Monday, December 16, 2019

Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent
by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0317: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 
Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate 

On eight occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, on 18 December 2005, 24 December 2006, 23 December 2007, 21 December 2008, 20 December 2009, 19 December 2010, 18 December 2011, and 23 December 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and one homily delivered on these occasions.



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18 December 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these last days of Advent the liturgy invites us to contemplate in a special way the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, who lived with unique intensity the period of expectation and preparation for Jesus’ birth.

Today, I would like to turn my gaze to the figure of St Joseph. In today’s Gospel St Luke presents the Virgin Mary as “a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” (see Lk 1: 27). The Evangelist Matthew, however, places a greater emphasis on the putative father of Jesus, stressing that through him the Child belonged legally to the lineage of David and thus fulfilled the Scriptural prophecy that the Messiah would be a “son of David”.

But Joseph’s role cannot be reduced to this legal aspect. He was the model of a “just” man (Mt 1: 19) who, in perfect harmony with his wife, welcomed the Son of God made man and watched over his human growth.

It is therefore particularly appropriate in the days that precede Christmas to establish a sort of spiritual conversation with St Joseph, so that he may help us live to the full this great mystery of faith.

Beloved Pope John Paul II, who was very devoted to St Joseph, left us a wonderful meditation dedicated to him in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, “The Guardian of the Redeemer”.

Among the many aspects on which this Document sheds light, the silence of St Joseph is given a special emphasis. His silence is steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God in an attitude of total availability to the divine desires.

In other words, St Joseph’s silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.

It is a silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, watches over the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, continuously comparing it with the events of the life of Jesus; a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved entrustment to his providence.

It is no exaggeration to think that it was precisely from his “father” Joseph that Jesus learned - at the human level - that steadfast interiority which is a presupposition of authentic justice, the “superior justice” which he was one day to teach his disciples (see Mt 5: 20).

Let us allow ourselves to be “filled” with St Joseph’s silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God’s voice, we are in such deep need of it. During this season of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate inner recollection in order to welcome and cherish Jesus in our own lives.



Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18 December 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It really is a great joy for me to be with you this morning and to celebrate Holy Mass with you and for you. Indeed, my Visit to Santa Maria Consolatrice, the first Roman parish I have been to since the Lord wished to summon me to be Bishop of Rome, is for me, in a very real and concrete sense, a return home.

I remember very well that 15 October 1977 on which I took possession of this titular church of mine. Fr Ennio Appignanesi was parish priest and Fr Enrico Pomili and Fr Franco Camaldo were the parochial vicars. The master of ceremonies assigned to me was Mons. Piero Marini. Well, here we all are together again! This is truly a great joy to me.

Since then, our reciprocal bond has grown gradually stronger and deeper. It is a bond in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Eucharistic Sacrifice I have so often celebrated and whose Sacraments I have so often administered in this church. It is a bond of affection and friendship that truly warmed my heart and still warms it today. It is a bond that has bound me to you all, and especially to your parish priest and the other priests of the parish. It is a bond that did not weaken when I became titular Cardinal of the suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni; a bond that has acquired a new and deeper dimension because I am now Bishop of Rome and your Bishop.

Moreover, I am particularly glad that my visit today, as Fr Enrico has already said, is taking place in the year in which you are celebrating the 60th anniversary of your parish, the 50th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of our beloved parish priest, Mons. Enrico Pomili, and lastly, the 25th anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Ennio Appignanesi. It is a year, therefore, in which we have special reasons for thanking the Lord.

I now greet with affection Mons. Enrico himself and thank him for his very kind words to me. I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar, Cardinal Ricardo María Carles Gordò, titular of this church, hence, my successor to this Title, Cardinal Giovanni Canestri, formerly your deeply loved parish priest, Archbishop Luigi Moretti, Vicegerent and Bishop of the Eastern Sector of Rome; we have already greeted Archbishop Ennio Appignanesi, your former parish priest, and Bishop Massimo Giustetti, your former parochial vicar.

I extend an affectionate greeting to your current parochial vicars and to the women religious of Santa Maria Consolatrice. They have been in Casalbertone since 1932 as precious collaborators of the parish and true messengers of mercy and consolation in this neighbourhood, especially for the poor and for children. With the same sentiments, I greet each one of you, all the families in the parish and all who, in their various capacities, work in the parish services.

Let us now meditate briefly on the most beautiful Gospel of this Fourth Sunday of Advent, which for me is one of the loveliest passages of Sacred Scripture. And so as not to take too long, I would like to reflect on only three words from this rich Gospel.

The first word on which I would like to meditate with you is the Angel’s greeting to Mary. In the Italian translation the Angel says: “Hail, Mary”. But the Greek word below, “Kaire”, means in itself “be glad” or “rejoice”.

And here is the first surprising thing: the greeting among the Jews was “Shalom”, “peace”, whereas the greeting of the Greek world was “Kaire”, “be glad”. It is surprising that the Angel, on entering Mary’s house, should have greeted her with the greeting of the Greeks: “Kaire”, “be glad, rejoice”. And when, 40 years later, the Greeks had read this Gospel, they were able to see an important message in it: they realized that the beginning of the New Testament, to which this passage from Luke referred, was bringing openness to the world of peoples and to the universality of the People of God, which by then included not only the Jewish people but also the world in its totality, all peoples. The new universality of the Kingdom of the true son of David appears in this Greek greeting of the Angel.

However, it is appropriate to point out straightaway that the Angel’s words took up a prophetic promise that is found in the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. We find the same greeting almost literally. Inspired by God, the Prophet Zephaniah says to Israel: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!... the Lord [is with you and] is in your midst”. We know that Mary was very familiar with the Sacred Scriptures. Her Magnificat is a fabric woven of threads from the Old Testament. We may thus be certain that the Blessed Virgin understood straightaway that these were the words of the Prophet Zephaniah addressed to Israel, to the “daughter Zion”, considered as a dwelling place of God. And now the surprising thing, which must have given Mary food for thought, is that these words, addressed to all Israel, were being specifically addressed to her, Mary. And thus, it must clearly have appeared to her that she herself was the “daughter Zion” of whom the Prophet spoke, and that the Lord, therefore, had a special intention for her, that she was called to be the true dwelling place of God, a dwelling place not built of stones but of living flesh, of a living heart, that God was really intending to take her, the Virgin, as his own true temple. What an intention! And as a result, we can understand that Mary began to think with special intensity about what this greeting meant.

However, let us now reflect in particular on the first word: “Rejoice, be glad”. This is the first word that resounds in the New Testament as such, because the Angel’s announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist is the word that still rings out on the threshold between the two Testaments. It is only with this dialogue which the Angel Gabriel has with Mary that the New Testament really begins. We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy: “rejoice, be glad!”. The New Testament is truly “Gospel”, the “Good News” that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child and we can informally address this God.

It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God or simply no God. Religion at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore, they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another; thus, they were afraid that if they did something for one of these divinities, another might be offended and seek revenge.

So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves from these forces in conflict with one another. It was a world of fear, a dark world. Then they heard: “Rejoice, these demons are nothing; the true God exists and this true God is good, he loves us, he knows us, he is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh!”.

This is the great joy that Christianity proclaims. Knowing this God is truly “Good News”, a word of redemption.

Perhaps we Catholics who have always known it are no longer surprised and no longer feel this liberating joy keenly. However, if we look at today’s world where God is absent, we cannot but note that it is also dominated by fears and uncertainties: is it good to be a person or not? Is it good to be alive or not? Is it truly a good to exist? Or might everything be negative? And they really live in a dark world, they need anaesthetics to be able to live. Thus, the words: “Rejoice, because God is with you, he is with us”, are words that truly open a new epoch. Dear friends, with an act of faith we must once again accept and understand in the depths of our hearts this liberating word: “Rejoice!”.

We cannot keep solely for ourselves this joy that we have received; joy must always be shared. Joy must be communicated. Mary went without delay to communicate her joy to her cousin Elizabeth. And ever since her Assumption into Heaven she has showered joy upon the whole world, she has become the great Consoler: our Mother who communicates joy, trust and kindness and also invites us to spread joy. This is the real commitment of Advent: to bring joy to others. Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not expensive presents that demand time and money.

We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness. Let us give this joy and the joy given will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that this presence of God’s liberating joy will shine out in our lives.

The second word on which I would like to meditate is another word of the Angel’s: “Do not fear, Mary”, he says. In fact, there was reason for her to fear, for it was a great burden to bear the weight of the world upon herself, to be the Mother of the universal King, to be the Mother of the Son of God: what a burden that was! It was too heavy a burden for human strength to bear! But the Angel said: “Do not fear! Yes, you are carrying God, but God is carrying you. Do not fear!”.

These words, “Do not fear”, must have deeply penetrated Mary’s heart. We can imagine how in various situations the Virgin must have pondered on those words, she must have heard them again.

At the moment when Simeon said to her: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - and you yourself will be pierced with a sword”, at that very moment in which she might have succumbed to fear, Mary returned to the Angel’s words and felt their echo within her: “Do not fear, God is carrying you”. Then, when contradictions were unleashed against Jesus during his public life and many said, “He is crazy”, she thought once again of the Angel’s words in her heart; “Do not fear”, and went ahead. Lastly, in the encounter on the way to Calvary and then under the Cross, when all seemed to be destroyed, she again heard the Angel’s words in her heart: “Do not fear”. Hence, she stood courageously beside her dying Son and, sustained by faith, moved towards the Resurrection, towards Pentecost, towards the foundation of the new family of the Church.

“Do not fear”: Mary also addresses these words to us. I have already pointed out that this world of ours is a world of fear: the fear of misery and poverty, the fear of illness and suffering, the fear of solitude, the fear of death. We have in this world a widely developed insurance system; it is good that it exists. But we know that at the moment of deep suffering, at the moment of the ultimate loneliness of death, no insurance policy will be able to protect us. The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: “Do not fear, I am always with you”. We can fall, but in the end we fall into God’s hands, and God’s hands are good hands.

The third word: at the end of the colloquium, Mary answered the Angel, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say”. Thus, Mary anticipated the “Our Father’s” third invocation: “Your will be done”. She said “yes” to God’s great will, a will apparently too great for a human being; Mary said “yes” to this divine will, she placed herself within this will, placed her whole life with a great “yes” within God’s will, and thus opened the world’s door to God.

Adam and Eve, with their “no” to God’s will, had closed this door. “Let God’s will be done”: Mary invites us too to say this “yes” which sometimes seems so difficult. We are tempted to prefer our own will, but she tells us: “Be brave, you too say: “Your will be done’, because this will is good”. It might at first seem an unbearable burden, a yoke impossible to bear; but in reality, God’s will is not a burden, God’s will gives us wings to fly high and thus we too can dare, with Mary, to open the door of our lives to God, the doors of this world, by saying “yes” to his will, aware that this will is the true good and leads us to true happiness. Let us pray to Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, our Mother, the Mother of the Church, to give us the courage to say this “yes” and also to give us this joy of being with God and to lead us to his Son, to true life. Amen!



Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 24 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of the Holy Birth is at hand. Today’s vigil prepares us to live intensely the mystery that tonight’s Liturgy will invite us to contemplate with the eyes of faith.

In the Divine Newborn, whom we will place in the manger, our Salvation is made manifest. In the God who makes himself man for us, we all feel loved and welcomed, we discover that we are precious and unique in the eyes of the Creator.

The birth of Christ helps us to become aware of the value of human life, the life of every human being, from the first instant to natural death.

To those who open their heart to this “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes” and lying “in a manger” (see Lk 2: 12), he offers the possibility of seeing with new eyes the realities of every day. He can taste the power of the interior fascination of God’s love and is able to transform even sorrow into joy.

Let us prepare ourselves, dear friends, to meet Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Born in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wants to be the travelling companion of each one of us on our life’s journey. In this world, from the very moment when he decided to pitch his “tent”, no one is a stranger.

It is true, we are all here in passing, but it is precisely Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth, sanctified by his presence. He asks us, however, to make it a home in which all are welcome.

The surprising gift of Christmas is exactly this: Jesus came for each one of us and in him we have become brothers.

The corresponding duty is to increasingly overcome preconceptions and prejudices, to break down barriers and eliminate the differences that divide us, or worse, that set individuals and peoples against one another, in order to build together a world of justice and peace.

With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live the last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the Child Jesus. In the heart of the night he will come for us. It is his desire, however, also to come in us, to dwell in the heart of every one of us.

So that this may occur, it is indispensable that we are open and that we prepare ourselves to receive him, ready to make room for him within ourselves, in our families, in our cities.

May his birth not find us unprepared to celebrate Christmas, forgetting that the protagonist of the celebration is precisely him!

May Mary help us to maintain the interior recollection so necessary to taste the profound joy that the Redeemer’s birth brings. To her we address our prayer, thinking particularly of those who are prepared to celebrate Christmas in sadness and solitude, in sickness and in suffering: to all may the Virgin bring comfort and consolation.



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 23 December 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Only one day separates this Fourth Sunday of Advent from Holy Christmas. Tomorrow night we will gather together to celebrate the great mystery of love which never ceases to amaze us: God became the Son of Man so that we might become children of God. During Advent, a frequent entreaty has risen from the heart of the Church: “Come, Lord, visit us with your peace, your presence will fill us with joy”. The Church’s evangelizing mission is the response to the cry “Come, Lord Jesus” that pervades all of salvation history and continues to rise from believers’ lips. Come, Lord, transform our hearts, so that justice and peace may be spread in the world! The Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization, recently published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, intends to recall this. In fact, the Document sets out to remind all Christians - in a situation in which the actual reason why evangelization exists is often no longer clear even to many of the faithful - that “the acceptance of the Good News in faith is thus dynamically ordered to” (no. 7) communicating salvation received as a gift.

Indeed, “The truth which saves one’s life inflames the heart of the one who has received it with a love of neighbour that motivates him to pass on to others in freedom what he has freely been given” (ibid.) Being reached by the presence of God who makes himself close to us at Christmas is a priceless gift. It is a gift that can make us “live within the universal embrace of the friends of God” (ibid.), in that “network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth” (ibid., no. 9), which directs human freedom towards its fulfilment and, if it is lived in its truth, blossoms “in a love that is freely given and which overflows with care for the good of all people” (ibid., no. 7). Nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important than freely offering to men and women, in turn, what we ourselves have freely received from God! Nothing can dispense or relieve us from this burdensome but fascinating commitment. While the joy of Christmas that we already anticipate fills us with hope, it spurs us at the same time to proclaim to everyone God’s presence in our midst.

The Virgin Mary, who did not communicate to the world an idea but Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is an unparalleled model of evangelization. Let us invoke her with trust so that, in our time too, the Church may proclaim Christ, the Saviour. May every Christian and every community feel the joy of sharing with others the Good News that “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son... that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3: 16-17). This is the authentic meaning of Christmas, which we must rediscover and live intensely.



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 21 December 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel of this Fourth Sunday of Advent proposes to us the account of the Annunciation (Lk 1: 26-38), the mystery to which we return every day in reciting the Angelus. This prayer makes us relive the decisive moment at which God knocked at Mary’s heart and, having received her “yes”, began to take flesh, in her and from her. The Collect of today’s Mass is the same as the one we recite at the end of the Angelus that in Italian, says: “Infondi nel nostro spirito la tua grazia, O Padre. Tu che all’annunzio dell’Angelo ci hai rivelato l’incarnazione del tuo Figlio, per la sua passione e la sua croce guidaci alla gloria della risurrezione” [Fill our hearts with your love, and as you revealed to us by an angel the coming of your Son as man, so lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his Resurrection]. With only a few days until the Feast of Christmas, we are invited to fix our gaze on the ineffable mystery that Mary treasured for nine months in her virginal womb: the mystery of God who is made man. This is the first foundation of the redemption. The second is the death and Resurrection of Jesus and these two inseparable aspects express a single divine plan: to save humanity and its history, assuming them fully by taking on the entire burden of all the evil that oppresses it.

Beyond its historical dimension, this mystery of salvation also has a cosmic dimension: Christ is the sun of grace who, with his life, “transfigures and enflames the expectant universe” (see Liturgy). The Christmas festivity is placed within and linked to the winter solstice when, in the northern hemisphere, the days begin once again to lengthen. In this regard perhaps not everyone knows that in St Peter’s Square there is also a meridian; in fact, the great obelisk casts its shadow in a line that runs along the paving stones toward the fountain beneath this window and in these days, the shadow is at its longest of the year. This reminds us of the role of astronomy in setting the times of prayer. The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon and in the evening, and clocks were regulated by the meridian which in ancient times made it possible to know the “exact midday”.

The fact that the winter solstice occurs exactly today, 21 December, and at this very time, offers me the opportunity to greet all those who will be taking part in various capacities in the initiatives for the World Year of Astronomy, 2009, established on the fourth centenary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations by telescope. Among my Predecessors of venerable memory there were some who studied this science, such as Sylvester II who taught it, Gregory XIII to whom we owe our calendar, and St Pius X who knew how to build sundials. If the heavens, according to the Psalmist’s beautiful words, “are telling the glory of God” (Ps 19[18]: 1), the laws of nature which over the course of centuries many men and women of science have enabled us to understand better are a great incentive to contemplate the works of the Lord with gratitude.

Let us now turn our gaze again to Mary and Joseph who were awaiting the birth of Jesus and learn from them the secret of reflection in order to taste the joy of Christmas. Let us prepare ourselves to welcome with faith the Redeemer who comes to be with us, the Word of God’s love for humanity of every epoch.



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 20 December 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Lord’s Birth is at hand. With the words of the Prophet Micah, the Liturgy invites us to look at Bethlehem, the little town in Judea that witnessed the great event: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / too small to be among the clans of Judah,/ From you shall come forth for me / one who is to be ruler in Israel; / Whose origin is from of old, / from ancient times” (Mic 5: 1). One thousand years before Christ Bethlehem had given birth to the great King David, with whose presentation as an ancestor of the Messiah the Scriptures agree. The Gospel according to Luke tells that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because Joseph, Mary’s husband, being “of the house and lineage of David”, was obliged to go to that town for the census, and in those very days Mary gave birth to Jesus (see Lk 2: 1-7). In fact, Micah’s prophecy continues precisely by mentioning the mysterious birth: “Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time / when she who is to give birth has borne, / And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel” (Mic 5: 2). Thus there is a divine plan that apprehends and explains the times and places of the coming into the world of the Son of God. It is a plan of peace, as the Prophet announces further, speaking of the Messiah: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, / in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; / And they shall remain, for now his greatness / shall reach to the ends of the earth; / he shall be peace” (Mic 5: 3).

Precisely this aspect of the prophecy, that of messianic peace, leads us naturally to emphasize that the city of Bethlehem is also a symbol of peace, in the Holy Land and in the world. Unfortunately, in our day, it does not represent an attained and stable peace, but rather a peace sought with effort and hope. Yet God is never resigned to this state of affairs, so that this year too, in Bethlehem and throughout the world, the mystery of Christmas will be renewed in the Church. A prophecy of peace for every person which obliges Christians to immerse themselves in the closures, tragedies, that are often unknown and hidden, and in the conflicts of the context in which they live, with the sentiments of Jesus so that they may become everywhere instruments and messengers of peace, to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, joy where there is sadness and truth where there is error, according to the beautiful words of a well-known Franciscan prayer.

Today, as in the times of Jesus, Christmas is not a fairy-tale for children but God’s response to the drama of humanity in search of true peace. “He shall be peace”, says the Prophet referring to the Messiah. It is up to us to open, to fling open wide the doors to welcome him. Let us learn from Mary and Joseph: let us place ourselves with faith at the service of God’s plan. Even if we do not understand it fully, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us seek first of all the Kingdom of God, and Providence will help us. A Happy Christmas to you all!



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 19 December 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent the Gospel according to St Matthew recounts the birth of Jesus from St Joseph’s viewpoint. He was betrothed to Mary who, “before they came together… was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). The Son of God, fulfilling an ancient prophecy (see Is 7:14), became man in the womb of a virgin and this mystery at the same time expressed the love, wisdom and power of God for mankind, wounded by sin. St Joseph is presented as “a just man” (Mt 1:19), faithful to God’s law and ready to do his will. For this reason he enters the mystery of the Incarnation after an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, announcing: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). Having given up the idea of divorcing Mary secretly, Joseph took her to himself because he then saw God’s work in her with his own eyes.

St Ambrose comments that “Joseph had the amiability and stature of a just man, to make his capacity as a witness worthier” (Exp. Ev. sec. Lucam II, 5: CCL 14,32-33). St Ambrose continues: “He could not have contaminated the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Lord, the womb rendered fertile by the mystery” (ibid., II, 6: CCL 14,33). Although he had felt distressed, Joseph “did as the Angel of the Lord commanded him”, certain that he was doing the right thing. And in giving the name of “Jesus” to the Child who rules the entire universe, he placed himself among the throng of humble and faithful servants, similar to the Angels and Prophets, similar to the Martyrs and to the Apostles — as the ancient Eastern hymns sing. In witnessing to Mary’s virginity, to God’s gratuitous action and in safeguarding the Messiah’s earthly life St Joseph announces the miracle of the Lord. Therefore let us venerate the legal father of Jesus (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 532), because the new man is outlined in him, who looks with trust and courage to the future. He does not follow his own plans but entrusts himself without reserve to the infinite mercy of the One who will fulfil the prophecies and open the time of salvation.

Dear friends, I would like to entrust all Pastors to St Joseph, universal Patron of the Church, while I urge them to offer “Christ’s [humble] words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world”, (Letter Proclaiming the Year for Priests, 16 June 2009). May our life adhere ever more closely to the Person of Jesus, precisely because “the One who is himself the Word takes on a body, he comes from God as a man, and draws the whole of man’s being to himself, bearing it into the Word of God” (Jesus of Nazareth, New York 2007, p. 334). Let us invoke with trust the Virgin Mary, full of grace, “adorned by God”, so that at Christmas, which is now at hand, our eyes may be opened and see Jesus, and our hearts rejoice in this wonderful encounter of love.



St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18 December 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this fourth and last Sunday of Advent, this year the liturgy presents the narrative of the Angel’s announcement to Mary. Contemplating the amazing icon of the Blessed Virgin at the moment when she receives the divine message and gives her answer, we are enlightened within by the light of truth that shines from that mystery ever new. In particular I would like to reflect briefly on the importance of Mary’s virginity, namely that she conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin

Against the background of the event of Nazareth is the prophecy of Isaiah. “Behold, a young virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). This ancient promise found superabundant fulfilment in the Incarnation of the Son of God. Indeed, not only did the Virgin Mary conceive, but she did so through the work of the Holy Spirit, that is, God himself.

The human being who came to life in her womb took Mary’s flesh, but his existence derived totally from God. He is fully man, made of clay — to use the biblical symbol — but comes from on high, from Heaven. The fact that Mary conceived while remaining a virgin is thus essential to the knowledge of Jesus and to our faith, because it testifies that it was God’s initiative and, above all, it reveals who the conceived being was.

As the Gospel says: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). In this sense, the virginity of Mary and the divinity of Jesus guarantees each other. This is what makes that single question so important that Mary, “greatly troubled”, asks the Angel: “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1:34). Mary was very wise in her simplicity. She did not doubt God’s power, but she wanted to better understand his will, in order to conform herself completely to this will. Mary was infinitely overcome by the Mystery, yet she occupied perfectly the place which, in its centre had been assigned to her. Her heart and her mind are fully humble and precisely because of her unique humility, God awaits this young woman’s “yes” in order to carry out his plan. He respects her dignity and her freedom. Mary’s “yes” entailed motherhood and virginity as a whole. She wanted everything in her to glorify God and he wanted the Son, born of her, to be totally a gift of grace.

Dear friends, Mary’s virginity is unique and unrepeatable; but its spiritual meaning concerns every Christian, who is essentially linked to faith. In fact, those who put deep trust in God’s love welcome Jesus and his divine life within them through the action of the Holy Spirit. This is the mystery of Christmas! I hope that you will all experience it with deep joy.



Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Advent, 23 December 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent that comes just before the Nativity of the Lord, the Gospel speaks of Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth. This event is not merely a courteous gesture but portrays with great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New. Indeed the two women, both of them then pregnant, embody expectation and the Expected One. The elderly Elizabeth symbolizes Israel which is awaiting the Messiah, whereas the young Mary bears within her the fulfilment of this expectation for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

First of all in the two women the fruit of their wombs, John and Christ, meet and recognize each other. The Christian poet Prudentius comments: “the child imprisoned in the aged womb greets by his mother’s lips his Lord, the maiden’s son” (Apotheosis, 590: pl 59, 970). John’s exultation in Elizabeth’s womb is a sign of the fulfilment of the expectation: God is about to visit his People. In the Annunciation the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (see 1:36) as proof of God’s power; in spite of her old age her barren state was made fecund.

In her greeting to Mary Elizabeth recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being fulfilled and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43). In the Old Testament, the phrase “blessed are you among women” refers both to Jael (Judg 5:24), and to Judith (Jud 13:18), two women warriors who do their utmost to save Israel.

Instead it is used here to describe Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to bring the Saviour into the world. Thus John’s leap of joy (see Lk 1:44) also calls to mind King David’s dancing when he accompanied the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (see 1 Chron 15:29. The Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod (see Heb 9:4) was the sign of God’s presence among his People. The unborn John exults with joy before Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, who in her womb is carrying Jesus, the Son of God made man.

The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him. At Christmas time let us emulate Mary, visiting all those who are living in hardship, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: without wishing it, we shall never know the Lord, without expecting him we shall not meet him, without looking for him we shall not find him. Let us too go to meet the Lord who comes with the same joy as Mary, who went with haste to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).

Let us pray that all men and women may seek God, discovering that it is God himself who comes to visit us first. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth. 

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