|God comes without weapons or force asking to be
On Wednesday, 23
December 2009, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy Father reflected
on the meaning of Christmas. The following is a translation of the
Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the Christmas Novena
which we are celebrating in these days the Church invites us to live
intensely and profoundly the preparation for the Saviour's Birth, now at
hand. The desire we all carry in our hearts is that in the midst of the
frenzied activity of our day the forthcoming Feast of Christmas may give
us serene and profound joy to make us tangibly feel the goodness of Our
Lord and imbue us with new courage.
To understand better the
meaning of the Lord's Birth I would like to make a brief allusion to the
historical origins of this Solemnity. In fact, at the outset the
Liturgical Year of the Church did not develop primarily from Christ's
Birth but rather from faith in his Resurrection. Thus Christianity's
most ancient Feast is not Christmas but Easter; the Christian faith is
founded on Christ's Resurrection, which is at the root of the
proclamation of the Gospel and gave birth to the Church. Therefore being
Christian means living in a Paschal manner, letting ourselves be
involved in the dynamism that originated in Baptism and leads to dying
to sin in order to live with God (cf. Rom 6:4).
Hippolytus of Rome, in his
commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, written in about A.D. 204,
was the first person to say clearly that Jesus was born on 25 December.
Moreover, some exegetes note that the Feast of the Dedication of the
Temple of Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Machabee in 164 B.C., was
celebrated on that day. The coincidence of dates would consequently mean
that with Jesus, who appeared as God's Light in the darkness, the
consecration of the Temple, the Advent of God to this earth, was truly
For Christianity the Feast
of Christmas acquired its definitive form in the fourth century when it
replaced the Roman Feast of the Sol invictus, the invincible sun.
This highlighted the fact that Christ's Birth was the victory of the
true Light over the darkness of evil and sin.
However, the special,
intense spiritual atmosphere that surrounds Christmas developed in the
Middle Ages, thanks to St Francis of Assisi who was profoundly in love
with the man Jesus, God-with-us.
The Saint's first
biographer, Thomas of Celano, recounts in his Vita Secunda that
St Francis "Over and above all the other Solemnities, celebrated with
ineffable tenderness the Nativity of the Child Jesus, and called 'the
Feast of Feasts' the day on which God, having become a tiny child,
suckled at a human breast" (cf. Fonti Francescane, n. 199,
p. 492). This particular devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation gave
rise to the famous celebration of Christmas at Greccio.
Francis probably drew the
inspiration for this from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and from the
manger at St Mary Major in Rome. What motivated the Poverello of
Assisi was the wish to experience as real, living and actual the humble
grandeur of the event of the Child Jesus' Birth, and to communicate the
joy of it to all.
In his first biography
Thomas of Celano speaks of the night of the nativity scene at Greccio in
a lively and moving way, making a crucial contribution to spreading the
most beautiful Christmas tradition, that of the crib. Indeed, the night
at Greccio restored to Christianity the intensity and beauty of the
Feast of Christmas and taught the People of God to perceive its most
authentic message, its special warmth, and to love and worship the
humanity of Christ.
This particular approach to
Christmas gave the Christian faith a new dimension. Easter had focused
attention on the power of God who triumphs over death, inaugurates new
life and teaches us to hope in the world to come. St Francis with his
crib highlighted the defenceless love of God, his humanity and his
kindness; God manifested himself to humanity in the Incarnation of the
Word to teach people a new way of living and loving.
Celano relates that on that
Christmas night Francis was granted the grace of a marvellous vision. He
saw lying in the manger a tiny Child who was awakened by Francis'
And Celano adds: "Nor did
this vision differ from the events because, through the work of his
grace which acted through his holy servant, Francis, the Child Jesus was
revived in the hearts of many who had forgotten him and was deeply
impressed upon their loving memory" (cf. Vita Prima, op. cit., n.
86, p. 307).
This setting describes in
great detail all that Francis' living faith and love for Christ's
humanity imparted to the Christian celebration of Christmas: the
discovery that God reveals himself in the tender limbs of the Infant
Jesus. Thanks to St Francis, the Christian people were able to perceive
that at Christmas God truly became the "Emmanuel", the God-with-us from
whom no barrier nor any distance can separate us.
Thus, in that Child, God
became close to each one of us, so close that we are able to speak
intimately to him and engage in a trusting relationship of deep
affection with him, just as we do with any newborn baby.
In that Child, in fact,
God-Love is manifest: God comes without weapons, without force, because
he does not want to conquer, so to speak, from the outside, but rather
wants to be freely received by the human being. God makes himself a
defenceless Child to overcome pride, violence and the human desire to
In Jesus God took on this
poor, disarming condition to win us with love and lead us to our true
identity. We must not forget that the most important title of Jesus
Christ is, precisely, that of "Son", Son of God; the divine dignity is
indicated with a term that extends the reference to the humble condition
of the manger in Bethlehem, although it corresponds uniquely to his
divinity, which is the divinity of the "Son".
His condition as a Child
also points out to us how we may encounter God and enjoy his presence.
It is in the light of Christmas that we may understand Jesus' words:
"Unless you turn and become
like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt
Those who have not
understood the mystery of Christmas, have not understood the crucial
element of Christian life. Those who do not welcome Jesus with a,
child's heart, cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: this is what
Francis wished to remind the Christians of his time and of all times,
Let us pray the Father to
grant us that simplicity of heart which recognizes the Lord in the
Child, just as Francis did in Greccio. Then what Thomas of Celano
referring to the experience of the shepherds on the Holy Night (cf. Lk
with regard to those who were present at the event in Greccio might
happen to us: "each one went home full of ineffable joy" (cf. Vita
Prima, op. cit., n. 86, p. 479).
This is the wish that I
formulate with affection for you, for your families and for all your
loved ones. Happy Christmas to you all!