Patriarchal Basilica of San Marco
Mass at Midnight: Is 9: 1-6; from Psalm 95; Tit 2: 11-14; Lk 2: 1-14
Mass During the Day: Is 52: 7-10; from Psalm 97; Heb 1: 16; Jn 1: 1-18
Homily of the Patriarch His Em. Rev. Cardinal ANGELO SCOLA
Venice, 25th December 2008
1. ‘For there is a child born to us, a son given to us’ (Is 9: 5). ‘[So Joseph set out] in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths’.’(Lk 2: 5-6).
Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation: ‘The Word was made flesh’ (Jn 1,14). In the heart of the most impressive and decisive mystery of history there is the normality of a basic experience that every human being endures: a betrothed couple, a pregnant woman awaiting to give birth to her child because the time has come, a birth, a newborn child wrapped in swaddling cloths by his mother’. So, in the Holy Family of Bethlehem every family is reflected and this enables them to rediscover the freshness of their own original portrait ‘ the stable nuptial tie between a man and a woman, public, faithful and open to life ‘ always, even when faced with hard contradictions and sorrowful trials.
2. The simple words ‘to us‘ in the First Reading [ a child is born to us ‘ (Is 9:5)] echoing in the Second Lecture [‘He sacrificed himself for us‘ (Tit 2:14)] and in the announcement to the shepherds according to the Gospel of Luke [‘today a Savour has been born to you’ (Lk 2: 11)] is repeated every day in every corner of the world where the sacrifice of the Eucharist is celebrated as the Fathers of the Church proclaimed, ‘He has become man in order to die’ for our sake. The joy of Christmas does not need to censor the sacrifice (tomorrow the Church will introduce the figure of saint Stephen, the first martyr). The fullness and the maturity of love helps the married couples to remain united in an indissoluble bond, as any betrothed man or parent here present can proof. The result of the nexus between joy and sacrifice is love. From the unlimited dynamism of the Eucharist, the gift of this Child is continually offered to us so that true peace may flourish. Peace is the unique power able to break violence, always ready to interfere in the personal and social relationships, as well as among men and among peoples. ‘For all the footgear of battle, every clock rolled in blood, is burnt, and consumed by the fire’ (Lk9:4).
3: While we post-modern men have the presumption of prescribing to God the conditions of his revelation, the shepherds are not scandalized to find the Saviour in a manger. As John the Baptist, as the Virgin Mary and many years before as Abraham and many others, are poor in spirit, persons ready to renounce to their personal ideas and expectations to make space to the Other, to God, He who surpasses all our ideas and expectations.
At the proclamation of the angel: ‘Peace to men who enjoy his favour’ (Lc 2: 14) and the upsetting idea of being loved by God, without bearing any deserved title, the shepherds run to the grotto. This great love discovered and accepted makes them good (‘Men of good will‘ as the old good tradition says), and enables them to answer with gratitude. Jesus’ true love enlightens God’s design upon every man and upon the whole human family. It is the key of the destiny of history; the unique and sure criterion to make use of the extraordinary techno-science results without any harm. This love is the source of ecclesial and civil commitment, an indomitable commitment, certain that God leads the course of history in favour of men: ‘How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of one who brings good news, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation’ (Is 52: 7).
4. In the passage of the Letter to Titus which we have just listened, Saint Paul talks about this commitment; he mentions the origin, the features and the ultimate horizon: ‘God’s grace has been revealed and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us ‘ we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are awaiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus’ (Tit 2: 11-13). The grace already revealed ‘ this Child ‘ educates us to live in a true way our relationship with God (with piety), with others (justly) and with things (with sobriety), while awaiting the glorious return of the Lord at the end of times. From this tension between the already in which He makes himself our companion of life and the not yet of His final return originates our authentic moral action. Therefore, no acquiescent passivity living at the mercy of an absolute lord, nor the presumption of saving oneself by the power of our own works, but the indomitable resumption of he who, thanks to this Child, recognizes himself in an indefectible relationship with the loving Father: ‘I will be a father to him and he a son to me’ (Heb 1,5). This is the perspective in which the whole reality, personal and social extended to its highest level, planetary, must be lived. Everything, even the epochal turn towards which the economic-financial crises is driving us must be faced through a new vision of globalization. This requires that every interested subject, starting with the destitute of the continents still seized by poverty and hunger, must be involved in an incessant dialogue aiming at rightful distribution of material and spiritual goods. The New life-styles can emerge only through a new and joint globalization, starting with those who live near us. Therefore, everyone, starting from those who exercise government responsibilities at every level, ought to be responsible for those who loose their job, often without any social security cushion, the temporarily laid-off workers, the temporary employees and all those who are in need. As every development stage even the present one will cause sacrifices which will surely be felt by the affluent North of the planet. But only the practice of global and articulated justice can realize authentic development and peace in the world.
5. With a grateful and deeply moved heart in front of the Event which we contemplated again in this Holy Night we beseech the Child and His Mother with the words of a Medieval abbot: ‘Sweet Lord, Sweet Lady, since he is my Lord, my mercy, she is my Lady the door of mercy. May the Mother lead us to the Son, the Son to the Father, the bridge to the bridge-groom, because he is the Blessed God for ever’ (Dom Nicholas of Chiaravalle, XII cent.).
* These and other texts by Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice can be found at the following web: www.patriarcato.venezia.it