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Open the door to Christ, Benedict XVI says in Urbi et Orbi address

By on Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Benedict XVI gives his blessing following the Urbi et Orbi address yesterday (AP)

Benedict XVI gives his blessing following the Urbi et Orbi address yesterday (AP)

Benedict XVI has urged people to think seriously about their faith at Christmas and recognise the connection between believing in God and helping others through acts of charity and working for peace.

The birth of Jesus is a source of hope for the world, “a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations”, the Pope said before giving his solemn blessing Urbi et Orbi (“to the city of Rome and the world”).

Standing on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, he wished people a merry Christmas in 65 languages. In English, he said: “May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies, and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us.”

With the birth of Jesus, God “has done the impossible: he was made flesh”, the Pope told tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square for the blessing.

“Yet this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him,” Pope Benedict said. God’s desire to be close to each person is a source of hope and truth that results in “kindness, justice and peace”.

Pope Benedict prayed for the people of Syria, “deeply wounded and divided” by conflict and violence. He appealed for an end to the fighting, for “easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced” and for a dialogue that would bring a political solution to the crisis that began in March 2011.

During his Christmas Day address, he also repeated his prayers for peace throughout the Middle East, for peace in the Holy Land and for the people of Egypt as they continue to struggle to build a new democracy. He also prayed that China’s Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and the other new leaders of China’s government would respect the contribution that religions want to make to the country.

Support for Latin American migrants and an end to conflicts, ethnic and inter-religious tensions in Mali, Nigeria, Congo and Kenya also were among the Pope’s Christmas Day prayers.

As he began celebrating midnight Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict looked tired, though he brightened up when lay people brought up the gifts of bread and wine for the offertory.

He wore gold vestments, topped by a fanon, a round silver and gold vestment that he began wearing last October at a canonisation Mass.

Mgr Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, said the traditional papal vestment – last worn by Blessed John Paul II early in his pontificate – was seen as a symbol of the “shield of faith that protects the Church”.

On separate gold thrones in front of the central altar of St Peter’s Basilica were a statue of the baby Jesus and an illustrated Book of the Gospels open to the Christmas story. Ten children, representing every continent, laid flowers before the statue at the beginning of Mass and then accompanied Pope Benedict to the basilica’s Nativity scene at the end of Mass to lay the baby in the manger.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said God made himself a baby so that people could overcome their fear of God and “dare to love him”.

The Pope said he always is struck by the line in the Gospel Christmas story that there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, so Jesus was born in the stable.

Christians should ask themselves “What would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door?” he said.

In addition to raising “the great moral question of our attitude toward the homeless, toward refugees and migrants”, the question goes deeper and asks: “Do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof?”

People get so busy today and so full of themselves, he said, that “there is no room left for God”.

In addition, he said, more and more people are under the mistaken impression that faith leads only to strife because of instances when people claiming to be religious have done horrible things, supposedly in God’s name.

“It is true that religion can become corrupted and, hence, opposed to its deepest essence,” he said. “We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred.”

At the same time, he said, people of faith must show the world that belief in God means belief in the dignity and sacredness of every human being created in his image, and honouring the divine image “in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor”.

Religion also has been a constant source of efforts to promote reconciliation and goodness, he said.

During his homily, Pope Benedict offered special prayers for peace in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He prayed that “Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there” and that Christians and Muslims in the Middle East would cooperate in building peaceful societies.

Friars belonging to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land wrote the prayer intentions for the Pope’s midnight Mass. A prayer recited in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, asked that his light to shine on all nations, “so that peoples in the midst of war may discover the paths of understanding and that acts of violence will end in the Middle East and in the entire world”.

The day after Christmas, Pope Benedict recited the Angelus with visitors gathered under grey skies in St Peter’s Square. Marking the feast of the first martyr just a day after celebrating Christ’s birth, the Pope said, is an affirmation of faith that “believers called to give witness in difficult and dangerous situations are not abandoned and defenceless: the Spirit of God will speak in them.”

Francis X Rocca also contributed to this story

  • Parasum

    “On separate gold thrones in front of the central altar of St Peter’s Basilica were a statue of the baby Jesus and an illustrated Book of the Gospels open to the Christmas story.”

    ## “Gold thrones” ???

  • Kevin

    “Support for Latin American migrants”

    That statement needs expanding. As it stands, the first impression it is likely to create is that the Pope is presuming to deny Americans’ sovereign right to determine their own immigration laws. Immigration is a matter of security, culture (which affects the entire legal system), and in modern times unaffordable welfare budgets.

    (It is probably safe to assume that this statement was not referring, for example, to migration from Venezuela to Brazil.)

  • Inquisator

    I have often wondered what Jesus would have to say about the magnificence of the institutional church as represented by St Peters and the Vatican State; not to mention the paraphenalia, politics and lackeys surrounding the Pope. A million miles away from the humble beginnings of the Church.  It was at its strongest through the merits and lives of Paul, Peter and the Apostles – then human nature took over and in came the desire for power, monarchical status and all the attendant problems associated with those who crave the same.  Then again, Jesus came to establish the Kingdom – he did not establish a Church; the Church said that, not Jesus. All a far cry from our humble beginnings. Never mind, the way things are going, it might not be long before we find ourselves being humbled and having to start again. Deo Gratias.

  • Guest

    Gold,frankincense and myrrh.
    If ever you are called upon to celebrate a Mass at midnight, when you are in your eighties, under duress and with the eyes of the world-and heaven-watching, I am certain you would welcome the consolation of an illuminated manuscript and a chair.

  • Erin Pascal

    The Holy father’s message was very profound, timely and compelling. It was the perfect Christmas message for Christians all over the world. His call for Christians to find room for God especially struck a chord in me: “There is no room for God. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for Him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God.”

  • Anon

    The One you are seeking will suddenly enter his temple…and the angel of the covenant…he will take his seat as refiner and purifier…refine them like gold and silver, and they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made (Ml3:2-4)

    We’ll have to wait until Pentecost for the establishment of the Church…

  • Macca

    “Christians should ask themselves “What would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door?” he said.
    A challenging question for everyone including the Vatican itself where it is unlikley they would be allowed in unless they were wearing the appropriate clothes and knew the right reponses. The Pope’s words are good but the symbols around him convey a diferent message to the world -the gold, the ornate vestments may have been appropriate in medieval times but today they are an obstacle to belief for many in that they contradict the message of the stable.

  • Guest

     I think there’s a HUGE difference between a ‘chair’ and a throne! lol

  • Sweetjae

    The magnificence of the Church and Altar came into existence for one purpose only: for the glory of God! That we offer only the best of everything for God. Look it up , the Old Testament is replete with Isralites offering gold, silver and every finest jewels decorating the Temple and God was pleased!

  • Sweetjae

    Jesus said,”……upon you Peter, I will build My CHURCH and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

  • Parasum

    Nifty answer :) – but not (IMHO) very convincing. The gold, frankincense and myrrh were (whether historically real or not) appropriate as gifts to the Child, because that part of St.Matthew is composed with an eye on Psalm 72 – especially on this:

    May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
    May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
    11 May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

    The entire Psalm is full of passages echoed in the NT, especially in the gospels. And by echoing it, St, Matthew is saying that this Child is the King of the Psalm, who is the son of David. As the King of Psalm 72, the Child has the boundless dominion of verse 11 (as does the “son of man” in Daniel 7), and He is served by all kings: including these three Magi.

    In Saint Matthew, those gifts are beautifully appropriate, for they help to show Who the Child is: the use of Psalm 72 establishes that, and exemplifies some of the motifs in that gospel. But the Pope is something far less – he is not the Messianic Davidic King, but only His vizier, a member of His court. So for Christ to receive great gifts makes sense in a way that giving the same gifts to the Pope would not. He is not Christ, but is His servant, nothing more.

    Shouldn’t Popes try a bit harder to close the gap between their cushy life-styles, and His lack of one ? Why thrones of gold ? That seems very unwise: for if people have earthly thrones, they may lose their heavenly thrones. The Pope is meant to be a pastor – not a King. Christians in the NT had only one King – Christ. What has happened to make things any different ? If the Pope has a throne because he is a teacher: (1) why does he need more than one ? (2) why must it be of gold instead of wood (3) Wouldn’t greater simplicity and less ostentation send a less mixed message ? Popes don’t have to be in their eighties – they could resign and let younger men in more robust health do the work.

    STM the Papacy today has inherited a whole lot of ways of doing things that don’t now help what it is supposed to stand for. Some would call this an appeal for “miserabilism” – but maybe that would help the Church more than all this ostentation. A wealthy Church tends to be weighed down by its gold. The Apostles had something better.

  • Parasum

    No. Assuming the incident actually happened, the text has Him say something more like: “Thou art *Kepha* and upon this *kepha* I will build my *ekklesia*”. If that gospel had explicitly identified Peter as the rock, a lot of controversy would have been avoided. In Greek & Latin, the (presumed) word-play is lost or weakened – if the text was in Aramaic, the identification is more obvious.

    But none of this is any reason for there to be such a gap between the fantabulously wealthy Church, and the not very wealthy Christ. When Christians are able to justify being the complete opposite of what Jesus actually said His Church should be like, something is wrong. And it isn’t Jesus.

    As to what the words “the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- that is no guarantee whatever that the CC or its earthly leaders always make the right choices. The Gospel was not preached & written to give comfort to the wealthy and powerful: not even to those of them in the Church. If the Church were obliterated tomorrow, the powers of the underworld would still not have prevailed against it. Any strength it has is Christ’s – left to its own resources, it can only do as Judas & Simon Peter & the others did: betray Him, deny Him with oaths and curses, and flee to avoid the consequences of following Him. To trust in the Church instead of in Christ, is to build on shifting sand.

  • Parasum

    And when His People mistook the Temple for a guarantee of His presence, no matter how badly they might behave, He raised up Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple, burn it with fire, and cart off its beautiful vessels and other paraphernalia to Babylon. God doesn’t care for lovely externals; what He wants is not a building – as though He could be kept in one ! – but sincerity and truth in the heart (Psalm 51:6). External worship that is not the fruit of an inward spirit of worship is severely rebuked, by Isaiah (Isaiah 29.13) & by Jesus ( St. Matthew 15:7-9). A building can be destroyed – it doesn’t last. Psalm 50 is a resounding condemnation of the idea that God can be benefitted by the worship of His People. One of the harshest polemics against external worship not united with upright conduct is in Isaiah 1.10-17. The Jews took time to get past the idea that God dwelt in a house, but they qualified it and undercut its dangers when they insisted on the primacy of upright dispositions over splendid externals. Jesus radicalised that.   

    Acts 7.44-50 shows Saint Stephen attacking the idea that God can be fitly worshipped by being built a house. The idea that God be so honoured, is from pre-Christian & sub-Christian parts of the Bible; for the NT writers, worship was spiritual; Jesus & Christians were God’s Temple. Outward magnificence of worship without spiritual religion at its heart is a mockery of God, a hollow sham. 

  • Sweetjae

    Though I agree to most of what you said there are two exceptions:

    1.) “if the Church were obliterated tommorrow”. There is NO such thing, a self-refuting assertion, never found in Scripture nor Tradition. The Church is the Body of Christ that no earhtly power or Hell can prevail over. So the idea of a possible obliteration of Church structure and hierarchy is for people who wanted to be the authority itself. Seen that already.

    2.) “to trust in the Church instead of in Christ, is to build on a shifting sand”. Again a self-refuting statement. These are the same words of Martin Luther when he declared he’s just clinging to Christ in his rebellion against the Pope and tye Catholic Church.

    The rest of your statement I do agree.

  • Sweetjae

    Again I almost agree with most of what you have said, except that adornment for the House of the Lord is not forbidden by Him, in fact He is pleased by it. Read Haggai 1:8; 2:9; Isaiah 60:7 and so many more as best exemplified by the ornamentation and adornment of Temple of Solomon, where God was very pleased.

    Of course it’s a given that IF all these earthly adornment are done void of inward spirit, its all sham and I do agree. However, IF the adornment is with the spirit and for the Glory of God, then there is no problem, in fact God Himself is pleased.

  • Sweetjae

    My reply was about the word that Jesus uttered, “….My CHURCH” not about on the person of Peter or him being designated as the supreme pastor of Christ’s Church.

    Anyways, I did read a lot of apologetics on naming Peter as the “rock” and I do agree with the interpretations of Catholic apologetics that is Biblically, historically and logically tenable than any protestant ones, any time of the day.

  • Benedict Carter

    No, the Pope is Christ on earth. As Creator and King of the Universe he deserves as much beauty and glory as possible. Something the modern “quaker hall” Church has rejected.

  • Ryan L Godfrey

    I dont think anyone who has served the Church at such personal expense (time, talent, intimacy with a wife) can be said to live a “cushy lifestyle.” He lives in the Vatican and wears gold vestments, but so what? They dont belong to him personally and wont be passed to his non-existent heirs. He is a place-holder, with a deep distinction between his person and his office. The office makes present a heavenly reality that is worthy of the greatest ornamentation (just like the tabernacle and the temple). The Church affirms the value of poverty and chastity while also affirming a prominent place for beauty and craftsmanship. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

  • Sweetjae

    Right on the money! Parasum has a thinking bordering of a protestant mind. Sad he made such rush judgments.

  • Sweetjae

    Spot on!

  • rjt1

    “The Church said that, not Jesus”. Is this any more plausible than traditional understandings? No. It’s just a hypothesis based on a hypothesis, though no doubt a fashionable one. Yet you assert it as a certainty – true scholars qualify their statements with the necessary caveats.

  • Deodatus

    They knock on our door every time a vulnerable one in our society is hurt, despised, neglected because of our indifference, prejudice or fear.  Despite our judgements, they are especially treasured in Christ’s Sacred Heart.  The God’s gift of life must be treasured and protected not only at its very inception and at its closing – but in its earthly journey too where we are mutually responsible to ensure the best quality of life and help for one another, especially God’s suffering ones, and realise the divine value of life in each and every one. Joseph and Holy Mary, our Mother pray for us.