To rejoice at and to proclaim the Birth of Jesus
On the threshold of Christmas, the Word of God today offers us the keys to understanding, enjoying and proclaiming to others the mystery we are celebrating. The keys are Mary, the flesh and littleness. First of all Mary, whom the evangelist Luke presents to us in the action of visiting her cousin Elizabeth (Gospel). In a climate of faith and of intense joy, we have the encounter between two women who have become pregnant through a special divine intervention: Elizabeth in her old age; Mary in her virginity. Both are filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 41; Lk 1:35), both are aware of and recognise the signs of the presence of the Spirit, ready to praise and thank Him for his wonderful works (vv. 42-45;46-48). These elements make of the Visitation a mystery of faith, of joy, of service, of missionary proclamation. Mary, hurrying her footsteps (v. 39), carrying Jesus in her womb, is the image of the missionary Church taking to the world the proclamation of the Saviour.
“Blessed is she who believed”, exclaims Elizabeth (v. 45). It is the first Beatitude of the Gospel. Through faith Mary conceived the Son of God in her heart before giving birth to him in the flesh. She believed, that is, she trusted, she abandoned herself to God. Mary's words: “You see before you the Lord's servant, let it be done...” (v. 38) are in tune with the assent of Jesus who, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (2nd. Reading), on coming into the world said: “Here I am, I am coming to do your will, God” (v. 7). This is the one cult that is pleasing to God, the worship of the true adorers of the Father “in spirit and in truth”, as Jesus himself will reveal to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:23).
For a long time - we might say for always - God takes no pleasure in the smell of incense or of the smoke form the burning flesh of animals sacrificed in the temple, as the letter to the Hebrews says (v. 6-8). He wants to dwell in a temple of flesh, in the hearts of people, to become the centre of every thought and of every concern, the reason for every option and decision, the root of every joy. Only at this level can we speak of a true conversion of the heart, a conversion that goes beyond external gestures that are purely ritual, beyond superficial practices and abstract formulae learned by rote.
Jesus is the true adorer of the Father: from his first coming into the world he does not offer Him animals or incense (v. 5-6), but presents himself, his body, as an offering of love for the sanctification of all (v.10), excluding no-one, because ”he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). “Caro salutis est cardo” (the flesh is the hinge of salvation), was a favourite expression of the Fathers of the early centuries, with their great 'feeling' for both the human and the divine. With that expression they stressed that God wanted to make his salvation concrete and manifest, making it pass through the human flesh of the Son of God, the son of Mary. It is at the school of Mary that the Pope invites us to meet Jesus at Christmas and in the Eucharist. (*)
All this wonderful work of salvation is carried out through small and simple signs, humble persons and events. The biblical example of the day is Bethlehem (1st. Reading), a tiny village, but the cradle of a ruler who “will feed his flock in the power of the Lord”, will give security and peace to the people, “for his greatness will extend to the most distant parts of the country” (v. 3). Bethlehem is an insignificant little place, but God chooses it for the birth of the one who is the 'Best news of All' for all nations. At the very beginning of this event we find Mary, who rejoices and sings, aware that God “has looked upon the humiliation of his servant” (v. 48).
Even today God carries out his great works through weak instruments, humble gestures, situations that - humanly speaking - are hopeless. One is led to ask: so who, then will be saved? Those who, with a pure and ready heart, welcome the mystery of that Child born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago; those who listen to his message and become builders of his peace, carriers of his joy, missionaries who announce him. Like Mary, like the shepherds!
The Pope's words
(*) “My dear friends, we are approaching the mystery of Christmas, already close, through the door of the Eucharist: in the cave in Bethlehem we adore the same Lord who in the Eucharistic Sacrament wanted to make himself our spiritual food, to transform the world from within, starting from the heart of man. Put yourselves in the school of the Virgin Mary, the first to contemplate the humanity of the incarnate Word. In the Child Jesus, with whom infinite and silent conversations took place, She recognised the human face of God, so that the mysterious Wisdom of the Son impressed itself on the mind and the heart of the Mother”.
To the University Students, Rome, 14th December 2006
In the footsteps of Missionaries
- 21/12: St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597), Dutch Jesuit, theologian at the Council of Trent, a leader of the Catholic Reformation in Central Europe, author of a Catechism, Doctor of the Church.
- 21/12: In remembrance of the homily of Antonio de Montesinos, a Spanish Dominican, held on the IV Sunday of Advent of 1511, in the church of “La Española” (Dominican Republic), in defence of the rights of the natives: “Aren’t these perhaps human beings?”
- 22/12: S. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Lodi 1850- Chicago 1917), foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to work among the migrants.
- 23/12: St. John of Kety (1390-1473), Polish priest and theologian, teacher of generations of priests, parish priest, a model of prayer and charity.
- 23/12: St. Marie Marguerite of Youville (1701-1771), a Canadian laywoman and mother from Quebec. After her husband died she became a nun and foundress.
- 23/12: St. Antonio from S. Anna Galvão de França (1739-1822), Franciscan priest of Brazil, he spent his life in preaching and doing acts of penance. He was canonised by Benedict XVI in São Paulo (2007).
- 24/12: Bl. Bartolomeo Maria dal Monte (1726-1778), a priest of Bologna, assiduous preacher of parish Missions in 62 Italian dioceses. He founded the “Pia Opera” for the Missions.
- 25/12: The Birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, the Son of God in human flesh, the Saviour of the whole human family. It is a news of great joy to the whole people (see Lc 2:10).
- 26/12: St. Stephen, the first martyr (+ 34 about), a deacon full of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit who died by being stoned to death, forgiving and praying for his murderers.
- 26/12: Bl. Agnes Phila and Lucy Khambang, Sisters of “Lovers of the Cross”, martyred together with other Christian women in Thailand (+ 1940).
Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. J. M. Troy, mccj
Website: www.euntes.net “The Word for Mission”