VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2009 (VIS) - The Pope tonight celebrated Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.
In the course of the Eucharistic celebration, following the reading of the Gospel, the Holy Father delivered his homily.
"The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason", he said. "They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?
"The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch - they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. ... The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. ... To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another".
"To awake", the Pope explained, "means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which He chooses to guide us; for the many indications of His presence. ... The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God. ... And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter Him, is present. ... Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing You close to others as well!
"Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: ''Let us go over to Bethlehem', ... they went at once'. 'They made haste' is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. ... They made haste; they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly.
"And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. ... The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. ... The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place, however important they may be, so as to make our way towards God, to allow Him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in His name, to our neighbour is never time lost".
"Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. ... They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. They needed guidance and direction.
"Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. ... But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to Him.
"But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. ... Left to ourselves we could not reach Him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now He invites us: come and see how much I love you. ... Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards Him, but also along very concrete paths - the liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.
"Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off. ... Literally the Greek text says: 'Let us see this Word that has occurred there'. Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. ... God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is His humility. God's sign is that He makes Himself small; He becomes a child; He lets us touch Him and He asks for our love.
"How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness", said the Holy Father in conclusion. "But His sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, He is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like Him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love".
HML/MIDNIGHT MASS/... VIS 20091228 (1070)