In today's General Audience, at the beginning of the Christmas novena, Pope Benedict spoke of the true meaning of Christmas. The English language summary from the Vatican Press Office's Daily Bulletin says:
"Today we commence the Christmas Novena of Advent by contemplating the
fulfilment of the ancient prophecies in the coming of the Son of God, born of
the Virgin Mary in the stable of Bethlehem. Christmas speaks to everyone; it
celebrates the gift of life – often fragile or endangered – and the
fulfilment of our deepest hopes for a world renewed. The present economic crisis,
causing so much suffering, can however help us to focus on the spiritual meaning
of Christmas, and to welcome into our hearts the hope brought by God’s coming
among us as man. The Word became flesh to offer humanity the salvation which can
only be received as a gracious gift from God. The same Word by whom the universe
was made, the Word which gives all creation its ultimate meaning, has come to
dwell among us: he now speaks to us, he reveals the deepest meaning of our life
on earth, and he guides us to the Love which is our fulfilment. In the Christ
Child, God humbly knocks on the doors of our hearts and asks us freely to accept
his love, his truth, his life. As Christmas approaches, let us rekindle our hope
in God’s promises and, in humility and simplicity, welcome the light, joy and
peace which the Saviour brings to us and to our world."
In today's Mass for the celebration of Epiphany, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of globalization and the need for moderation in the use of global resources. A full translation is available on the Vatican Radio website. Asia News has an article.
He stated in his homily, "Today, we celebrate Christ, the light of the world, and his manifestation to all humanity." With Christ, the blessing of Abraham is extended to all peoples, to the Universal Church which is the new Israel.
Today's globalization, he said, has prompted conflicts over access to energy resources, water, and primary materials, so that we need a greater hope to help us choose the common good over the good of a few and misery of many. He quoted from the encyclical Spe Salvi (Section 31) in saying that "this great hope" can only be "the God who has a human face." Concerning the need for moderation and a sober lifestyle, he said:
"Moderation therefore is not simply an ascetic rule, but also a path to salvation for humanity. By now it has become increasingly evident that only by choosing a sober lifestyle, accompanied by a serious commitment to an equal distribution of wealth, will a just and sustainable model of development be possible. This is why there is a need for men who nurture great hope and thus posses even greater courage. The courage of the Magi, who undertook a long journey, following a star, and who knew how to kneel before a child and offer him their precious gifts. We all need this courage anchored to a solid hope. That Mary may grant us as much, accompanying us on our earthly pilgrimage with her maternal protection."
Before praying the midday Angelus, the Holy Father spoke of the vocation of each Christian "to light up the steps for his fellowmen through his words and the testimony of his life." Full translations are available from the Vatican, Zenit and Papa Ratzinger Forum. An article is available from Asia News. Here is an excerpt:
"Every authentic believer is always on the path of his personal
itinerary of faith, but at the same time, with the light he carries
him, he can and should be of help to whoever is by his side, perhaps
someone who is also trying to find the road that leads to Christ."
Interestingly, the best known blessed named for the Nativity in religious life was also a martyr, as was an Augustinian named for the Nativity whose cause for beatification is pending.
Blessed Dionysius of the Nativity (also called "Bl. Denis of the Nativity") was a Discalced Carmelite missionary who was tortured and martyred by Muslims in 1638 on the Malay archipelago (Sumatra, Indonesia). The cause for his canonization is pending. A Frenchman, he was born Pierre Berthelot. His memorial is November 29.
Anthony of the Nativity, a contemporary of Bl. Dionysius of the Nativity, was one of the Mombasa Martyrs, Portuguese Augustinians who died in 1631 in what is now Kenya. Their cause for beatification was opened soon after their deaths and is still pending.
Of course, not all blesseds named for the such mysteries are martyrs. As an example, Bl. Marie of the Incarnation (also called "Bl. Mary of the Incarnation") was another contemporary of Bl. Dionysius of the Nativity. She too was a French Discalced Carmelite, born Barbe Avillot. A wife and mother of six, she became a lay Discalced Carmelite after her husband's death. She died of natural causes in 1618 at the age of 52. Her memorial is April 18.
The Vatican's translation of Pope Benedict XVI's homily from midnight Mass today at St. Peter's Basilica is available on the Vatican website and Zenit. At one point, he spoke of music in the liturgy:
"Liturgical song - still according to the Fathers - possesses its own
peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the
celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us
capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music
that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with."
"In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down
to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all
times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is
The Pope's Urbi et Orbi Christmas Day Address (to the Church and the World) will be broadcast on ETWN on Christmas Day at 6:00 a.m. Eastern and rebroadcast at 10:00 p.m. Eastern that day. It will also be rebroadcast at 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on December 26. The text is included in an article from Asia News. He spoke of Christ as the Light of the world amid the difficulties of warfare, poverty, injustice and discrimination. Here is an his concluding Christmas wish and prayer:
"This is my earnest wish for you who
are listening. A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to
the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your
lives and fill you with love and peace. May the Lord, who has made his
merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make
you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!"
Please check the EWTN links and double check the time zone difference for your location on the world clock.
Picture: Madonna and Child with Musical Angels by Gherardo Starnina, about 1410, photo by me. More information from museum website.
"Christ said one day to the
Samaritan woman that 'the Father seeks true adorers in spirit and
truth.' To give joy to His Heart, let us be these true adorers. Let
us adore Him in 'spirit,' that is, with our hearts and our thoughts
fixed on Him, and our mind filled with His knowledge imparted by the
light of faith. Let us adore Him in 'truth,' that is, by our works for
it is above all by our actions that we show we are true: this is to do
always what is pleasing to the Father whose children we are. And
finally, let us 'adore in spirit and in truth,' that is, through Jesus
Christ and with Jesus Christ, for He alone is the true Adorer in spirit
EWTN's Special Programming schedule for December includes the schedule for broadcasts through December 31, in Eastern Time. For Pacific Time, figure 3 hours earlier. For the time in Rome, figure 6 hours later. Watch online here.
In yesterday's post, The Nativity, the Incarnation and Devotion, the Incarnation (God become man) was linked to the Nativity (the birth of Christ). That is not always the case, as Christ's humanity is also associated with His death on the Cross. This morning, during my commute, I began to think about the distinction between the Incarnation and the Nativity, and it occurred to me that they do not occur simultaneously. Rather, the Incarnation existed from the moment of conception, rather than from the moment of birth. This post is the product of that reflection and a little further research done this evening.
In yesterday's post, St. Thomas Aquinas quoted the Preface for the Nativity in writing, "the humanity of Christ, according to the words of the Preface,"that through knowing God visibly, we may be caught up to the love of things invisible.' Wherefore matters relating to Christ's humanity are the chief incentive
to devotion, leading us thither as a guiding hand, although devotion
itself has for its object matters concerning the Godhead."
There is a pro-life aspect to the Incarnation. The Incarnation is traced to the moment of Christ's conception by the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 1:20, we are told that an angel told St. Joseph, about the pregnant Virgin, "For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her." Thus, God became man in Christ from the moment of conception, and not only from the moment of birth. Our existing form of the Apostle's Creed says, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and
in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy
Spirit." The Nicene Creed, in the Catholic Encyclopedia's literal translation of the Constantinopolitan form, similarly says of Jesus that He "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man."
Pope John Paul II mentioned this in the General Audience of May 27, 1998, in these words:
"Jesus is linked with the Holy Spirit from the first moment of his existence in time, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed recalls:
“Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine”. The
Church’s faith in this mystery is based on the word of God: “The
Holy Spirit”, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “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” (Lk
1:35). And Joseph is told: “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20).
"The Holy Spirit's direct intervention in the Incarnation brings about
the supreme grace, the “grace of union”, in which human nature
is united to the Person of the Word. This union is the source of every other grace, as St Thomas explains (S. Th. III, q. 2, a. 10-12; q.
6, a. 6; q. 7, a. 13)."
In the same Audience, John Paul II explains the connection of the Incarnation, from the moment of conception, with salvation and with God's love for people:
"If we ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit’s purpose was in
bringing about the Incarnation event, the word of God gives us a succinct
reply in the Second Letter of Peter, telling us that it happened so that
we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). 'In fact', St Irenaeus of Lyons explains, 'this is
the reason why the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God' (Adv. Haer. III, 19, 1). . .
"The mystery of the Incarnation reveals God’s astonishing love, whose highest personification is the Holy Spirit, since he is the Love of
God in person, the Person-Love: 'In this the love of God was made
manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we
might live through him' (1 Jn 4:9). The glory of God is
revealed in the Incarnation more than in any other work."
By comparison, the Nativity is associated with the Incarnation more specifically in its visible form, which takes place only from the birth of Christ. Only then is Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, visible to the world. So it is that the Preface of the Nativity prays "that through knowing God visibly, we may be caught up to the love of things invisible." The essence of the Nativity is that the Incarnation becomes visible, and that in seeing the Word become flesh, we may be drawn toward God who is invisible.
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him."
Being the "firstborn" of all creation is an aspect of birth, and yet in this context refers more specifically to Christ's being the Word of God by whom God created the world even before the Incarnation (John 1:1-2). Only Christ's visibility to man, as the "image" of the invisible God, occurs from the time of His birth in the world, from the Nativity.
Speaking of creation and the Incarnation, St. John of the Cross wrote, "The son of God is, in the words
of St. Paul, 'the brightness of His glory and the figure of His
substance.' God saw all things only in the face of His Son." And, "For this cause the Son of God Himself said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself.'"
Elsewhere, in the Scriptural account of the birth of Christ, an angel said to shepherds in the field, in Luke 2:11-12: "For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
Speaking of Christ's birth as "a sign," as the angel said to the shepherds about the Nativity, Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily for this past Christmas Eve:
"God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign
is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come
with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need
of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away
our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He
wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn
to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with
him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the
very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him,
welcome him, and love him."
The Nativity is thus connected with the visibility of the Incarnation,
in that we understand God through the newborn Jesus. We can be drawn
toward God, as Jesus said He would draw all things to Himself. While
the Incarnation involves God's love and salvation through Christ's
death on the Cross, the Nativity involves making that love manifest in simplicity, the visible Word of God in human form.
"Like all genuine mystics, St. John sees that the Church itself and everything in it was instituted by Christ to bring us to our Heavenly Father, and to give Him the glory that is His due. The Incarnation itself had that end in view: 'ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur.'"
- Father Gabriel Barry, O.C.D., "The Writings of St. John of the Cross"
"Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: Quia per incarnati Verbi mysterium, nova mentis nostrae fulsit: ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus, hymnum gloriae tuae canimus, sine fine dicentes: SANCTUS, SANCTUS, SANCTUS..."
- The Preface for the Nativity of Our Lord, from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass
"Matters concerning the Godhead are, in themselves, the strongest incentive to love ['dilectio,' the interior act of charity; cf. 27] and consequently to devotion, because God is supremely lovable. Yet such is the weakness of the human mind that it needs a guiding hand, not only to the knowledge, but also to the love of Divine things by means of certain sensible objects known to us. Chief among these is the humanity of Christ, according to the words of the Preface [Preface for Christmastide], "that through knowing God visibly, we may be caught up to the love of things invisible." Wherefore matters relating to Christ's humanity are the chief incentive to devotion, leading us thither as a guiding hand, although devotion itself has for its object matters concerning the Godhead."
"[I]f we are to please God and He is to grant us great favours, it is His will that this should be through His most sacred Humanity, in whom His Majesty said He is well pleased. I have learnt this indeed by repeated experiences; the Lord has told it me. I have clearly seen that it is by this door we must enter, if we wish His sovereign Majesty to reveal great secrets to us."
- The Life of St. Teresa of Avila.
"The son of God is, in the words of St. Paul, 'the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance.' God saw all things only in the face of His Son. This was to give them their natural being, bestowing upon them many graces and natural gifts, making them perfect, as it is written in the book of Genesis: 'God saw all the things that He had made: and they were very good.' To see all things very good was to make them very good in the Word, His Son. He not only gave them their being and their natural graces when He beheld them, but He also clothed them with beauty in the face of His Son, communicating to them a supernatural being when He made man, and exalted him to the beauty of God, and, by consequence, all creatures in him, because He united Himself to the nature of them all in man. For this cause the Son of God Himself said, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself.' And thus in this exaltation of the incarnation of His Son, and the glory of His resurrection according to the flesh, the Father not only made all things beautiful in part, but also, we may well say, clothed them wholly with beauty and dignity."