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Like a fire in the night

In the light of Christmas that is radiant in the Liturgy and shines in hearts, Benedict xvi found inspiration for his reflection which he did not address exclusively to the Catholic faithful. He did so in his Homily during the Mass in nocte [midnight Mass] and in his Urbi et Orbi Message. The media does not pay much attention to these texts and this year they were even more neglected, on account of the confusion caused by a young woman who threw herself at the Pope.

This lack of attention epitomizes the difficulty of communicating in a world that is increasingly flooded – and the phenomenon is not only negative – by news. The news that transforms all things – the Birth of the one Saviour of the world – is not easily perceived. Benedict xvi, however, is neither upset nor discouraged. And he reasons about it calmly: “it is a message that cannot leave us indifferent”.

Like a Father of the Church, (this time Origen, whom he cited three times), the Pope explained that the narrative of the shepherds in Luke's Gospel had a purpose. They were keeping watch and therefore awake, not lost in a world of dreams but rather alert to the common reality that unites everyone. In other words they were receptive and open to waiting for God, the one important reality.

Today awareness of God has faded. Although for many – “simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord”, the Pope said – this is not the case, “most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ”. Yet, like the Magi who lived in distant lands, it is possible to contemplate the signs, to set out on the journey, to come out of oneself and arrive in Bethlehem where the Word that created the world can be seen in a Child, the sign of God who “lets us touch him”.

But to do so we must give up the paganism of a heart of stone and implore Christ, who came in the flesh, to enter into us and give us hearts of flesh.

Here then, the eyes of the heart can contemplate the light of Bethlehem, that “different, special light” of Christmas that is focused upon the “us” for whom Jesus was born, Benedict xvi said to the City of Rome and the whole world. At the almost invisible beginning, this “us” who gathered round the Child – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – became a fire kindled in the night.

As the Prologue to John's Gospel says, the true Light that enlightens every man came into the world (or, according to a possible and evocative interpretation of the Latin, the Light that enlightens every man who comes into the world).

In accordance with the style of God who “loves to light little lights” that radiate in concentric circles, that continue to spread like fire in the night of the world.

There is no need to fear this night, the Pope said, because the Child is there, whom the Church, like Mary, offers to the world in every situation. In a world that is immersed in the crisis – moral even more than financial – and in situations all too often forgotten by the media but which Benedict xvi lists: the Holy Land, the Middle East, Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Korean Peninsular, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Niger, Madagascar, Honduras. Benedict xvi wanted to repeat that the Church is close to all who are suffering and that she shines in the darkness, mirroring the light that comes from the fire kindled in the night at Bethlehem.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 16, 2019

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