Pope Francis at Vigil Mass: ‘God gives life at Christmas’
By Devin Watkins
“In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it.”
In his homily at Mass on Christmas Eve, Pope Francis said the location of Jesus’ birth marks a turning point in the course of history.
House of Bread
He noted that Bethlehem means “house of bread”, and that Mary laid Jesus in a manger. “It is as if he wanted to say: ‘Here I am, as your food’.”
The Pope said Jesus gives us his very self, teaching us to live our lives in a new way: “not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving.” We feed on Jesus, the bread of life, and are reborn in love, breaking the vicious cycle of grasping and greed.
In Scripture, said the Pope, humanity’s original sin was to take and eat a forbidden food. “Mankind became greedy and voracious.” Even today, he said, a few people often eat splendid meals while a great many others go without even enough bread to survive.
“Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity,” he said.
Share with others
Pope Francis said Jesus knows we need to be fed daily, so he offered himself every day of his life. “Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us.”
If we welcome God into our hearts and allow Him to dwell there, he said, history changes. “For once Jesus dwells in our heart, the center of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love.”
The Holy Father said Jesus invites us at Christmas to rise quickly from the table and to serve others, sharing our bread with those who have none.
Be not afraid
Pope Francis went on to say that Bethlehem is also called the “city of David”. Before becoming king, David was a shepherd whom God chose to shepherd and lead His people.
On Christmas night, shepherds welcomed Jesus in the world. An angel appeared and said to them: “Be not afraid.” The Holy Father said we hear that phrase so often in the Gospels because God knows we are afraid due to our sin.
“Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated ‘no’, God constantly says ‘yes’. He will always be God-with-us.” God, said Pope Francis, makes Himself a little child so as not to frighten us.
Waiting or wanting?
The shepherds were not sleeping when the angel came; they were keeping watch. The Holy Father said our life can either be marked by waiting or by wanting. If we await the Lord amid “the gloom of our problems”, he said, “we will receive his life.”
But if we only spend our lives in selfish want, “where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities,” he said, “our heart then remains barred to God’s light.”
Pope Francis said the shepherds set out immediately and take a risk for God by leaving their flocks unguarded. After seeing Jesus, they go off to proclaim his birth. “To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love,” he said.
Love our brothers and sisters
At Christmas, Pope Francis concluded, we all want to go up to Bethlehem. “Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism.”
So we entrust ourselves to the Lord, he said. “Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand.”