Pope Benedict XVI: December 2007 Archives

Urbi et Orbi

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Christmas Message 'Urbi et Orbi' of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

“A holy day has dawned upon us. Come you nations and adore the Lord. Today a great light has come upon the earth.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“A holy day has dawned upon us.” A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born. The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a “great light” appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today’s Christmas liturgy, “lux magna”. Admittedly it was not “great” in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen. Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: “the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory” (Jn 1:14).


This morning in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI received a group of people belonging to the Italian Catholic Action Movement for an exchange of Christmas greetings. The Holy Father spoke of the Venerable Servant of God, our little Nennolina.

Words of the Holy Father

It pleased me that, a moment ago, you quoted a little girl, Antonia Meo, called Nennolina. Just three days ago I decreed the recognition of her heroic virtues and I hope that her cause of beatification may be brought quickly to a happy conclusion. What a luminous example has this little member of yours left us! (Note: Nennolina was enrolled in the "Benjamins" section of the Italian Catholic Action Movement.)

Nennolia, a child of Rome, in her very short life — only six and a half years —demonstrated a faith, a hope, a special charity, and other Christian virtues as well. Though she was a frail little girl, she succeeded in giving a strong and robust witness to the Gospel and has left a deep impression in the diocesan community of Rome. Nennolina belonged the Catholic Action Movement; today she would certainly be inscribed in the A.C.R. (Childrens' Catholic Action)!

For all of you can consider her your friend, a model to inspire you. Her existence, so simple and, at the same time, so important, demonstrates that holiness is for every age; for little children and young people, for adults and for the elderly. Every season of our existence can be good for us to decide seriously to love Jesus and to follow Him faithfully. In a few years, Nennolina reached the summit of Christian perfection that we are, all of us, called to ascend, she ran quickly the "highway" that leads to Jesus. And so, as you yourselves recalled, Jesus is the true "way" who leads us to the Father and to our permanent home, which is Paradise. You know that Antonia now lives in God, and from heaven, she is close to you; you sense that she is present with you, in your groups. Learn to know her and follow her examples. I think that she also will be happy about this: to be involved still in Catholic Action.


Anniversary of Nennolina's First Holy Communion

Nennolina received her First Holy Communion 71 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1936, in the chapel of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 38, Via Germano Sommeiller. Witnesses of her First Holy Communion said that the little girl was transfigured in a kind of ecstatic adoration of her Jesus. A few months before her First Holy Communion, Nennolina had written to Jesus:

"Dear Jesus Eucharist I love You so much! . . .
Really very much!
Not only because You are the Father of all the world, but also because You are the King of all the world, I always want to be Your lamp which burns night and day before You and near You in the Sacrament of the altar.

I'd like You to grant me three favours the first - make me saint, and this is the most important favour;
the second - give me some souls;
the third - make me walk normally, to tell the truth this is the least important.
I'm not saying to give me back my leg, I gave it to You!

Dear Jesus I like my teacher Sister Noemi very much.
I love her so, help her to do all the necessary things that You want her to do.
Dear Jesus Eucharist!
I love You so much so that I'm really longing for Christmas.
Make my heart shine to You when You come into my poor heart.
Dear Jesus, I'll make a lot of sacrifices that I'll offer to You
when I do the First Holy Communion.

Dear Jesus Eucharist! . . .
I want to suffer a lot to redeem also the sins of men, especially of the very bad ones.
Dear Jesus Eucharist I say good-bye to You and I kiss You.
Your Antonietta.
Good night Jesus good night Mary."

Spes Nostra

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 4:2-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7), 8-9 (R. 1)
Matthew 8:5-11

Isaiah’s Gift

Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope can be read as a commentary on the readings given us in the Advent liturgy. In fact, given the timing of the publication of the Encyclical and his own sensitivity to the liturgy, I rather suspect that the Holy Father had just that in mind. The particular gift of the prophet Isaiah is to instill hope into hearts burdened by fear and discouraged by the desolation that seems to surround them on every side. Isaiah’s gift was not for the Jews of the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ alone. Were that the case, the reading of Isaiah in our liturgical assemblies today would be an exercise in literature with no real bearing on our lives here and now. Isaiah’s prophetic gift is for all generations.

God Speaking Here and Now

When the Church reads Isaiah, she receives his message in all its immediacy and freshness for today. This is why we say Deo gratias — Thanks be to God — at the end of a liturgical reading: not because God spoke through His prophet once upon a time, but because God is speaking to us here and now.

The Promises of Christ

What causes hope to spring up in a heart? What makes me hope? What makes you hope? A word of promise. A promise made by one faithful enough and powerful enough to keep it. In a sense, we live in hope because of the promises that have been made to us. Is this not why the Church has us so often pray, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”? What makes us worthy of the promises of Christ? The hope that we place in them.

The Act of Hope

When I was a schoolboy we used to say the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every day upon our return to class after the noonday break. The Act of Hope made an explicit reference to the promises of God: “I hope . . . because Thou didst promise it.” What are the promises of God to us in today’s First Lesson from the fourth chapter of Isaiah?

Ad Te Levavi and Spe Salvi

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An Introit and an Encyclical

There is an immense hope in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, making it perfectly consonant with Spe Salvi, the Encyclical given us by Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of Saint Andrew. Today’s Introit, Ad te levavi, is a great sweep upward and away from all that would hold bound our hope. The Introit, resonating with Spe Salvi, sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to my God.”

Breaking Down the Encyclical

As I prayed over it early this morning, the Holy Father’s Encyclical became for me a theological commentary on the implications of today’s Introit and, indeed, on all the liturgy of Advent. Fortified by several cups of strong coffee, I attempted to condense Spe Salvi into 52 propositions or, if you will, subtitles. I share them as a way of inviting you to take the Encyclical in hand, and to study it, meditate it, pray it, and be changed by it during this Advent Season.

Own It and Read It

The Encyclical has 50 articles. There are 24 days in Advent this year. Here is your Advent program: 2 articles of the Encyclical each day, and on one day of your choice, 3. Every Catholic should have his own copy of the Encyclical. Don’t be cheap. Don’t be stingy. Buy the text of the Encyclical or download a copy off the Internet and then make photocopies. One copy of the Encyclical cost less than the daily newspaper. Looking for an Advent penance? Give up reading the newspaper — or cut down your online time — during Advent and study Spe Salvi instead. It will be salutary for your soul.

He Who Prays Learns Hope

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A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone.

The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Spes Nostra, Salve!

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The Holy Father's Encyclical Spe Salvi ends in a splendid prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Spes Nostra, Our Hope. One of the high points of my recent travels in France was a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance at Le Mesnil Saint-Loup, founded by the Benedictine Père Emmanuel André in 1864. In response to a sermon preached by Père Emmanuel, his parishioners spontaneously cried out, "Notre Dame de la Sainte Esperance, convertissez-nous! Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us!" The entire parish was converted to hope, becoming a beacon of Christianity and of full, conscious, and actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Mary, Star of Hope

49. With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

Humble and Great Souls of Israel

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).


With the Hope of the World in Your Womb

When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.

The Hour of the Cross

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26).

Did Hope Die?

From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning.

Mother of Hope, Star of the Sea

The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.


About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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