A Blessed New Year

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I write from the little town of Norcia, Italy, where St. Benedict was born.

Here, the year is drawing to an end with snow flurries and temperatures below freezing. Above the city, snow-covered muntain peaks were shrouded in mist all day.

Father Cassian and the monks here just chanted Vespers, following a Christmas-season reception in the little bookstore attached to the church.

The steps outside the church were slippery with snow.

In Rome today, as Vatican Radio reported, Pope Francis also celebrated First Vespers for the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God (which comes tomorrow, January 1).

In his homily during the liturgy, Pope Francis spoke about the meaning of time.

Time is not something alien from God, Who has chosen to reveal Himself and to save us in history, in time, he said.

“The meaning of time, of temporality,” he said, “is the manifestation of the mystery God and of His concrete love for us.”

Pope Francis recalled that we are now in “the definitive time of salvation and of grace,” and that this leads us to think about the end of our own journey.

We are all born, and we will all someday die.

With this truth, the Church teaches us to end the year, and in fact each day, with an examination of conscience.

This devout practice leads us to thank God for the blessings and graces we have received, and to ask forgiveness for our weaknesses and sins.

Pope Francis concluded his homily by reminding everyone that this is the “final hour” and that we are living in “the fullness of time.”

Tomorrow I plan to travel to Manoppello, a town even smaller than Norcia, where I plan to spend several days with the Franciscan friars who reside there next to the shrine where the mysterious holy Face of Manoppello is preserved. Below is a photo taken by my friend and colleague Paul Badde, author of a book on the mysterious veil, of the image which is presrved on a small cloth of rare byssus. Experts say there is no paint on the veil. No one has explained how the image was made. Pope Benedict XVI took the image seriously enough to visit Manoppello

I will try to write something from there in these coming days.

I wish all of you a Blessed New Year.

Reflections of Pope Bendict XVI on the Holy Face

By Pope Benedict XVI (on September 1, 2006, when visiting the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello)

During my pause for prayer just now, I was thinking of the first two Apostles who, urged by John the Baptist, followed Jesus to the banks of the Jordan River, as we read at the beginning of John’s Gospel (cf. 1: 35-37).

The Evangelist recounts that Jesus turned around and asked them: “”What do you seek?’ And they answered him, “Rabbi… where are you staying?'” And he said to them, “Come and see” (cf. Jn 1: 38-39).

That very same day, the two who were following him had an unforgettable experience which prompted them to say: “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1: 41).

The One whom a few hours earlier they had thought of as a simple “rabbi” had acquired a very precise identity: the identity of Christ who had been awaited for centuries.

But, in fact, what a long journey still lay ahead of those disciples!

They could not even imagine how profound the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth could be or how unfathomable, inscrutable, his “Face” would prove…

Only after his Passion when they encountered him Risen, when the Spirit enlightened their minds and their hearts, would the Apostles understand the significance of the words Jesus had spoken and recognize him as the Son of God, the Messiah promised for the world’s redemption. They were then to become his unflagging messengers, courageous witnesses even to martyrdom.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Yes, dear brothers and sisters, to “see God” it is necessary to know Christ and to let oneself be moulded by his Spirit who guides believers “into all the truth” (cf. Jn 16: 13). Those who meet Jesus, who let themselves be attracted by him and are prepared to follow him even to the point of sacrificing their lives, personally experience, as he did on the Cross, that only the “grain of wheat” that falls into the earth and dies, bears “much fruit” (Jn 12: 24).

This is the path of Christ, the way of total love that overcomes death: he who takes it and “hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12: 25). In other words, he lives in God already on this earth, attracted and transformed by the dazzling brightness of his Face…

(to be continued)

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