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Christmas - Natale - Navidad - Noël 1978

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily at Midnight Mass
St Peter's Basilica - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. We are in St Peter's Basilica at this unusual hour. Around us is the architecture in which whole generations have for centuries expressed their faith in God Incarnate, following the message brought to Rome by the apostles Peter and Paul: all our surroundings speak with the voice of the two millennia that separate us from the birth of Christ. The second millennium is speedily approaching its end. In these circumstances, in this context of time and place, let me go with you to the cave near the little town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. Let us all be there rather than here — there where "in the silence of the night" was heard the wail of the newborn infant, that eternal expression of the children of the earth. At the same moment was heard the voice of Heaven, that "world" of God dwelling in the inaccessible tabernacle of Glory. The majesty of the eternal God and mother earth making herself known by the wail of the newborn Infant enable us to glimpse the prospect of a new Peace, Reconciliation, and Covenant:

"To us is born the Saviour of the world,"
"all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."

2. Nevertheless at this moment, at this strange hour, the ends of the earth are still afar off. They are pervaded by a period of waiting, far from peace. The hearts of people are filled rather with weariness; people have fallen asleep, as have the shepherds in the Bethlehem valleys close by. What is happening in the stable, in the rock cave, has a dimension of profound intimacy: it is something between the Mother and the Babe to be born. No outside person has access. Even Joseph, the Nazareth carpenter, is but a silent witness. She alone is fully aware of her Motherhood. She alone perceives the special expression of the infant's wailing. The birth of Christ is preeminently her mystery, her great day. It is the feast of the Mother.

It is a strange feast: there is no trace of the synagogue liturgy, no reading of the prophets or singing of the psalms. "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body has thou prepared for me" (Heb 10, 5) seems to be what is said by the wailing of the one who, although he is the Eternal Son, the Word who is of one being with the Father, "God from God, Light from Light," has become flesh (Jn 1, 14). He reveals himself in that body as one of us, a little infant, in all his frailty and vulnerability. Dependent upon people's care, entrusted to their love, undefended. He wails, and the world does not hear him, cannot hear him. The newborn infant's wail can only just be heard a few steps away.

3. And so, brothers and sisters crowding this basilica, I beg you: let us try to be more present there than here. Not many days ago, I manifested the great desire I felt to be in the cave of the Nativity, to celebrate in that very place the beginning of my pontificate. Since circumstances do not allow me to do that, finding myself here with all of you, I am endeavouring all the more to be there spiritually with you all, in order to crown this Liturgy with the depth, the ardour, the authenticity of an intense inner feeling. The liturgy of Christmas Night is rich with a special realism: the realism of the moment that we are renewing, and also the realism of the hearts that are reliving that moment. All of us in fact are deeply moved, although what we are celebrating happened some 2000 years ago.

In order to have a complete picture of the reality of that event, in order to penetrate more deeply still into the realism of that moment and the realism of human hearts, let us remember that the event occurred precisely in the way it did: in abandonment and extreme poverty, in the cave stable outside the town, because people in the town refused to receive the Mother and Joseph into any of their homes. Nowhere was there room. From the beginning, the world showed itself inhospitable towards the God who was to be born as Man.

4. Now let us reflect briefly on the lasting meaning of this lack of hospitality on man's part towards God. All of us here wish it were different. We wish that everything within us men should be open to God born as a man. It is with this desire that we have come here!

On this night let us therefore think of all the human beings that fall victim to man's inhumanity, to cruelty, to the lack of any respect, to contempt for the objective rights of every human being. Let us think of those who are lonely, old, or sick; of the homeless, those suffering from hunger, and those whose misery is the result of the exploitation and injustice of economic systems. Let us also think of those who on this night are not allowed to take part in the liturgy of God's Birth and who have no priest to celebrate Mass. And let us give a thought also to those whose souls and consciences are tormented no less than their faith.

The stable at Bethlehem is the first place for solidarity with man: for one man's solidarity with another and for all men's with all men, especially with those for whom there is "no room at the inn", whose personal rights are refused recognition.

5. The newborn Infant is wailing. Who hears the baby's wail?
But Heaven speaks for him, and it is Heaven that explains it with these words:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour" (Lk 2, 14).
Touched by the fact of the birth of Jesus, we must hear this cry from Heaven.
That cry must reach all the ends of the earth, all men must hear it anew.
A Son is given to us.
Christ is born to us. Amen."

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Urbi et Orbi Blessing
St Peter's Square, Christmas Day, 25th December 1978 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish

"1. I am addressing this message to every man; to man, to man in his humanity. Christmas is the feast of man. Man is born. One of the billions of men who have been born, are being born and will be born on earth. Man, a component element of the vast statistics. It was not by chance that Jesus came into the world during the census; when a Roman emperor wanted to know the number of subjects in his country. Man, the object of calculation, considered under the category of quantity; one among billions. And at the same time, one, unique and unrepeatable. If we celebrate with such solemnity the birth of Jesus, we do so to bear witness that every man is someone, unique and unrepeatable. If our human statistics, human categories, human political, economic and social systems, simple human possibilities fail to ensure that man can be born, exist and act as one who is unique and unrepeatable, then all this is ensured by God. For him and before him, man is always unique and unrepeatable; someone eternally conceived and eternally chosen, some called and identified by his own name.

It is as it was with the first man, Adam; and as it was with the new Adam, born of the Virgin Mary in the cave at Bethlehem: "You shall call him Jesus" (Lk 1, 31).

2. This message is addressed to every man, precisely as a man, to his humanity. For it is humanity that is elevated in the earthly birth of God. Humanity, human "nature", is assumed into the unity of the Divine Person of the Son; into the unity of the eternal Word, in whom God expresses Himself eternally; God expresses this divinity in God: true God in true God: the Father in the Son and both in the Holy Spirit.

On today's solemnity we also rise towards the inscrutable mystery of this divine birth.

At the same time, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem testifies that God has expressed this eternal Word - his only begotten Son - in time, in history. With this "expression" he has made and continues to make the structure of man's history. The birth of the Incarnate Word is the beginning of a new power for humanity itself, the power open to every man, in the words of St John "he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1, 12). In the name of this unrepeatable value of every man, and in the name of this power, which the Son of God becoming man brings to every man, above all in this message I turn to man: every man; wherever he works, creates, suffers, fights, sins, loves, hates, doubts; wherever he lives and dies; I turn to him today with all the truth of the birth of God, with its message.

3. Man lives, works, creates, suffers, fights, loves, hates, doubts, falls and recovers in communion with others. Therefore I turn to all the various communities. To Peoples, Nations, Regimes, political, economic, social and cultural Systems, and say: — Accept the great truth about man; — Accept the full truth about man pronounced on Christmas Night; — Accept this dimension of man, which was opened to all men on this Holy Night; — Accept the mystery, in which every man lives since Christ was born; — Respect this mystery; — Allow this mystery to act in every man! — Allow him to develop in the outward conditions of his earthly being.

In this mystery is found the power of humanity. The power that radiates on all that is human. Do not make this radiation difficult. Do not destroy it. All that is human grows from this power; without this power it perishes; without this power it falls to ruin.

And so I thank you all (families, nations, states, political, economic, social and cultural systems) for everything that you do so that the life of men in its various aspects can become ever more human, that is, ever more worthy of man.

It is my heartfelt hope and my prayer to you that you may not grow weary in this endeavour, in this commitment.

4. "Glory to God in the highest heaven" (Lk 2, 14).

God has come near. He is in our midst. He is Man. He was born in Bethlehem. Lying in the manger because there was no place for him at the inn (cf Lk 2, 7).

His name: Jesus!
His Mission: Christ!

He is the Messenger of great Counsel, "Wonder-Counsellor" (Is 9, 5); and we so often are irresolute, and our counsels do not bear the desired fruits.

And "Everlasting Father" (Is 9, 5). "Pater futuri saeculi, Princips pacis"; and despite the fact that 2000 years separate us from his birth, he is always ahead of us and always goes before us. We have to "run after him", and try to "reach him".

He is our Peace!
The Peace of men!
The Peace for men, whom he loves (cf Lk 2, 14).

God is pleased with man through Christ. Man cannot be destroyed; it is not permitted to humiliate him; it is not permitted to hate him! "

Peace among men with whom he is pleased!"

To everyone I address a pressing invitation to pray together with the Pope for peace, especially today and over the next eight days, when we will celebrate throughout the world the "'Day of Peace'.

5. Happy Christmas to each and every one!

My good wishes, full of heartfelt affection and sincere respect, are addressed to you, sisters and brothers, present in this Square: to all of you who, through social communications, are able to join in this brief ceremony; to all of you who are sincerely seeking the truth; who hunger and thirst for justice; who long for goodness and joy. To you, fathers and mothers of families; to you, workers and professionals; to you, young people; to you, children; to you, babies; to you. the poor, the sick; to you, the elderly, to you, the imprisoned, and to all of you who are unable to spend Christmas with your families, with your loved ones.

Happy Christmas, in the peace and joy of Christ
Christus natus est nobis, venite adoremus.
Happy Christmas, in the peace and joy of Christ.

To those who listen to us."

Papa San Juan Pablo II's words at the Angelus
St Peter's Square, Tuesday 26th December 1978 - in English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish

"Yes, I have understood, you want to pray with the Pope and we will pray, although the recitation of the Angelus together was not on the programme for today."

After the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father, moved at this unexpected presence, wished to speak again.

"I rejoice with you and I wonder why you have come. Perhaps you came to see if the Pope is at home on the second day of Christmas. And then, I think you have come because today is really a beautiful day and attracts one outside. But the Pope has to stay at home because he never knows when people are coming to recite the "Angelus". Then I think you have come because you know that the Pope needs your prayers and needs above all to pray with you. I thank you for this and for this unexpected but certainly all the more welcome and precious presence of yours. I want to wish everyone a Happy Christmas again. Especially the young."

Having finished speaking, the Holy Father, hearing the acclamations increase continually began to speak again and, among other things, said:

"I do not understand what you are saying. You do not have microphones. But I understand that you love the Pope. Thank you and a Merry Christmas to all of you again. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Christmas
General Audience, Wednesday 27 December 1978 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. We meet at the liturgical time of Christmas. Therefore I want the words that I am about to address to you today to correspond to the joy of this feast and this octave. I also want them to correspond to that simplicity and at the same time that depth which Christmas irradiates over everyone. There comes to my mind spontaneously the memory of my feelings and my experiences, beginning from the years of my childhood in my father's house, through the difficult years of youth, the period of the second war, the world war. May it never be repeated in the history of Europe and of the world! Yet, even in the worst years, Christmas has always brought some rays with it. And these rays penetrated even the hardest experiences of contempt for man, annihilation of his dignity, of cruelty. To realize this, it is enough to pick up the memories of men who have passed through the prisons or concentration camps, the war fronts and the interrogations and trials. A gleam of faith.

This ray of Christmas Night, a ray of the birth of God, is not only a memory of the lights of the tree beside the crib at home, in the family or in the parish church. It is something more. It is the deepest glimpse of humanity visited by God, humanity newly received and assumed by God himself; assumed in the Son of Mary in the unity of the Divine Person: the Son-Word. Human nature assumed mystically by the Son of God in each of us who have been adopted in the new union with the Father. The irradiation of this mystery extends far, very far, and even reaches those parts and those spheres of men's existence, in which any thought of God has been almost obscured and seems to be absent, as if it were burnt out completely. And lo, with Christmas night a gleam appears: perhaps in spite of everything? Happy this "perhaps in spite of everything" ... it is already a gleam of faith and hope.

2. In the festivity of Christmas we read of the shepherds of Bethlehem who were the first to be called to the crib, to see the new-born Child: "And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." (Lk 2, 16)

Let us stop at that "found". This word indicates a search. In fact, the shepherds of Bethlehem, when they stopped to rest with their flock, did not know that the time had come in which would happen that which had been announced for centuries by the prophets of that People to which they themselves belonged; and that it would happen just on that night; and that it would take place near the place where they had stopped. Even after wakening up from the sleep in which they were immersed, they did not know either what had happened or where it had happened. Their arrival at the cave of the Nativity was the result of a search. But at the same time they had been led, they were — as we read — guided by the voice and by the light. And if we go back even further in the past, we see them guided by the tradition of their People, by its expectation. We know that Israel had been promised the Messiah.

And lo, the Evangelist speaks of the simple, the humble, the poor of Israel: of the shepherds who found Him for the first time. He speaks, moreover, in all simplicity, as if it were a question of an "exterior" event: they looked for where he might be, and finally they found him. At the same time this "found" of Luke's indicates an inner dimension: that which took place on that Christmas night, in men, in those simple pastors of Bethlehem. "They found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger"; and then: " ... the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." (Lk 2, 16 & 20)

3. "They found" indicates "the search".

Man is a being who seeks. His whole history confirms it. Even the life of each of us bears witness to it. Many are the fields in which man seeks and seeks again and then finds and, sometimes, after having found, he begins to seek again. Among all these fields in which man is revealed as a being who seeks, there is one, the deepest. It is the one which penetrates most intimately into the very humanity of the human being. And it is the one most closely united with the meaning of the whole of human life.

Man is the being who seeks God.

The ways of this search vary. The histories of human souls just along these paths are multiple. Sometimes the ways seem very simple and near. At other times they are difficult, complicated, distant. Now man arrives easily at his "eureka": "I have found!" Now he struggles with difficulties, as if he could not penetrate himself and the world, and above all as if he could not understand the evil that there is in the world. It is known that even in the context of the Nativity this evil has shown its threatening face.

A good many men have described their search for God along the ways of their own lives. Even more numerous are those who are silent, considering everything they have lived along these ways as their own deepest and most intimate mystery: what they experienced, how they searched, how they lost their sense of direction and how they found it again.

Man is the being who seeks God.

And even after having found him, he continues to seek him. And if he seeks him sincerely, he has already found him; as, in a famous fragment of Pascal, Jesus says to man: "Take comfort, you would not be looking for me if you had not already found me." (B. Pascal, Pensées, 553: Le mystère de Jésus.)

This is the truth about man.

It cannot be falsified. Nor can it be destroyed. It must be left to man because it defines him.

What can be said of atheism in the light of this truth? A great many things should be said, more than can be enclosed in the framework of this short address of mine. But at least one thing must be said: it is indispensable to apply a criterion, that is, the criterion of the freedom of the human spirit. Atheism cannot be reconciled with this criterion — a fundamental criterion — either when it denies a priori that man is the being that seeks God, or when it mutilates this search in various ways in social, public and cultural life. This attitude is contrary to the fundamental rights of man.

4. But I do not wish to dwell on this. If I mention it, I do so to show all the beauty and dignity of the search for God.

This thought was suggested to me by the feast of Christmas.

How was Christ born? How did he come into the world? Why did he come into the world?

He came into the world in order that men may be able to find him; those who look for him. Just as the shepherds found him in the cave at Bethlehem.

I will say even more. Jesus came into the world to reveal the whole dignity and nobility of the search for God, which is the deepest need of the human soul, and to meet the search halfway."

Ai malati

"I now want to address an affectionate greeting to our sick Sisters and Brothers, present at this Audience. Thinking of you, and of all those who are ill, I see a deep and mysterious analogy between your situation and that of the New-born Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem: that Baby was a little, frail, weak being, in need of everything, depending on everyone: yet he was the Son of God, the eternal Word incarnate in time, the Saviour of mankind, the Lord of History. How often, beloved daughters and sons, you may have felt useless in your infirmity, a burden to your dear ones; you have experienced—we may well say so—the humiliation, so deeply human, of being obliged to need others in everything, of being almost at the mercy of others. Look at Jesus in the cave at Bethlehem, who assures you that it is the world which needs the immeasurable riches of your suffering for its purification and for its growth. Take heart! God loves you, because he sees in you the image of his Son suffering on earth! Your dear ones love you, because you are their flesh and blood! The Church loves you, because you enrich the treasure of the communion of Saints! The Pope has a particular preference for you, because you are his most sensitive sons, and asks you for the help and the strength of your apparent weakness, of your prayers and your sacrifices!"

Alle coppie di giovani sposi

"A Happy Christmas with all my heart to the Newlyweds!

Beloved Daughters and Sons, this cordial wish of mine, which is also that of all those present and of the whole Church, wishes to be a fatherly invitation in order that, right from the beginning of your married life—which has been consecrated by the Sacrament—you will know how to look, as to your constant model, to the Holy Family of Nazareth, which was a real and extraordinary school of life and domestic virtues.

Uniting in marriage, before God, the Church and your dear ones, you solemnly promised to be faithful to each other in every happy or adverse circumstance, and to love and respect each other for the whole of your lives: faithfulness, love, respect, are the fundamental attitudes on which all orderly family life must be based and which are elevated in the Sacrament; and it is those Christian virtues which will give you the possibility of forming your "domestic Church". Following the example of the Blessed Virgin and of St Joseph, may your home shine forth with these virtues, in order that the joy and the peace of Christ may always be with you."