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Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Eve Vespers: “Give thanks and ask forgiveness”

Vatican City, 1 January 2015 (VIS) – “The meaning of time, temporality, is the atmosphere of the Epiphany of God, or rather the manifestation of God and His concrete love. Indeed, as St. Peter Faber said, time is God's messenger”, affirmed the Holy Father during the celebration of Vespers on the Solemnity of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, on the last day of the year. He continued, “Today's liturgy recalls the phrase of the apostle John: 'Children, it is the last hour', and that of St. Paul, who speaks of the 'fullness of time'. Therefore, today shows us how time was, so to speak, 'touched' by Christ, the Son of God and Mary, and received from Him new and surprising meanings: it became 'salvific time', or rather the definitive time of salvation and grace. And all this urges us to think of the end of the path of life, of the end of our journey”.

The Pope also remarked that with the Te Deum, the traditional hymn of thanksgiving at the year end, and the Eucharistic blessing, we praise the Lord and at the same time ask for forgiveness. “The attitude of giving thanks disposes us to humility, to recognising and receiving the Lord's gifts”, and as the apostle Paul explains in the reading, the fundamental reason for giving thanks to God is the fact that “He has made us all His children, He has adopted us as His children. This unmerited gift, fills us with gratitude and wonder. Some might say, 'But are we not already all His children, by the very fact of being men?'. We certainly are, since God is the Father of every person who comes into the world. But we must not forget that we were estranged from Him because of original sin. … For this reason, God sent His Son to redeem us at the price of His blood. And if there was a ransom, it is because there was slavery. We were His children, but we became slaves, following the voice of the evil one. None other than Jesus redeems us from that effective slavery; He Who took on our flesh from the Virgin Mary and died on the cross to free us from the slavery of sin and to restore to us our lost filial status”.

Francis emphasised that the liturgy also reminds us that “in the beginning, before time, there was the Word … and the Word was made man”, and mentioned that “the very gift for which we give thanks is also a reason for an examination of conscience, for reviewing our personal and communal life, for asking ourselves: how do we live? Do we live as sons or as slaves? Do we live as persons baptised in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, redeemed and free? Or do we live according to a worldly, corrupt logic, doing what the devil makes us believe is in our interest?” He added, “we are afraid of freedom and paradoxically we more or less unconsciously prefer the slavery that prevents us from fully and truly living in the present, as it empties it of the past and closes it to the future, to eternity. Slavery makes us believe that we cannot dream, fly, hope”.

“Nostalgia for slavery resides in our heart, as it is seemingly more reassuring than freedom, which is far riskier. How we like to be rapt by so many fireworks, which appear beautiful but in reality last just a few instants. This is the reign, the fascination of the moment. For us, as Christians, the quality of our work, our life, our presence in cities, our service to the common good, our participation in public and ecclesial institutions, depends on this examination of conscience”.

The Pope went on to speak about the significance of living in Rome, “which is a great gift, as it means dwelling in the eternal city; for a Christian, in particular, it means being part of the Church founded on the witness and martyrdom of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. Therefore, we also thank the Lord for this”. However, he added, there are also “grave issues of corruption, which have emerged recently, and which require a serious and conscious conversion of hearts for a spiritual and moral rebirth, as well as renewed commitment to constructing a more just and caring city, where the poor, the weak and the marginalised are the focus of our concerns and our daily actions. A great and daily attitude of Christian freedom is necessary to have the courage to proclaim, in our city, that we must defend the poor, and not defend ourselves from the poor; that we must serve the weak and not make use of them”.

“When in a city the poor and the weak are cared for, assisted and helped to promote themselves in society, they are shown to be the treasure of the Church and an asset to society. Instead, when a society ignores the poor, persecutes them and criminalises them, compelling them to turn to organised crime, that society is impoverished to the point of misery, loses its freedom and favours the 'garlic and onions' of slavery, the slavery of its selfishness, the slavery of cowardliness, and that society ceases to be Christian. Dear brothers and sisters”, he concluded, “to bring the year to an end is to reaffirm that a 'last hour' exists, and that the 'fullness of time' exists. In concluding the year, in giving thanks and asking for forgiveness, it will do us good to ask for the grace to be able to walk in freedom, to be able to repair the damage done and to be able to defend ourselves from the nostalgia of slavery, not to idealise slavery”. He encouraged those present to pray to the Virgin Mary, that she might help us receive the Saviour with an open heart, to truly be and live freely as children of God”.

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