Another year is ending. For us at Inside the Vatican, it has been a festive year — we celebrated our 15th Anniversary! And we are proud of what we have accomplished – proud, first of all, that we are still publishing! And we’re also proud of what we have published: a journal which (we hope) keeps a steady course, one which is not “trendy,” not tempted by “fads” or “fashions” in the Church or in society, and one both respectful of “tradition” and committed to the “deposit of the faith,” that is to say, orthodox – because the “deposit of the faith” is the most precious of all the gifts handed down to us over the centuries by saints and simple believers, from the Apostles, from Jesus Christ himself.
At the center of Christmas, of course, is Christ. And that is why we prepared a special “Dossier” on Jesus and Christmas for the center of this Christmas issue. But Jesus comes into the world through Mary, his mother. If there had not been the Jewish Virgin, there would not have been the womb to receive the Messiah promised for centuries in the Scriptures.
So let’s reflect for a moment on Mary, source of the hope and joy which is Christmas.
A few days ago, on December 8 in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Mary. He was in the Piazza Spagna, where he goes each year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates the day Mary was conceived without sin.
The central point the Pope made was that Mary helps Christians to become the “soul” of the world. And this seems especially important in troubled times like ours, when the world seems to have lost its way – and perhaps its soul as well. In Mary, the Pope said, we recognize “the smile of God.” What does he mean? He means that, in this fallen world, filled with trouble, worry, and sin, Mary is “the immaculate reflection of the divine light” – the light of God’s eternal holiness and love for us.
The Pope then entrusted to Mary “the ‘smallest’ of our city: the children, especially those who are seriously ill, the disadvantaged and those suffering the consequences of difficult family situations, the elderly who are alone, immigrants struggling to adjust, families striving to make ends meet, and those who cannot find or have lost employment.”
This is quite clear, and it sets forth a program for all of us this Christmas. Right now, the economic uncertainty caused by the unfolding global financial crisis is weighing heavy on almost everyone. But this is all the more reason for us to go “back to basics” and the most basic thing of all is that Christmas is about love, and love is about generosity and joyful giving to the less fortunate.
This Christmas, the best thing all of us can do is to become “reflections of the reflection,” that is, reflections of Mary, herself “the reflection of the divine light,” as the Pope says, and to become this especially for children and old people.
“Your beauty,” Pope Benedict said of Mary, “ensures us that the victory of love is possible, indeed that it is certain. It assures us that grace is stronger than sin and that hence redemption from any form of slavery is possible.
Mary, you help us to believe in goodness more trustingly; you encourage us to remain vigilant and not to give in to the temptation of facile forms of evasion, to face reality with courage and responsibility. Be a loving mother to our young people, that they may have the courage to be ‘sentinels of the morrow,’ and give this virtue to all Christians that they may become the soul of the world at this difficult moment of history.
Is is possible for us to be loving and self-sacrificing? Is it possible for us to be as loving to the people around us, especially to children and old people, as Mary was to Jesus? Aren’t we too selfish, too self-centered, too weak, too sinful?
Pope St. Leo the Great in the 400s, in one of his sermons about Christmas, (Sermon 27, “On the Feast of the Nativity,”) says “the Incarnation has changed all the possibilities of man’s existence.” He writes:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, being at birth true man though He never ceased to be true God, made in Himself the beginning of a new creation, and in the ‘form’ of His birth started the spiritual life of mankind afresh… What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can express this gracious act? Sinfulness returns to guiltlessness and the old nature becomes new; strangers receive adoption and outsiders enter upon an inheritance. The ungodly begin to be righteous, the miserly benevolent, the incontinent chaste, the earthly heavenly. And whence comes this change, save by the right hand of the Most High? For the Son of God came to “destroy the works of the devil,” and has so united Himself with us and us with Him that the descent of God to man’s estate became the exaltation of man to God’s.
This transcendent vision of man’s renewed spiritual possibilities due to the Incarnation does not mean these possibilities are easy to grasp. As Leo writes: “The Devil knows exactly what temptations to offer to each person.” We can miss our way.
“Christians must be extremely careful lest they be caught again in the devil’s wiles,” St. Leo writes:
For the old enemy does not cease to make every effort to corrupt the faith of believers. He knows whom to ply with the zest of greed, whom to assail with the allurements of the belly, before whom to set the attractions of self-indulgence, in whom to instill the poison of jealousy: he knows whom to overwhelm with grief, whom to cheat with joy, whom to surprise with fear, whom to bewilder with wonderment: there is no one whose habits he does not sift, whose cares he does not winnow, whose affections he does not pry into: and wherever he sees a man most absorbed in work, there he seeks opportunity to injure him.
So this Christmas, let us focus on Mary’s face, and not on our own worries. Let us look upon others as Mary looked upon Jesus, with simple and deep love. By doing this, we can help bring Christ’s peace to many who need it this Christmas.