“Always, even in the midst of the most difficult problems to face, we must trust in God, renewing faith in his presence and action in our history, like in that of Mary,” Pope Benedict XVI said today in his first weekly general audience catechesis of 2013. “Nothing is impossible with God! With him, our lives always walk on solid ground and are open to a future of firm hope.”
The Holy Father’s catechesis, largely a reflection on the importance and meaning of the incarnation and the role and example of the Virgin Mary, also carried an appeal to “welcome the Saviour into our hearts, allow God’s power to strengthen and transform our weakness and bear joyful witness to the dawning of the new creation.”
The Pope also sent a tweet earlier today that read: “When we entrust ourselves to the Lord completely, everything changes. We are children of a Father who loves us and never leaves us.”
Below is a full translation of the catechesis, courtesy of Vatican Radio.
“Dear brothers and sisters,
The Nativity of the Lord once again illuminates the darkness that often surrounds our world and our hearts with his light, bringing hope and joy. Where does this light come from? From the stable in Bethlehem, where the shepherds found "Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger" (Luke 2:16). Before this Holy Family, another and deeper question arises: How can the small and weak Child have brought such radical novelty to the world to change the course of history? Is there not something mysterious in its origin that goes beyond that stable?
Again and again the question of the origin of Jesus emerges, the same one posed by the prosecutor Pontius Pilate during the trial: "Where are you from?" (John 19:29). Yet the origin is very clear. In the Gospel of John, when the Lord says: "I am the bread which came down from heaven," the Jews react, muttering, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" (John 6.42). And, a little later, the citizens of Jerusalem are deeply opposed to Jesus’ claim of Messiahship, stating: “But we know where he is from. When the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from." (John 7:27). Jesus himself points out how inadequate is their claim to know his origin, and with this already offers an indication to know where he comes from: "You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own; but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true" (John 7:28). Of course, Jesus was from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, but what is known about his true origin?
In the four Gospels, the answer to the question "where" Jesus is from clearly emerges. His true origin is the Father. He comes entirely from him, but in a different way from any prophet sent by God who preceded him. This originates in the mystery of God, who "no one knows"; it is already contained in the infancy narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which we are reading in this Christmas season. The angel Gabriel announces: "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). We repeat these words every time we recite the Creed, the profession of faith: "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine," (by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary). In this sentence, we bow our heads, for the veil that hid God is, so to speak, lifted, and his unfathomable and inaccessible mystery touches us directly: God becomes Emmanuel, "God with us." When we listen to the Masses composed by the great masters of sacred music, I think of the example of Mozart's "Great Mass"; we immediately notice how they linger especially on this phrase, as if to try to express in the universal language of music that which words can not: the great mystery of God who becomes incarnate, who becomes man.
If we carefully consider the expression "through the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary," we find that it includes four subjects that interact. The Holy Spirit and Mary are explicitly mentioned, but it is understood "he," that is, the Son, became flesh in the womb of the Virgin. In the profession of faith, the Creed, Jesus is referred to by different names: "Lord ... Christ, the only Son of God ... God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God ... consubstantial with the Father" (Nicene-Constantinople Creed). We see then that "he" refers to another person, the Father. The first subject of this sentence is, therefore, the Father, who with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is the one God.
This affirmation in the Creed is not about the eternal being of God, but, rather, speaks of an action which takes part in the three divine Persons and that is realised ex Maria Virgine. Without her, the entry of God into human history would not have come to its end and that which is central to our profession of faith would not have taken place: God is a God with us. Thus, Mary belongs in an essential way to our faith in the God who acts, who intervenes in history. She offers her whole person, "agrees" to become the dwelling place of God.
Sometimes, even in the journey and life of faith, we can feel our poverty, our inadequacy in the face of the witness to offer the world. But God chose a humble woman, in an unknown village, in one of the most distant provinces of the great Roman Empire. Always, even in the midst of the most difficult problems to face, we must trust in God, renewing faith in his presence and action in our history, like in that of Mary. Nothing is impossible with God! With him, our lives always walk on solid ground and are open to a future of firm hope.
Professing in the Creed, "Through the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary," we affirm that the Holy Spirit, as the power of the Most High God, has worked in a mysterious way in the Virgin Mary's conception of the Son of God. The evangelist Luke records the words of the Archangel Gabriel: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (1:35). Two references are obvious: first, at the time of creation. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis we read that "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (1:2); it is the Creator Spirit who gave life to all things and human beings. What happens in Mary, through the working of the divine Spirit, is a new creation: God, who called being from nothing, with the Incarnation gives life to a new beginning of humanity. The Church Fathers often speak of Christ as the new Adam, to mark the beginning of the new creation of the birth of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This makes us reflect on how the faith brings even to us a novelty so powerful as to make us be born anew. In fact, baptism is the beginning of Christian life, when we are born again as children of God to share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father. And I would like to point out that baptism is received; we "are baptized." It is passive because no one is capable of becoming a child on their own: It is a gift that is freely given. St. Paul recalls this adoptive sonship of Christians in a central passage of the Letter to the Romans; he writes: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (8:14-16). Only if we open ourselves to God, like Mary, only if we entrust our lives to the Lord as a friend in whom we trust completely, everything changes; our life takes on a new meaning and a new face: that of the children of a Father who loves us and never abandons us.
Finally, I would add a further element in the words of the Annunciation. The angel says to Mary: "The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow." It's a reminder of the holy cloud that during the Exodus journey stopped over the tent of meeting, the Ark of the Covenant, which the people of Israel brought with them and that indicated the presence of God (Exodus 40:34-38). Mary is the new holy tabernacle, the new Ark of the Covenant: With her "Yes" to the words of the archangel, God receives a home in this world; he whom the universe cannot contain comes to dwell in the womb of a virgin.
So let us return to the question with which we began, the origin of Jesus, synthesized by Pilate's question: "Where are you?" From these considerations, it appears clear from the beginning of the Gospels what the true origin of Jesus is: He is the only begotten of the Father; he comes from God. We are before the great and disconcerting mystery that we celebrate at Christmastime: The Son of God, through the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary. This is an announcement that always sounds new and carries hope and joy to our hearts, because each time it gives us the certainty that, even though we often feel weak, poor, unable to face the challenges and evil of the world, the power of God always works and works wonders in weakness. His grace is our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).”
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English language summary:
“When we profess the mystery of the Incarnation in the Creed, we bow our heads in awe and adoration. We acknowledge that the Incarnation is the work of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, brought about through Mary’s free cooperation. The Incarnation is the beginning of the new creation. Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is the new Adam, who offers humanity rebirth in the waters of baptism, by which we become sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. During this holy season, may we welcome the Saviour into our hearts, allow God’s power to strengthen and transform our weakness and bear joyful witness to the dawning of the new creation.
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including pilgrims from Norway, Japan, Vietnam and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy, peace and prosperity for the year which has just begun. Happy New Year!”