VATICAN CITY — At the year’s end, Pope Francis reflected on Christ’s saving presence within time, cautioning against nostalgia for the slavery of sin and encouraging gratitude that leads to repentance.
The theme of time was central to Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff homily, delivered during evening vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 31.
“The significance of time, temporality,” he said, “is the atmosphere of God’s epiphany, that is, of the manifestation of God and his concrete love.”
The evening celebration also was marked by the chanting of the Te Deum, an ancient prayer of praise that grants the one who recites it publicly on New Year’s Eve a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions. The Pope also presided over exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Francis turned his reflection to the words of Paul to the Galatians, taken from the evening’s vespers: “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
“Time was — in a manner of speaking — ‘touched’ by Christ, the Son of God and of Mary,” he said, thereby becoming the “‘salvific time’… defined by salvation and grace.”
This theme of time, in turn, “inspires us to think about the end of life’s journey, the end of our journey,” the Holy Father said. By examining our consciences, he explained, we revisit what we have done, giving thanks for the good we have received and have been able to accomplish, all the while recalling “our weaknesses and our sins.”
Te Deum Reflection
Pope Francis then reflected on the Te Deum, recited shortly after the homily, during which “we praise the Lord” and at the same time ask his forgiveness.
“The attitude of thanks disposes us to humility, to recognize and welcome the gifts of the Lord,” he said.
While we are filled with gratitude, however, we recall that “we are far from [God] because of original sin,” causing our “filial relationship” to be “profoundly wounded.”
“Because of this, God sent his Son to redeem us with his blood,” the Holy Father added, thereby freeing us “from the slavery of sin” and restoring our filial status.
It is with this gift of redemption in mind that we make our examination of conscience, Pope Francis said: “Do we live as children or as slaves? Do we live as persons baptized in Christ, united by the Spirit, redeemed, free? Or do we live according to earthly logic, corrupt, doing that which the devil makes us believe is in our best interest?”
This “slavery” of sin, the Pope continued, reduces time to the mere “moment,” preventing “us from fully and truly living in the present, for it empties the past and closes the door to the future, to eternity.”
Yet we long for this slavery, he said, because it makes us feel safe. He compared this longing to the desire for fireworks — “they seem to be beautiful, but, in fact, they only last a few moments.”
This examination of conscience, the Holy Father continued, also depends on the “quality of our work, of our lives, of our presence in the city, of our service toward the common good, of our participation in public and ecclesial institutions.”
Recommendations for Romans
As bishop of Rome, Pope Francis expressed his desire to take on the experiences of those living in the “Eternal City,” recalling the witness of the martyrs Sts. Peter and Paul.
Reflecting on the recently revealed corruption cases in Rome, he called for a conversion of hearts, as well as for a “renewed commitment to create a more just and stable city, where the poor, the weak and the marginalized are at the center of our concern and our daily activities.”
The poor and weak, when cared for, “reveal the treasure of the Church” and of society, he said. On the other hand, when the poor are ignored, “persecuted, criminalized” and forced into a life of crime, the society is revealed to be “impoverished to the point of misery.” This society “loses freedom and prefers the ‘garlic and onions’” of slavery.
Such a society ceases to be Christian, he said.
Pope Francis concluded his homily by inviting the faithful to not long for slavery, but to reflect on the “final hour” and remember that this is the “fullness of time.”
The Virgin Mary, he said, as the temple in which the Word was made flesh in time, “gave to the world the Savior, helping us to welcome him with open hearts, to be and truly live freely as God’s children.”