I am not a Roman Catholic except in the most universal sense, but that includes almost every time the current Pope Francis speaks.
The televised homily he delivered on Christmas Eve from Rome this year struck me for its relevance to the world in which we find ourselves today. here are excerpts from what he said that night:
“What then does the Lord tell us through the manger? Three things, at least: closeness, poverty and concreteness.
“Closeness. a world ravenous for money, ravenous for power and ravenous for pleasure does not make room for the little ones. 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, 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;
“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.
“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. 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. 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!
“We behold Jesus lying in the manger. We see him as close, ever at our side. We see him as poor, in order to teach us that true wealth does not reside in things but in persons, and above all in the poor.”
(Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. After earning a secondary school degree as a chemical technician, Bergoglio felt a call to the priesthood as a Jesuit, joining the novitiate in 1958, at the age of 22.)