Most Rev Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, gave the following homily yesterday, the Feast of Our Lady, Mother of God and World Day of Peace 2017.
A few days ago, we celebrated the birth of the Lord, and we called to mind that event which happened in history when God clothed himself with our flesh. Now we continue to celebrate Christmas, because that birth does not cease to be vital, active: the Lord continues to be born, to grow, to exist in the life of every baptised person and - in a mysterious way - in that of every person.
But the birth of Jesus in us is not an event that happens in an instant: it is rather a long process, which requires time and patience and slowly draws us, always deeper and deeper, until reaching every ambit of our existence. I would like to linger only on two points among the many that today's Gospel suggests for our reflection. The first concerns the Virgin, whose divine motherhood we celebrate today. The second looks at how the mystery of the birth of Jesus triggers the life of the believer.
Today's Gospel gives us a glimpse into the inner life of the Virgin Mary, into how she learned day by day to stand before the mystery of the child who was given to her.
The mystery precedes us, surpasses us and always surprises us, and has in itself something unpredictable, absolutely new, and not immediately understandable. Faced with the newness of the mystery of Jesus and the events surrounding his birth, the evangelist says that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Lk 2:19).
This must be Mary's habitual way of standing in life, before God: like the conclusion of the infancy accounts, after the incident of Jesus, a twelve year old lost and found again in the temple in Jerusalem, Luke uses a similar expression for Mary: His mother kept all these things (Lk 2:51).
Both times, Mary does not understand everything that happened. In the Jerusalem incident, the evangelist states it clearly: Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus said to them (cf. Lk 2:50). To keep indicates a positive attitude and an inner activity, of reflection, of questions, certainly, but also a positive acceptance of what is happening.
Mary consents to let live within her, to make room, to welcome the life that happens, without possessing it. Mary accepts that her son is the Son of God, different, that is, from her personal expectations and presumptions; with confidence, she remains in active expectation that the mystery will bring forth fruit of salvation.
We hold what is much greater than our own heart and at the times it is not understood; but we also hold what is fragile, and therefore needs greater care and attention. And the presence of Jesus is also this: not a secure possession, not an obvious answer, but a question and a seed that only grows little by little to its full potential. And that is why it needs great care. Finally, we hold what it is very precious.
Before the mystery then one can stand in different ways: one can deny it (as will be the case of Herod, who, frightened by the mystery, will try to kill Jesus); one can ignore it (like the leaders of the people and the great ones, who at the announcement of the one who was born in Bethlehem, do not set out to look for him); one can try to understand it, bending it and enclosing it in what one already knows, in a few reassuring patterns (what, later, the Pharisees and the leaders of the people will do); one can lose it on the way; or one can keep it precisely as Mary did.
Luke recounts that the shepherds, after finding the sign which the angel spoke to them, report what had been told them about the child (Lk 2:17). They are amazed at this account: they have in front of them simply a little child like all the others, who came into the world in even more precarious conditions than most. And they find out that his birth was accompanied by heavenly apparitions, by prodigious events, that only a few, however, can see and understand.
We have an obvious contrast. The story of the birth of Jesus begins with the reference to the Emperor Augustus, who was also considered god by the pagans and their savior. While in Bethlehem there is the hidden birth of an ordinary child, in a very normal context, whose unseen birth is announced by the angels only to some shepherds. The Word made flesh is not manifest, is not ostentatious. The true salvation of the world, which is the child born in Bethlehem and not Caesar Augustus, and who after eight days, like any other child at that time, is circumcised and receives the name Jesus, Saviour, is not seen and is not recognized immediately. The visitation of God takes place in our history and requires our participation, our understanding.
The shepherds are in this case those who report what had been told them about the child (Lk 2:17). God acts within human situations and reveals his presence through the word of his witnesses. The life of that simple and poor family, the word of simple shepherds become a sign of God's presence, but they need our reception and interpretation.
The believer in Jesus, like the shepherds and the many Gospel witnesses, should know how to display signs of salvation in a world still shrouded in darkness (Jn 1: 5). It should at least be capable of expecting it, salvation. But is it like this? Faith is not an act of a moment, even if heroic, but it is the ordinary and daily attitude of those who constantly believe that ordinary life, simple and sometimes even trivial, is inhabited by a beyond. That life is not just what our carnal eyes see.
But this birth and its conditions tell us also that Christ's rule in the world is disconnected from every human power, and that the believer is called to testify in ordinary life to being a child of the light, in our violent world. The life was the light of men; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1: 4).
Everywhere, this year, we have seen much violence. And they were many Christian believers who, despite everything, have behaved as children of light, not allowing the darkness to win. We think of our Middle East and the many testimonies that believers have given.
Even here in the Holy Land, where the shadows of violence, not only physical, are perhaps less flaunted, at least for now, but more latent, and which relentlessly envelop the life of all of us, our daily life, we are called to behave as children of light. It is up to us to ask ourselves what it means, here, today, to be children of the light, to belong to Christ. Our actions must tell to whom we belong.
Pope Francis, in his message for today's World Day of Peace, reminds us of a clear and precise modality: non-violence. "Jesus... taught that the real battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart... Non-violence "is realistic, because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore we cannot overcome this situation unless by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This "more" comes from God.'
My wish for the year that begins, and that promises to be no less complicated than what we have left, is to be here in the Holy Land desirous of the salvation that always awaits us and to be worthy children of light.
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
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