The homily of Pope Francis for Christmas 2022

What does this night still have to say to our lives? Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, after so many Christmases spent amid decorations and gifts, after so much consumerism that has packaged the mystery we celebrate, there is a danger. We know many things about Christmas, but we forget its real meaning. So how do we rediscover the meaning of Christmas? First of all, where do we go to find it? The Gospel of Jesus’ birth appears to have been written precisely for this purpose: to take us by the hand and lead us where God would have us go.

It starts with a situation not unlike our own: everyone is bustling about, getting ready for an important event, the great census, which called for much preparation. In that sense, the atmosphere was very much like our modern celebration of Christmas. Yet the Gospel has little to do with that worldly scenario; it quickly shifts our gaze to something else, which it considers more important. It is a small and apparently insignificant detail that it nonetheless mentions three times, always in relation to the central figures in the narrative. First, Mary places Jesus “in a manger” (Lk 2:7); then the angels tell the shepherds about “a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12); and finally, the shepherds, who find “the child lying in the manger” (v. 16). In order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, we need to look to the manger. Yet why is the manger so important? Because it is the sign, and not by chance, of Christ’s coming into this world. It is how he announces his coming. It is the way God is born in history, so that history itself can be reborn. What then does the Lord tell us? Through the manger, three things, at least: closeness, poverty and concreteness.

Closeness. The manger serves as a feeding trough, to enable food to be consumed more quickly. In this way, it can symbolize one aspect of our humanity: our greed for consumption. While animals feed in their stalls, men and women in our world, in their hunger for wealth and power, consume even their neighbors, their brothers and sisters. How many wars have we seen! And in how many places, even today, are human dignity and freedom treated with contempt! As always, the principal victims of this human greed are the weak and the vulnerable. This Christmas too, as in the case of Jesus, a world ravenous for money, ravenous for power and ravenous for pleasure does not make room for the little ones, for so many unborn, poor and forgotten children. I think above all of the children devoured by war, poverty and injustice. Yet those are the very places to which Jesus comes, a child in the manger of rejection and refusal. In him, the Child of Bethlehem, every child is present. And we ourselves are invited to view life, politics and history through the eyes of children.

In the manger of rejection and discomfort, God makes himself present. He comes there because there we see the problem of our humanity: the indifference produced by the greedy rush to possess and consume. There, in that manger, Christ is born, and there we discover his closeness to us. He comes there, to a feeding trough, in order to become our food. God is no father who devours his children, but the Father who, in Jesus, makes us his children and feeds us with his tender love. He comes to touch our hearts and to tell us that love alone is the power that changes the course of history. He does not remain distant and mighty, but draws near to us in humility; leaving his throne in heaven, he lets himself be laid in a manger.

Dear brother, dear sister, tonight God is drawing near to you, because you are important to him. From the manger, as food for your life, he tells you: “If you feel consumed by events, if you are devoured by a sense of guilt and inadequacy, if you hunger for justice, I, your God, am with you. I know what you are experiencing, for I experienced it myself in that manger. I know your weaknesses, your failings and your history. I was born in order to tell you that I am, and always will be, close to you”. The Christmas manger, the first message of the divine Child, tells us that God is with us, he loves us and he seeks us. So take heart! Do not allow yourself to be overcome by fear, resignation or discouragement. God was born in a manger so that you could be reborn in the very place where you thought you had hit rock bottom. There is no evil, there is no sin, from which Jesus does not want to save you. And he can. Christmas means that God is close to us: let confidence be reborn!

The manger of Bethlehem speaks to us not only of closeness, but also of poverty. Around the manger there is very little: hay and straw, a few animals, little else. People were warm in the inn, but not here in the coldness of a stable. Yet that is where Jesus was born. The manger reminds us that he was surrounded by nothing but love: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds; all poor people, united by affection and amazement, not by wealth and great expectations. The poverty of the manger thus shows us where the true riches in life are to be found: not in money and power, but in relationships and persons.

And the first person, the greatest wealth, is Jesus himself. Yet do we want to stand at his side? Do we draw close to him? Do we love his poverty? Or do we prefer to remain comfortably ensconced in our own interests and concerns? Above all, do we visit him where he is to be found, namely in the poor mangers of our world? For that is where he is present. We are called to be a Church that worships a Jesus who is poor and that serves him in the poor. As a saintly bishop once said: “The Church supports and blesses efforts to change the structures of injustice, and sets down but one condition: that social, economic and political change truly benefit the poor” (O.A. ROMERO, Pastoral Message for the New Year, 1 January 1980). Certainly, it is not easy to leave the comfortable warmth of worldliness to embrace the stark beauty of the grotto of Bethlehem, but let us remember that it is not truly Christmas without the poor. Without the poor, we can celebrate Christmas, but not the birth of Jesus. Dear brothers, dear sisters, at Christmas God is poor: let charity be reborn!

We now come to our last point: the manger speaks to us of concreteness. Indeed, a child lying in a manger presents us with a scene that is striking, even crude. It reminds us that God truly became flesh. As a result, all our theories, our fine thoughts and our pious sentiments are no longer enough. Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor; he did not so much talk about poverty as live it, to the very end, for our sake. From the manger to the cross, his love for us was always palpable, concrete. From birth to death, the carpenter’s son embraced the roughness of the wood, the harshness of our existence. He did not love us only in words; he loved us with utter seriousness!

Consequently, Jesus is not satisfied with appearances. He who took on our flesh wants more than simply good intentions. He who was born in the manger, demands a concrete faith, made up of adoration and charity, not empty words and superficiality. He who lay naked in the manger and hung naked on the cross, asks us for truth, he asks us to go to the bare reality of things, and to lay at the foot of the manger all our excuses, our justifications and our hypocrisies. Tenderly wrapped in swaddling clothes by Mary, he wants us to be clothed in love. God does not want appearances but concreteness. May we not let this Christmas pass without doing something good, brothers and sisters. Since it is his celebration, his birthday, let us give him the gifts he finds pleasing! At Christmas, God is concrete: in his name let us help a little hope to be born anew in those who feel hopeless!

Jesus we behold you lying in the manger. We see you as close, ever at our side: thank you Lord! We see you as poor, in order to teach us that true wealth does not reside in things but in persons, and above all in the poor: forgive us, if we have failed to acknowledge and serve you in them. We see you as concrete, because your love for us is palpable. Help us to give flesh and life to our faith. Amen.

Lohodedoo u Lahadi u sha 4 ken Shie u Mker ken Inyom i A Tiv Christmas Carol @ St John the Baptist Cathedral

  • Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, (left) and Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

    Rome Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 09:18 am (CNA).

    Cardinals organizing the Synod on Synodality have written a letter to all of the world’s bishops sharing urgent considerations for the Continental Assemblies, seven of which are set to take place by the end of March.

    In the letter published by the Vatican on Jan. 30, Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich stressed that the Synod of Bishops is not meant “to address all the issues being debated in the Church.”

    “There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the synodal assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the synod, with the intention of steering the discussion and determining its outcome,” the cardinals wrote.

    “However, the theme that the pope has assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.’ This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process.”

    The cardinals added that “those who claim to impose any one theme on the synod forget the logic that governs the synod process: we are called to chart a ‘common course’ beginning with the contribution of all.”

    While the North American Continental Assembly has already begun to meet virtually, other continents are hosting in-person meetings in February and March:

    • Europe and Oceania will both begin their Continental Assemblies on Feb. 5.

    • Two hundred delegates will meet in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first part of the European Continental Assembly Feb. 5-9 followed by a meeting of the 39 European bishops, who each serve as the president of his country’s bishops’ conference, from Feb. 9-12 with an additional 390 delegates participating online (10 for each bishops’ conference.)

    • Bishops from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea will join together with delegates from other parts of Oceania for a five-day meeting in Suva, Fiji, for the Oceania Continental Assembly Feb. 5-9.

    • The Middle East Continental Assembly will take place in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 12-18, with the participation of clergy from at least seven Eastern Catholic Churches.

    • Bishops and delegates from across Asia will meet in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 24-26 for the Asian Continental Assembly with 100 expected participants.

    • The African Continental Assembly will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the participation of 95 laypeople, 12 religious sisters, 18 priests, 15 bishops, and seven cardinals, a total of 155 delegates, March 1-6.

    • The Latin American and Caribbean Continental Assembly will be held as four separate meetings across the region. The first will be in El Salvador Feb. 13-17 with participants from Mexico and Central America. The second for the Caribbean is in the Dominican Republic Feb. 20-24. The third is in Quito, Ecuador, Feb. 27-March 3, and the fourth is in Brasilia, Brazil, March 6-10.

    The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops describes these Continental Assemblies as a meeting to “reread the journey made and to continue the listening and discernment … proceeding in accord with the socio-cultural specificities of their respective regions.”

    The discussion at the Continental Assemblies will be guided by a 44-page working document officially called the DCS (Document for the Continental Stage).

    The text calls for “a Church capable of radical inclusion” and says that many local synod reports raised questions about the inclusion and role of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as LGBTQ, and the divorced and remarried.

    In the letter signed by Grech and Hollerich on Jan. 26, the cardinals stressed that the themes proposed in the document guiding the synod’s continental phase discussions “do not constitute the agenda” for the Synod of Bishops assembly in October 2023.

    “The decision to restore the DCS to the particular Churches, asking that each one listen to the voice of the others … truly manifests that the only rule we have given ourselves is to constantly listen to the Spirit,” it said.

    The synod organizers added that it will be the task of the Continental Assemblies to identify “the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action” that will be discussed during the first session of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4-29.

    Each Continental Assembly is required to submit a final document of no more than 20 pages providing the region’s response to three reflection questions based on the DCS by March 31:

    1. Which intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the Church in your continent? Which experiences are new or illuminating to you?

    2. What substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently, what are the questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the process?

    3. Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions, what are the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action that can be shared with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023?

    The final, universal phase of the Synod on Synodality will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023 and continue in October 2024.

    The feedback from the seven Continental Assemblies on the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) will be used as the basis for another instrumentum laboris, or working document, that will be completed in June 2023 to guide the Synod of Bishops’ discussion.

  • Bishop Robert Francis Prevost was named prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops on Jan. 30, 2023. / Credit: Frayjhonattan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Rome Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 07:27 am (CNA).

    Pope Francis on Monday named an American as the next prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops to succeed Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

    Bishop Robert Francis Prevost will lead the Vatican office responsible for evaluating new members of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, the Vatican announced Jan. 30.

    Prevost, 67, has served as a bishop of the Diocese of Chiclayo in Peru since 2015. He is a member of the Order of St. Augustine and led the Augustinian order as prior general from Rome for more than a decade after serving as a missionary priest for the order in Peru in the 1990s.

    Born in Chicago in 1955, Prevost entered the Augustinian order as a novice at the age of 21. He studied philosophy at Villanova University and theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago before being ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1982.

    Prevost earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome in 1985.

    He helped to establish in 1988 the order’s formation house in Trujillo, Peru, where he went on to serve as prior, formation director, judicial vicar, and a director of seminary studies. He returned to the U.S. in 1999 after being elected prior of the order’s Chicago province.

    After becoming a bishop in Peru, Prevost was appointed by the pope as a member of the Dicastery for Bishops and the Dicastery for Clergy.

    As the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Prevost will play a key role in the selection process for diocesan bishops and in the investigation of allegations against bishops.

    The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. Usually, the pope’s representative in a country, the apostolic nuncio, passes on recommendations and documentation to the Vatican. The Dicastery of Bishops then discusses the appointment in a further process and takes a vote. On being presented with the recommendations, the pope makes the final decision.

    Prevost will begin his new post on April 12 and will receive the title of archbishop. He will succeed Ouellet in both the position of prefect and as the next president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

    The Vatican announced on Monday that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Ouellet’s resignation at the age of 78, more than three years past the usual retirement age for bishops.

    Pope Benedict XVI appointed Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in 2010. A member of the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (Sulpicians), he was a theology professor, a missionary in Colombia, and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity before being appointed archbishop of Quebec — and thus primate of Canada — by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

    After the cardinal was accused of sexual assault in a civil suit in August 2022, the Vatican conducted a preliminary investigation and concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to begin a canonical investigation against Ouellet for sexual assault.

    Ouellet, who strongly denies the allegations, filed a defamation lawsuit in Quebec courts contending that the woman wrongly accused him of sexual assault in the lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Quebec.

  • Pope Francis prayed for peace in the Holy Land at the end of his Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

    Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 08:10 am (CNA).

    Pope Francis appealed for peace in the Holy Land on Sunday, calling the recent spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence a “spiral of death” that accomplishes nothing.

    In his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, the pope expressed “great sorrow” for the death of Palestinians killed in an Israeli military raid as well as seven Israelis killed in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem.

    “The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

    “From the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed during firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and to the international community so that, immediately and with delay, other paths might be found that include dialogue and a sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this.”

    The pope spoke following a wave of violence in Israel and Palestine this week. On Friday night, seven Israelis were killed and three wounded in a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabbath, the deadliest attack on Israelis in 15 years, according to the Associated Press.

    The synagogue shooting occurred the day after an Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed nine Palestinians and another Palestinian man was shot by Israeli forces in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem.

    The Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem joined other Christian leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday in warning that the current “state of affairs will almost certainly bring further atrocities and anguish, driving us away from the much sought-after peace and stability that we all seek.”

    In a joint statement issued by the patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem on Jan. 29, the Christian leaders called upon all parties “to practice restraint and self-control.”

    “In closely monitoring this regrettable situation, we have concluded that this proliferation of violence that has led to the unwarranted deaths of 32 Palestinians and seven Israelis since the start of the New Year seems to be self-perpetuating. It will surely continue and even escalate unless a robust intervention is resolutely undertaken by community and political leaders on all sides,” it said.

    “Everyone must work together to defuse the current tensions and to launch a political process based upon well-established principles of justice that will bring about a lasting peace and prosperity for all. Consonant with this, in these most difficult of times we call upon all parties to reverence each other’s religious faith and to show respect to all holy sites and places of worship.”

    The patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem asked God to grant wisdom and prudence to political leaders seeking to find ways to overcome the violence and to bring about “a just and peaceful solution for our beloved Holy Land.”

  • Pope Benedict XVI revealed in a letter to his biographer that insomnia was the "central reason" why resigned in 2013. / Paul Badde/CNA

    CNA Newsroom, Jan 29, 2023 / 07:15 am (CNA).

    According to papal biographer Peter Seewald, chronic insomnia ultimately led to Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign in 2013. 

    In his last letter to the biographer — dated Oct. 28, 2022 — Benedict wrote the “central motive” for his resignation from office was “insomnia,” Seewald said according to a Jan. 27 report by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

    The pontiff, who died Dec. 31, 2022, also wrote that insomnia had accompanied him “continuously since World Youth Day in Cologne.”

    The 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne took place a few months after Benedict’s election and was his first papal journey. 

    The Bavarian-born pontiff served for nearly eight more years before announcing he was stepping down — citing waning strength — on Feb. 11, 2013.

    Confirming a German media report, Seewald told agency KNA that Benedict XVI had not wanted to “make a fuss about the closer circumstances of his resignation, which was justified by his exhaustion,” while still alive.

    Since the rumors and speculations about Benedict’s resignation have not died down, Seewald said he was obliged “to publish the decisive detail entrusted to me about the medical history of the German pope.”

    The biographer said that Benedict XVI had used strong sleeping pills.

    On his trip to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012, Benedict told Seewald, he realized he must have “bumped into something in the bathroom and fallen” after waking up only to discover his handkerchief was “blood-soaked.”

    After seeking medical attention, Benedict was able to continue his program. However, following the incident, the pope’s personal physician ordered Benedict to reduce his intake of sleeping pills and stressed that he should only attend public appointments in the morning when traveling abroad.

    On this account, Benedict reasoned he should make way for a new pope who would be able to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. 

  • Pope Francis greets the crowd at his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

    Vatican City, Jan 29, 2023 / 05:55 am (CNA).

    In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis decried a culture that “throws away” unborn children, the elderly, and the poor if they are not useful.

    “The throwaway culture says, ‘I use you as much as I need you. When I am not interested in you anymore, or you are in my way, I throw you out.’ It is especially the weakest who are treated this way — unborn children, the elderly, the needy, and the disadvantaged,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 29.

    “But people are never to be thrown out. The disadvantaged cannot be thrown away. Every person is a sacred and unique gift, no matter what their age or condition is. Let us always respect and promote life! Let us not throw life away.”

    Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, the pope noted that the “throwaway culture” is predominant in more affluent societies.

    “It is a fact that about one-third of total food production goes to waste in the world each year, while so many die of hunger,” he said.

    “Nature’s resources cannot be used like this. Goods should be taken care of and shared in such a way that no one lacks what is necessary. Rather than waste what we have, let us disseminate an ecology of justice and charity, of sharing.”

    Pope Francis underlined that Jesus’ call in the beatitudes to be “poor in spirit” includes the “desire that no gift should go to waste.” He said that this includes not wasting “the gift that we are.”

    “Each one of us is a good, independent of the gifts we have. Every woman, every man, is rich not only in talents but in dignity. He or she is loved by God, is valuable, is precious,” he said.

    “Jesus reminds us that we are blessed not for what we have, but for who we are.”

    A small stage was set up in St. Peter’s Square ahead of the pope’s Angelus address where young people gathered with balloons and banners singing hymns as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.”

    At the end of the Angelus, a young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their commitment to peace.

    A young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their efforts as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.” Vatican Media
    A young boy and girl in blue sweatshirts joined Pope Francis in the window of the Apostolic Palace and read aloud a letter sharing their efforts as part of Catholic Action’s “Caravan of Peace.” Vatican Media

    Pope Francis thanked Catholic Action for the initiative, adding that it is especially important this year with the war in Ukraine.

    “Thinking of tormented Ukraine, our commitment and prayer for peace must be even stronger,” he said.

    The pope also appealed for peace in the Holy Land, expressing sorrow for the death of 10 Palestinians killed in the West Bank in an Israeli military raid and a shooting outside of a synagogue in east Jerusalem in which a Palestinian killed seven Israelis.

    “The spiral of death that increases day after day does nothing other than close the few glimpses of trust that exist between the two peoples,” Pope Francis said.

    “Since the beginning of the year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in firefights with the Israeli army. I appeal to the two governments and the international community to find, immediately and without delay, other paths, which include dialogue and the sincere search for peace. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for this!”

    People in the crowd held up a "peace flag" as the pope prayed for peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. Vatican Media
    People in the crowd held up a "peace flag" as the pope prayed for peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. Vatican Media

    Noting that he will soon be traveling to Africa, Pope Francis asked people to pray for his apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5.

    “These lands, situated in the center of the great African continent, have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in the east of the country, suffers from armed clashes and exploitation. South Sudan, wracked by years of war, longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship,” he said.

    “In South Sudan, I will arrive together with the archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, as brothers, we will make an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, to entreat God and men to bring an end to the hostilities and for reconciliation. I ask everyone, please, to accompany this journey with their prayers.”

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