance to shine upon it: and this came about with the birth of Jesus Christ! God has caused his face to shine upon us: in the beginning in a very humble, hidden manner — at Bethlehem only Mary and Joseph and some shepherds were witnesses of this revelation; but little by little, just as the early morning sun reaches midday, the light of Christ has increased and spread everywhere. Already during the short time of his earthly life, Jesus of Nazareth caused God’s countenance to shine upon the Holy Land; and then, through the Church enlivened by his Spirit, he bestowed the Gospel of peace on all the nations. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14). This is the song of angels at Christmas, and it is the song of the Christians under every sky; a song which flows from hearts and lips into practical actions and gestures of love that build dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.

For this reason, eight days after the Nativity, when the Church — like the Virgin Mother Mary — shows the newborn Jesus, Prince of Peace, to the world we celebrate the World Day of Peace. Yes, that Child, who is the Word of God made flesh, came to bring a peace to men that the world cannot give (see Jn 14:27). His mission is to break down the “dividing wall of hostility” (see Eph 2:14); and when, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he proclaims his “Beatitudes”, among them is also “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). Who are the peacemakers? They are all those who, day after day, seek to conquer evil with good, with the strength of the truth, with the arms of prayer and of forgiveness, with honest work well-done, with scientific research that is at the service of life, with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The peacemakers are many, but they make not a sound. Like the yeast in dough, they cause humanity to rise according to God’s plan.

In this first Angelus of the new year, let us ask Mary Most Holy, the Mother of God, to bless us, just as the mother blesses her children who must leave on a journey. A new year is like a journey: with the light and grace of God, may it be a path of peace for every person and for every family, for every country and for the entire world.


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
46th WORLD DAY OF PEACE

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Vatican Basilica, Tuesday, 1st January 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“May God bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” We proclaimed these words from Psalm 66 after hearing in the first reading the ancient priestly blessing upon the people of the covenant. It is especially significant that at the start of every new year God sheds upon us, his people, the light of his Holy Name, the Name pronounced three times in the solemn form of biblical blessing. Nor is it less significant that to the Word of God – who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) as “the true light that enlightens every man” (1:9) – is given, as today’s Gospel tells us, the Name of Jesus eight days after his birth (see Lk 2:21).

It is in this Name that we are gathered here today. I cordially greet all present, beginning with the Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Turkson, with all the officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their effort to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme “Blessed are the Peacemakers”.

Although the world is sadly marked by “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that “the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:9)” (Message, 1). This beatitude “tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort … It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbors and all creation” (ibid., 2, 3). Indeed, peace is the supreme good to ask as a gift from God and, at the same time, that which is to be built with our every effort.

We may ask ourselves: what is the basis, the origin, the root of peace? How can we experience that peace within ourselves, in spite of problems, darkness and anxieties? The reply is given to us by the readings of today’s liturgy. The biblical texts, especially the one just read from the Gospel of Luke, ask us to contemplate the interior peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. During the days in which “she gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2:7), many unexpected things occurred: not only the birth of the Son but, even before, the tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not finding room at the inn, the search for a chance place to stay for the night; then the song of the angels and the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary remains even tempered, she does not get agitated, she is not overcome by events greater than herself; in silence she considers what happens, keeping it in her mind and heart, and pondering it calmly and serenely. This is the interior peace which we ought to have amid the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events whose meaning we often do not grasp and which disconcert us.

The Gospel passage finishes with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, baby boys were to be circumcised and then given their name. Through his messenger, God himself had said to Mary – as well as to Joseph – that the Name to be given to the child was “Jesus” (see Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31); and so it came to be. The Name which God had already chosen, even before the child had been conceived, is now officially conferred upon him at the moment of circumcision. This also changes Mary’s identity once and for all: she becomes “the mother of Jesus”, that is the mother of the Savior, of Christ, of the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but the Word of God, one of the Divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church has given Mary the title Theotokos or Mother of God.

The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift from God and is linked to the splendor of the face of God, according to the text from the Book of Numbers, which hands down the blessing used by the priests of the People of Israel in their liturgical assemblies. This blessing repeats three times the Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time it is linked to two words indicating an action in favor of man: “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face to shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (6:24-26). So peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favor, in which he turns towards us the splendor of his face.

For sacred Scripture, contemplating the face of God is the greatest happiness: “You gladden him with the joy of your face” (Ps 21:7). From the contemplation of the face of God are born joy, security and peace. But what does it mean concretely to contemplate the face of the Lord, as understood in the New Testament? It means knowing him directly, in so far as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ in whom he is revealed. To rejoice in the splendor of God’s face means penetrating the mystery of his Name made known to us in Jesus, understanding something of his interior life and of his will, so that we can live according to his plan of love for humanity. In the second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), Saint Paul says as much as he describes the Spirit who, in our inmost hearts, cries: “Abba! Father!” It is the cry that rises from the contemplation of the true face of God, from the revelation of the mystery of his Name. Jesus declares, “I have manifested thy name to men” (Jn 17:6). God’s Son made man has let us know the Father, he has let us know the hidden face of the Father through his visible human face; by the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has led us to understand that, in him, we too are children of God, as Saint Paul says in the passage we have just heard: “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6).

Here, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ the splendor of the face of God the Father, of being sons in the Son, and thus of having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a loving and all-powerful Father. The splendor of the face of God, shining upon us and granting us peace, is the manifestation of his fatherhood: the Lord turns his face to us, he reveals himself as our Father and grants us peace. Here is the principle of that profound peace – “peace with God” – which is firmly linked to faith and grace, as Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome (see Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace from believers, not even the difficulties and sufferings of life. Indeed, sufferings, trials and darkness do not undermine but build up our hope, a hope which does not deceive because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (5:5).


May the Virgin Mary, whom today we venerate with the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. May she sustain us and accompany us in this New Year: and may she obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen! 


© Copyright 2013 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana