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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

General Audience on the hope of Christmas

This morning's General Audience began at 9:45am in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from other parts of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued the new cycle of catechesis on the theme of Christian hope, adding a meditation on the theme: The birth of Jesus, wellspring of hope (cf Lk 2:9a, 11-14, 16).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father offered particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  He then issued a call for the process of peace and reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We have just begun the journey of catechesis on the theme of hope, a very appropriate theme for the season of Advent.  So far, the prophet Isaiah has been our guide.  Today, a few days before Christmas, I want to reflect more specifically on the moment at which, so to speak, hope entered into the world, with the incarnation of the Son of God.  The prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the birth of the Messiah in some of his passages: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel (Is 7:14); and also A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out from its roots (Is 11:1).  In these passages, we see the meaning of Christmas: God fulfills the promise by becoming a man; he does not abandon his people, he comes close in order to envelop them with his divinity.  In this way, God demonstrates his fidelity and inaugurates a new Kingdom, which gives humanity new hope.  And what is this hope?  Eternal life.

When we speak about hope, often we refer to things that are not within the power of mankind, and things that are not visible.  In effect, what we hope in is beyond our strength and the realm of our possibilities.  But the birth of Christ, which brings redemption, speaks of a different hope, an attainable hope, visible and understandable, for it is founded on God.  He enters into the world and gives us the strength to walk with Him: God walks with us in Jesus and to walk with Him toward the fullness of life gives us the strength to be present in a new way, even though it is tiring.  For Christians therefore, to hope means to be certain of being on a journey with Christ toward the Father who is waiting for us.  Hope never ends, hope is always present on our journey and it helps us to keep going.  This hope, which the Child of Bethlehem gives us, offers a goal, a good destiny, the salvation of mankind, the blessedness of those who rely on God's mercy.  Saint Paul summarizes all this in the expression: In hope, we have been saved (Rom 8:24).  That is to say, as we journey through this world, with hope, we are saved.  And here, we can ask ourselves, every one of us: do I walk through life with hope or is my interior life closed in upon itself?  Is my heart a closed drawer or is the drawer open to the hope that helps me to go on, not alone, but with God?

In Christian homes, during the time of Advent, we prepare the manger scene, following the tradition that dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi.  In its simplicity, the manger is a sign of hope; every one of the figures is immersed in this atmosphere of hope.

First of all, we note the place in which Jesus is born: Bethlehem.  A small village in Judea where a thousand years before, David was born, the shepherd chosen by God as king of Israel.  Bethlehem is not a capital, and therefore it is preferred by divine providence, which loves to act through the little ones and the humble.  In that place, the long awaited son of David is born; in him the hope of God and the hope of mankind meet.

Then, we look to Mary, the Mother of hope.  With her yes, she opened the door of the world to God: her heart, the heart of a young girl was full of hope, enlivened by faith; and therefore God chose her and she believed in His word.  She who for nine months had been the ark of the new Covenant, contemplated the Child in the manger and saw in Him the love of God, who came to save his people and all of humanity.  Beside Mary is Joseph, a descendant of Jesse and of David; he too believed the words of the angel, and looking at Jesus in the manger, meditated on the Child who had come from the Holy Spirit; the child who God himself had commanded be named Jesus.  In that name, there is hope for every man, because through this woman's son, God has saved humanity from death and sin.  This is why it is important to look to the manger scene!

And in the manger scene, there are also shepherds, who represent the humble and the poor who were waiting for the Messiah, the comfort of Israel (Lk 2:25) and the redemption of Jerusalem (lk 2:38).  In that Child, they see the fulfillment of these promises and the hope that God's salvation has finally arrived for each of them.  Someone who trusts in his own security, especially in material goods, is not waiting for God's salvation.  Let us put this in our minds: our own security will not save us; the only security that saves is that of hope in God.  It saves us because it is strong and it leads us to walk through life with joy, with the willingness to do good, with the willingness to become happy for all eternity.  The little ones, the shepherds, trust in God, hope in Him and rejoice when they recognize in the Child the sign pointed out by the angels (cf Lk 2:12).

The choir of angels proclaims from on high the great plan that this Child is to fulfill: Glory to God in the highest heavens and on earth, peace to all mankind, who he loves (Lk 2:14).  Christian hope is expressed in praising and giving thanks to God, who began his Kingdom of love, of justice and of peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these days, let us contemplate the manger scene as we prepare for the birth of the Lord.  It will truly be a festival if we welcome Jesus, the seed of hope that God plants in the furrows of our personal and community lives.  Every yes offered to Jesus who is coming is another bud of hope.  We have faith in this budding hope, in this yes: Yes, Jesus, you can save me, you can save me.  A Merry and hope-filled Christmas to all of you!

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages, and he offered particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly those from Australia, Japan and the United States of America. I pray that each of you, and your families, may experience a blessed Advent, in preparation for the coming of the newborn Saviour at Christmas. God bless you!

At the conclusion of today's General Audience, the Holy Father made the following appeal:

In the light of a recent meeting which I had with the President and the Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I extend once again a heartfelt call to all Congolese that, at this delicate moment in their history, they strive to be artisans of reconciliation and peace.  I call upon those who have political responsibilities to listen to the voice of their own conscience, to see the cruel suffering being endured by their fellow citizens and to have the common good at heart.  With the assurance of my support and my affection for the beloved people of that country, I invite them all to allow themselves to be guided by the light of the Redeemer of the world and I pray that the Lord's Nativity may open a path of hope.
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