Vatican, December 24, 2021 (UPI)
Pope Francis has urged clergy members to embrace humility this Christmas season rather than letting pride and ‘self-interest’ get in the way.
Officials of the Roman Curia met with the Pontiff for the annual exchange of Christmas greetings at which he reflected on the identity and mission of the Church’s central governing body. He told Vatican Cardinals, Bishops and bureaucrats that the “glitter of our armour” perverted their spiritual lives and corrupted the Church’s mission.
Moral and personal failings
Pope Francis asked them to face their moral and personal failings and denounced those who hide behind Catholic Church traditions rather than seek out the neediest with humility.
He said that humility is the “great condition for faith.”
Since taking his position in 2013, the Pope enforced a 10% pay cut for Cardinals, imposed a US$45 gift cap for Holy See personnel and passed a law for clergy members to be criminally prosecuted by the Vatican’s Tribunal.
“Once we strip ourselves of our robes, prerogatives, positions and titles, all of us are lepers in need of healing,” he said according to Vatican News.
“Christmas is the living reminder of this realisation,” Pope Francis said.
Following is the Homily of the Holy Father at the Christmas Eve Mass held in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on December 24, 2021.
A light comes on in the night. An Angel appears the glory of the Lord envelops the shepherds and finally the announcement that has been awaited for centuries arrives: “Today a Saviour is born for you, who is Christ the Lord” ( Lk 2:11). However, what the Angel adds is surprising. He shows the shepherds how to find God who has come to earth: “This is the sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (v. 12). Here is the sign: a child. That’s all: a child in the raw poverty of a manger. There are no more lights, radiance, choirs of Angels. Just a baby. Nothing else, as Isaiah had foretold: “A child is born for us” ( Is 9: 5).
The Gospel on the Contrast
The Gospel insists on this contrast. It tells of the birth of Jesus starting with Caesar Augustus, who takes a census of the whole earth: it shows the first emperor in his greatness. But, immediately after, he takes us to Bethlehem, where there is nothing big: just a poor baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, with shepherds around. And there is God, in littleness. Here is the message: God does not ride greatness but descends into littleness. Smallness is the way he has chosen to reach us, to touch our hearts, to save us and bring us back to what matters.
Brothers and sisters, stopping in front of the crib we look at the centre: we go beyond the lights and decorations, which are beautiful, and we contemplate the Child. In his littleness, there is all God. Let’s recognise him: “Child, You are God, God-child.”
Let us allow ourselves to be traversed by this scandalous amazement. He who embraces the universe needs to be held in his arms. He, who made the sun, must be warmed. Tenderness itself needs to be pampered. Infinite love has a tiny heart, which emits soft beats. The eternal Word is infant, that is, unable to speak. The Bread of life must be fed. The creator of the world is homeless. Today everything is overturned: God comes to the small world. Its greatness offers itself in smallness.
The Grace of Littleness
And we – let us ask ourselves – do we know how to welcome this way of God? It is the challenge of Christmas: God reveals himself, but men do not understand him. He makes himself small in the eyes of the world and we continue to seek greatness according to the world, perhaps even in its name. God lowers himself and we want to get on the pedestal. The Most High indicates humility and we pretend to appear. God goes in search of shepherds, of the invisible; we seek visibility, to be seen. Jesus was born to serve and we spend years chasing success. God does not seek strength and power, he asks for tenderness and interior littleness. Here is what to ask of Jesus for Christmas: the Grace of Littleness.
“Lord, teach us to love smallness. Help us understand that it is the way to true greatness.” But what does it mean, concretely, to welcome smallness?
First, it means believing that God wants to come into the little things in our life, wants to live in everyday realities, the simple gestures we make at home, in the family, at school, at work. It is in our ordinary life that he wants to achieve extraordinary things. And it is a message of great hope: Jesus invites us to value and rediscover the little things in life. If He is there with us, what are we missing? So let us leave behind the regrets for the greatness that we do not have. We renounce complaints and long faces, greed that leaves us unsatisfied! The smallness, the amazement of that little child: this is the message.
Jesus in little and smallness of things
But there is more. Jesus does not want to come only in the little things of our life, but also in our smallness: in our feeling weak, fragile, inadequate, maybe even wrong. Sister and brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of the night surrounds you, if you feel a cold indifference around you if the wounds you carry inside cry out: “You don’t count, you are worth nothing, you will never be loved as you want”, this night, if you feel this, God answers and tells you: “I love you as you are. Your littleness doesn’t scare me, your frailties don’t worry me. I made myself small for you. To be your God I became your brother. Beloved brother, the beloved sister, do not be afraid of me, but find your greatness in me. I am close to you and this is the only thing I ask of you: trust me and open your heart to me.”
Welcoming smallness still means one thing: embracing Jesus in the little ones of today. To love him, that is, in the least, to serve Him in the poor.
They are the most similar to Jesus, born poor. And it is in them that He wants to be honoured. In this night of love, a single fear assails us: to hurt the love of God, to hurt it by despising the poor with our indifference. They are the beloved ones of Jesus, who will one day welcome us to Heaven.
A poet wrote: “Whoever has not found Heaven down here will miss it up there” (E. Dickinson, Poems, P96-17). Let us not lose sight of Heaven, let us take care of Jesus now, caressing him in the needy, because he identified himself with them.
We look once again at the crib and we see that Jesus at birth is surrounded by the little ones, by the poor. They are the shepherds. They were the simplest and were the closest to the Lord. They found him because, “spending the night in the open, they kept watch all night keeping watch over their flock” ( Lk2.8). They were there to work because they were poor and their life did not have timetables but depended on the flock.
They could not live how and where they wanted, but they regulated themselves according to the needs of the sheep they looked after. And Jesus was born there, close to them, close to the forgotten of the peripheries. It comes where the dignity of man is put to the test. He comes to ennoble the excluded and reveals himself above all to them: not to cultured and important personalities, but to poor people who worked.
God comes tonight to fill the hardness of work with dignity. It reminds us how important it is to give dignity to the man with work, but also to give dignity to man’s work because man is a lord and not a slave to work. On the day of life, we repeat no more deaths at work! And let’s commit ourselves to this.
We look one last time at the crib, widening our gaze to its borders, where we can glimpse the wise men, on a pilgrimage to adore the Lord.
Let us look and understand that around Jesus everything comes together in unity: there are not only the last ones, the shepherds but also the learned and the rich, the wise men.
In Bethlehem, poor and rich are together, those who adore like the magi and those who work like shepherds. Everything comes together when Jesus is at the centre: not our ideas about Jesus, but Him, the Living One.
Back to the origins
So, dear brothers and sisters, let’s go back to Bethlehem, let’s go back to the origins: to the essentiality of faith, to first love, to adoration and charity. We look at the wise men who wander and as a synodal Church, on the way, we go to Bethlehem, where there is God in man and man in God; where the Lord is in the first place and is worshipped; where the last occupy the place closest to him; where shepherds and magi stand together in a brotherhood stronger than any classification. May God grant us to be an adoring, poor, fraternal Church. This is essential. Let’s go back to Bethlehem.
It does us good to go there, docile to the Christmas Gospel, which presents the Holy Family, the shepherds and the wise men: all people on their way. Brothers and sisters, let us set out, because life is a pilgrimage. Let’s get up, let’s wake up because a light went on tonight. It is a gentle light and reminds us that in our littleness we are beloved children, children of the light (cf. 1 Thes 5: 5). Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice together because no one will ever extinguish this light, the light of Jesus, which shines in the world from tonight.