With Italy under a new lockdown for the holidays, Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Mass “during the Night” in a near empty Saint Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening. Millions of people were able to follow the ceremony through radio, television and the various means of social communications.
In his homily, Pope Francis said, “The birth of Jesus is the ‘newness’ that enables us to be reborn each year, and to find, in Him, the strength needed to face every trial.”
“Yet what do these words — ‘for us’ — really mean?” he asked. “They mean that the Son of God, the one who is holy by nature, came to make us, God’s children, holy by grace.” This is a “magnificent gift,” he said, a gift that is “pure grace,” which does not depend upon anything we can do, but solely on God’s love for us.
“To us” a Son is given
God’s gift to us on Christmas is not merely a thing or an object. Instead, Pope Francis said, God gave His only-begotten Son, “Who is all His joy.”
And yet, the Pope continued, “our own ingratitude toward God, and our injustice towards so many of our brothers and sisters” can make us wonder if God was right in giving us this gift of His Son. In fact, nothing we can do can make us worthy of this gift.
Rather, it is only out of God’s “unfailing love” for us, His “unchanging love that changes us” that leads God to give us His Son.
A love that reaches our poverty
It is because of God’s infinite love for us that Jesus was born, not in a palace, but in the manger of a stable. Jesus “came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love… God loves to work wonders through our poverty,” the Pope said.
This is a sign, he continued, “to guide us through life.” In Bethlehem, “God lies in a manger, as if to remind us that, in order to live, we need Him, like the bread we eat. We need to be filled with His free, unfailing, concrete love.”
Pope Francis insisted that “the manger, poor in everything yet rich in love, teaches us that true nourishment comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn.”
Teaching us how to love
God came to us at Christmas as a weak and vulnerable Child to teach us how to love, the Pope said. “God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for Him.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily with a prayer to the newborn Saviour: “Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be. In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for, from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.”