Venerated brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
dear brothers and sisters!
The Nativity of the Lord is at hand. Every family feels the desire to get together in order to enjoy the unique and unrepeatable atmosphere that this feast is able to create.
Even the family of the Roman Curia finds itself gathered today, according to a beautiful custom thanks to which we have the joy of meeting together and exchanging best wishes in this special spiritual climate.
To each of you I address my heartfelt greeting, with full acknowledgment of the much appreciated collaboration that you render to the Successor of Peter.
I sincerely thank the Dean of Cardinals Angelo Sodano , who has spoken in behalf of all who are here and those who are at work in the various offices of the Vatican, including the Pontifical Representatives.
I have referred to the special atmosphere of Christmas. I like to think that it is almost a prolongation of that mysterious joy, that intimate exultation, that was felt by the Holy Family, the angels and the shepherds in Bethlehem the night when Jesus was born.
I would call it 'the atmosphere of grace', thinking of the expression St. Paul used in the Letter to Titus: "Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus" (The grace of God has appeared, saving all men)(cfr Tt 2,11).
The Apostle affirms that the grace of God manifested itself 'to all men'. I would say that this also shows the mission of the Church, and in particular, that of the Successor of Peter and his co-workers, namely, to contribute so that the grace of God, the Redeemer, may be ever more visible to everyone, and may bring salvation to everyone.
The year that is about to end was rich in retrospective looks at significant dates in the recent history of the Church, but also rich in events which brought with them signs of orientation for our path towards the future.
Fifty years ago, Pope Pius XII died. Fifty years ago, John XXIII was elected Pope. Forty years have passed since the publication of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae and thirty years since the death of its author, Pope Paul VI.
The message of these events has been reported and meditated in many ways during the course of the year, so I will not dwell on them again at this time.
But memory looks beyond just those events in the past century, and in this way, also brings us to the future.
On the evening of June 28, in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the representatives of many other Churches and ecclesiastical communities, we inaugurated the Pauline Year at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls to commemorate the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles 2000 years ago.
For us, Paul is not a figure of the past. Through his letters, he still speaks to us today. And whoever enters into contact with him is impelled by him towards the crucified and resurrected Christ.
The Pauline Year is a year of pilgrimage not only in the sense of a visit to the Pauline sites, but also and above all, a pilgrimage of the heart, along with St. Paul, towards Jesus Christ.
Paul teaches us definitively that the Church is the Body of Christ, that the Head and the Body are inseparable, and that one cannot love Christ without loving his Church and her living community.
Three specific events of the year drawing to a close stand out particularly.
First of all, World Youth Day in Australia, a great feast of faith, which gathered together more than 200,000 young people from all parts of the world, bringing them together not only externally - in the geographic sense, but, thanks to sharing the joy of being Christian, bringing them together interiorly.
Alongside WYD, there were the two trips to the United States and to France, in which the Church was made visible before the world and for the world as a spiritual force that can show ways of living that through the testimony of faith, brings light to the world. These were, indeed, days that radiated luminosity. They radiated confidence in the value of life and in the commitment for good.
Finally, we must recall the Bishops Synod - pastors coming from around the world met together about the Word of God which they exalted together, around the Word of God, whose great manifestation is found in Sacred Scripture.
That which we often take for granted daily, we grasped freshly in its sublimity:
- The fact that God speaks to us, that he answers our questions.
- The fact that he, using human words, speaks to us in person and we can listen to him, and in listening, learn to know him and to understand him.
- The fact that he enters our lives to shape it, and we can step out of our life in order to enter the vastness of his mercy.
Thus we realised all over that God in his Word addresses each of us, speaks to the heart of every being. If our heart is awake and opens itself to listen, then everyone can learn to hear the Word that is addressed specifically to him.
But only when we hear God speaking to each of us in such a personal way, then we can also understand that his Word is meant to bring us each closer to one another, so that we may find the way out of what is only personal.
This Word has shaped our common history and will continue to do so. And so we realize all over that precisely because the Word is so personal, then we can understand it correctly and totally only within the 'we' of the community instituted by God - always conscious that we can never exhaust it completely, that it always has something new to say to each generation.
We have understood that, of course, the Biblical texts were written in specific times, and therefore constitute in this sense a book from the past. But we also saw that their message does not remain in the past nor can they be kept there. God fundamentally always speaks in the present, and we will have heard the Bible fully only if we discover the 'present' of God, which calls to us now.
Finally, it was important to experience that in the Church, there is a Pentecost even today - that the Church speaks in many tongues, and this, not only in the external sense that all the languages in the world are represented in her, but in an even deeper sense: in her are found the multiple ways of experiencing God and the world, the richness of different cultures, and only thus can we see the vastness of human existence, and because of this, the vastness of the Word of God.
We have also learned that Pentecost continues to be 'under way', it is still incomplete. There are a multitude of languages which still await the Word of God in the Bible translated for them.
And it has been moving to see the multiple testimonials of lay faithful who in every part of the world not only live the Word of God, but suffer for it.
A precious contribution was the address of a rabbi on the Sacred Scriptures of Israel, which are our Sacred Scriptures too.
And an important moment for the Synod was when Patriarch Bartholomew, in the light of Orthodox tradition, and with penetrating analysis, opened for us another way of access to the Word of God.
Let us now hope that the experiences and acquisitions of the Synod may effectively influence the life of the Church: on personal relations with Sacred Scriptures; on their interpretation in the liturgy and in catechesis as well as in scientific study - so that the Bible does not remain a Word of the past, but that its vitality and actual relevance may be read and disclosed in the vast dimensions of its meanings.
The pastoral visits this year also had to do with the presence of the Word of God. Their true meaning can only be in serving that presence.
On such occasions, the Church makes itself publicly perceptible, and in this way, the fact that faith is at least the question of God. This public manifestation of the faith calls out to all who seek to understand the present and the forces which operate in it.
The phenomenon of the World Youth Days, particularly, has become increasingly an object of analysis, by those who seek to understand this particular species, one might say, of youth culture.
Before this, Australia had never seen as many people from all the other continents as during the last World Youth Day in Sydney, not even during the Olympics. And if earlier, there had been apprehensions that the appearance of such great numbers of young people would represent a threat to public order, paralyze traffic, block daily activities, provoke violence and make room for drug use, all such fears were proven to be unfounded.
It was a feast of joy - a joy that ultimately involved even those who were reluctant. Ultimately, no one felt it as an annoyance or a disturbance.
The days of the youth became a feast for everyone. Or rather, it was the first time everyone realized what a feast is, a celebration - an event during which everyone is, so to speak, outside himself, beyond the self, and therefore, truly with oneself and with others.
What then is the nature of what takes place during World Youth Day? What are the forces that act? Fashionable analyses tend to consider WYD as a variant of modern youth culture, as a type of rock festival modified in the ecclesial sense, with the Pope as somewhat of a star; and that with or without faith, these festivals would basically be the same thing. In this way, such analyses would do away with the question of God.
There are even Catholic voices who share this tendency, seeing WYD as a great spectacle, beautiful even, but with little meaning for the question of faith, and on the presence of the Gospel in our time. They would consider them days of festive ecstasy which, in the end, would leave everything just as before, without making any deep influence on life. Thus, they can find no explanation for the specialness of those days and the particular nature of their joy, the creative power of communion.
But first of all, one must note that the World Youth Days do not simply consist of that one week during which the events are publicly visible to the whole world. There is a long exterior and interior path that leads to them.
The Cross, accompanied by the Icon of the Mother of the Lord, goes on pilgrimage through the countries of the world. Faith, in its own way, needs to be seen and touched.
The encounter with the Cross, which is carried and touched by the faithful, becomes an interior encounter with Him who died on the Cross for us. The encounter with the Cross inspires within the hearts of young people the memory of the God who made himself man and suffers with us. And we see the woman whom he has given us to be our Mother.
The solemn WYD days are only the culmination of a long road along which young people proceed to encounter each other and to encounter Christ.
In Australia, it was not by chance that the Via Crucis through the inner city became a climactic event of those days. It synthesized once more all that had happened in preceding years and called attention to him who brings us all together - the God who loved us to the point of death on the Cross.
And so, the Pope is not the star around which these events take place. He is totally and only the Vicar [of Christ]. He points to the Other who is among us.
Finally, the solemn Liturgy is the center of all the celebration, because in it, what we cannot realize takes place, that for which we are always in wait. He is present. He is among us. He has torn open the heavens and this makes the earth bright. It is this that makes life joyous and open, and that unites us with one another in a joy that cannot be compared to the ecstasy of a rock festival.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "The problem is not how to organize a feast, but to find the persons who are able to enjoy it". According to Scripture, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (cfr Gal 5,22): this fruit was abundantly perceptible in the days at Sydney.
Just as a long road precedes every World Youth Day, another long road follows. Friendships are formed which inspire a different lifestyle that is interiorly sustained. The great World Youth Days, not least of all, have the purpose of inspiring such friendships capable of making new places of faith emerge in the world, which are also places of hope, and of charity that is practised and lived.
Joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit - thus we come to the central theme of Sydney which was, in fact, the Holy Spirit. In this retrospective, I wish once more to point out in summary the orientation that was implicit in the theme.
1. First of all, there is the affirmation that comes to us from the start of the story of Creation, which tells of the Creator Spirit that moved over the waters, created the world and continuously renews it.
Faith in the Creator Spirit is an essential element of the Christian Creed. The fact that matter has a mathematical structure, is full of spirit (energy), is the foundation of the modern science of nature.
Only because matter is structured intelligently, our mind is able to interpret it and actively remodel it. The fact that this intelligent structure comes from the same Creator Spirit that also gave us our spirit, implies a task and a responsibility.
The ultimate basis of our responsibility towards the earth is our faith in creation. The earth is not simply a property that we can exploit according to our interests and desires. It is a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and through this, has given us the orientative indications to follow as administrators of his Creation.
The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit also means that their rational structure - which beyond their mathematical structure, become almost palpable through experimentation - carries in itself an ethical orientation.
The Spirit that shaped them is more than mathematics - it is Goodness itself, which, through the language of creation, shows us the road to correct living.
Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Creed, the Church cannot and should not limit itself to transmitting to its faithful only the message of salvation. She has a responsibility for Creation, and it should validate this responsibility in public.
In so doing, it should defend not just the earth, water and air as gifts of Creation that belong to everyone. She should also protect man from destroying himself.
It is necessary to have something like an ecology of man, understood in the right sense. It is not outdated metaphysics when the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected.
This has to do with faith in the Creator and listening to the language of creation, which, if disregarded, would be man's self-destruction and therefore a destruction of God's work itself.
That which has come to be expressed and understood with the term 'gender' effectively results in man's self-emancipation from Creation (nature) and from the Creator. Man wants to do everything by himself and to decide always and exclusively about anything that concerns him personally. But this is to live against truth, to live against the Spirit Creator.
The tropical rain forests deserve our protection, yes, but man does not deserve it less as a Creature of the Spirit himself, in whom is inscribed a message that does not mean a contradiction of human freedom but its condition.
The great theologians of Scholasticism described matrimony - which is the lifelong bond between a man and a woman - as a sacrament of Creation, that the Creator himself instituted, and that Christ, without changing the message of Creation, welcomed in the story of his alliance with men.
Part of the announcement that the Church should bring to men is a testimonial for the Spirit Creator present in all of nature, but specially in the nature of man, who was created in the image of God.
One must reread the encyclical Humanae vitae with this perspective: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against consumer sex, the future against the exclusive claim of the moment, and human nature against manipulation.
2. I would like to add some more brief observations on other aspects of pneumatology [knowledge of the Holy Spirit]. If the Creator Spirit manifests itself above all in the grand silence of the universe, in its intelligent structure - faith, beyond this, tells us something unexpected: namely, that the Spirit speaks, so to say, in human words; it has entered history, and as the force that shapes history, is also a Spirit that speaks. It is the Word which comes to us in ancient Scriptures and in the New Testament.
What this means for us was expressed wondrously by St. Ambrose in one of his letters: "Even now, as I read the Divine Scriptures, God is taking a walk through Paradise" (Ep 49,3).
Reading Scripture, even today we can ourselves almost roam the garden of Paradise and meet God as he walks there. Between the theme of World Youth Day in Sydney and the general Assembly of the Bishops' Synod, there is a profound internal connection.
The two subjects "Holy Spirit" and "Word of God" go together. Reading Scripture, we also learn that Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable.
When St. Paul with surprising synthesis says, "The Lord is the Spirit" ( 2 Cor 3, 17), we see not just the trinitarian unity between the Son and the Holy Spirit, but above all, their union with respect to the story of salvation.
In the passion and resurrection of Christ the veils of purely literal sense are taken down, making visible the presence of the God who speaks.
Reading Scripture together with Christ, we learn to hear in human words the voice of the Holy Spirit, and we discover the unity of the Bible.
3. We come now to the third dimension of pneumatology which consists, precisely, in the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is perhaps most beautifully manifested in St. John's narration of the first apparition of the Resurrected Christ to his disciples: the Lord breathed on his disciples and thus gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the breath of God at the dawn of Creation had transformed the dust of the earth into living man, thus the breath of Christ welcomes us to ontological communion with the Son - it makes us new creatures. And this is why it is the Holy Spirit that makes us say with the Son, "Abba, Father!" (cfr Jn 20,22; Rm 8,15).
4. Thus, as the fourth dimension, there emerges spontaneously the connection between the Spirit and the Church. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, showed how the Church as the Body of Christ is thus an organism of the Holy Spirit, in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit merge all individuals together into a single living organism.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Body of Christ. In the entirety of this Body we find our mission - to live for each other, each dependent on the other, within the depth of him who lived and suffered for all of us, and through his Spirit, draws us to himself into the unity of all the children of God.
"Do you, too, want to live in the Spirit of Christ? Then, be in the Body of Christ", Augustine says in this respect (Tr. in Jo. 26, 13).
Thus with the subject of the Holy Spirit which oriented World Youth Day in Australia, and in a more hidden way, the weeks of the Bishops Synod, the entire breadth of Christian faith is made visible, a breadth which leads, from responsibility for Creation and for man's existence in tune with Creation, through Scriptures and the story of salvation, to Christ, and from there, to the living community of the Church - in its structure and responsibility, as in its vastness and freedom, expressed as much in the multiplicity of charisms as in the Pentecostal image of the multitude of languages and cultures.
An integral part of celebration is joy. The feast iself can be organized, but not joy. This can only be received as a gift. In fact, it is given to us in abundance, and for this, we are grateful.
Just as St. Paul describes joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, so too, John in his Gospel, links the Spirit and joy closely. The Holy Spirit gives us joy. He is joy itself. Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are contained. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with oneself, which can only be achieved by being in harmony with God and his creation.
Part of the nature of joy is to radiate itself, the need to communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is nothing but the impulse to communicate the joy that has been given to us.
That such joy may always be alive in us and thus irradiate the world in its tribulations - that is my wish at the end of this year. Along with a sincere gratitude for all your efforts and work, I wish that this joy which comes from God may be given to us abundantly in the New Year.
I entrust these wishes to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mater divinae gratiae, asking her that we may experience the Christmas festivities in the joy and peace of the Lord.
With these sentiments towards all of you and the large family of the Roman Curia, I impart the Apostolic Blessing from my heart.
Inofficiell översättning av Teresa Benedetta