by Elise Harris
On Sunday Pope Francis said that with Christmas just around the corner, it’s important to stop and make time for silent reflection on the true meaning of the holiday, specifically on figures in the Nativity.
“Next Sunday will be Christmas. This week let us try to find a moment to pause, to have a bit of silence,” the Pope said Dec. 18.
He encouraged pilgrims to take time to reflect on what it was like for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, imagining “the path, the fatigue, but also the joy, the emotion and then then anxiety of finding a place, the worry” and whatever else might come to mind.
Contemplating the Nativity scene is a good way to keep one’s focus where it should be, he said, and voiced his hope that everyone would be able to really enter into “the true Christmas,” in which Jesus draws near to us as “God with us.”
The grace of Christmas is one of love, humility and tenderness, he said, and prayed that all would be able to receive this grace with openness and confidence in God.
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims on his final Sunday Angelus address before Christmas, centering his brief speech on the figures of Mary and Joseph in the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew in which Joseph had decided to divorce Mary quietly after finding out about her pregnancy, but changes his mind and takes her as his wife after the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a dream, telling him not to fear.
In becoming man, “God draws near to the human being taking the flesh of a woman,” the Pope said, noting that God also draws near to us, but in a different way.
Through his grace, God enters our lives and offers his own Son as a gift, Francis said, asking “what do we do? Do we welcome him, or refuse him, kicking him out?”
Just as Mary allowed God to “change the destiny of mankind” by opening herself freely to him, we must also try to seek Jesus and to follow his will every day, he said. If we do this, we will be able to cooperate “in his plan of salvation for us and for the world.”
Mary appears to us, then, as a model to look to and support on whom we count in our search for God and in our commitment to building a civilization of love.”
Pointing to St. Joseph, Pope Francis said that as shown in the Gospel, on his own he can’t give an explanation for what he sees unfolding before him. However, it is precisely in that moment that God draws near to him through the angel, revealing the true nature of Mary’s mysterious pregnancy.
In responding to the angel’s invitation, Joseph “doesn’t repudiate his bride, but takes her with him,” Francis said, explaining that Joseph welcomed Mary with full knowledge and love for “he who in her was conceived by the marvelous work of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”
“Joseph, a humble and just man, teaches us to always trust in God, to let ourselves be guided by him with willing obedience,” he said.
Francis closed his address saying that Mary and Joseph truly introduce us “to the mystery of Christmas.”
“Mary helps us to put ourselves in an attitude of availability to welcome the Son of God in our concrete lives, in our flesh. Joseph spurs us to always seek the will of God and to follow it with full trust,” he said, and led pilgrims in praying the Angelus.
After reciting the traditional Marian prayer, Francis offered special prayers for the ongoing political dialogue in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The DRC is currently entangled in a political headlock as the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, faces the end of his final term, set for Dec. 19.
However, the elections, originally scheduled to take place in November, were never organized, and according to a deal struck between Kabila and an opposition faction in October, the president is allowed to stay in power until official polls are held.
The polls are tentatively set for April 2018, however, many parties in opposition to Kabila’s government oppose the deal, and are calling for the president to step down and schedule the elections for 2017.
As tensions mount, fears are also increasing that there will be a repeat of a Sept. 19 demonstration by one of the opposition groups turned violent, leading to the death of more than 50 people in just two days.
Catholic bishop in the country have intervened in negotiations in hopes that a crisis might be averted with Kabila’s term ends tomorrow.
Pope Francis himself prayed after the Angelus that the talks would be “conducted with serenity in order to avoid any type of violence, and for the good of the entire country.”
He thanked everyone who sent him birthday wishes yesterday for his 80th birthday, and wished the pilgrims a merry Christmas before asking for prayers.