On New Year’s Eve, Pope Francis invited everyone to trust in Jesus Christ, the person who can give meaning to the ups and downs of daily life.
The Child Jesus “does not disappoint,” the pope said on Dec. 31 in St. Peter’s Basilica. “Let us follow him on our daily journey: he brings time to its fullness, he gives meaning to what we do and to the days we live. Let us trust in joyful times and in sorrowful times: the hope he gives us is a hope that never disappoints.”
Speaking during First Vespers, Francis said today Mother Church and Mother Mary show us the Baby Jesus, and smiling at us, Mary says: “He is the Way. Follow him, trust.”
First Vespers was prayed at the Vatican in anticipation of the Jan. 1 Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The prayer service also included Eucharistic adoration and benediction, and the singing of the “Te Deum,” a Latin hymn of thanksgiving from the early Church.
Pope Francis attended and delivered the homily, but the liturgy was presided over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, deacon of the College of Cardinals. Re also presided over First Vespers in 2020, when Pope Francis canceled his attendance due to a flare-up of sciatic pain.
In his homily, Pope Francis emphasized the wonder and amazement of Christmas, a season which extends until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9, 2022.
This amazement, the pope said, is not a “superficial sentiment,” nor is it connected to the external aspects of the feast day, such as consumerism.
“If Christmas is reduced to this, nothing changes: tomorrow will be just like yesterday, next year will be like last year, and so on,” he said. “That is like warming ourselves for a few seconds by a straw fire rather than exposing our entire beings to the power of the Event, not grasping the heart of the mystery of Christ’s birth.”
Francis explained that the heart of the mystery of Christ’s birth is that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” These words, repeated several times during First Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, remind us that Mary is the first witness of the mystery of the incarnation, he said.
“She is the first witness, the first and the greatest, and at the same time, the humblest – the greatest because she is the humblest,” he stated. “Her heart is filled with amazement without the shadow of romanticism, of sweeteners, of spiritualization.”
“The Mother brings us back to reality, to the truth of Christmas contained in the few words Saint Paul uses: ‘born of a woman,’” he said, emphasizing that Christian amazement is the result of “the mystery of reality.”
“There is nothing more amazing and stupefying than reality. A flower, a clod of earth, a life story, an encounter, the wrinkled face of an elderly person or the blooming face of a newborn baby, a mamma who nurses a baby in her arms. The mystery shines there,” he said.
In his homily, Pope Francis also addressed the “sense of being lost” many people have felt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the responsibility everyone is called to show toward others, a grace which can only come from God, he said.
He also reflected on the city of Rome, where, he noted, many people feel like they are part of a family.
Rome’s new mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, was present at the Vatican’s prayer service on Friday. Pope Francis had greeted Gualtieri, who was elected in October 2021, before the start of the liturgy.
“Everyone feels at home because this city preserves a universal openness within it. I dare say: it is the universal city,” Francis said. “It comes from its history, from its culture. It comes primarily from the Gospel of Christ that laid down deep roots here, made fruitful by the blood of the martyrs, beginning with Peter and Paul.”
The pope warned that a fraternal city is not created by “beautiful speeches” or “bombastic events,” however, but “by the daily, weekday attentions paid to those who struggle the most, to those families who feel the weight of the crisis most, to those persons with serious disabilities and their families, to all those who need to use public transportation to go to work, to all who live on the outskirts, to those who have been overwhelmed by some failure in life and need social services, and so forth.”
“It is the city that watches each of its children, each of its inhabitants, indeed each of its guests. Rome is a wonderful city, that never ceases to enchant. But for those who live here, it is also a difficult city, unfortunately not always dignified for those who live here or its visitors, a city that sometimes rejects,” he continued.
“The hope, then, is that everyone who lives and works here, or are pilgrims or tourists, that everyone might appreciate Rome more and more for its welcoming care for the dignity of life, for our common home, for the weakest and most vulnerable,” Francis stated. “May everyone be amazed, discovering a beauty in this city that is, I would say, ‘consistent,’ and that evokes gratitude. This is my wish for this year.”
It is Pope Francis’ custom to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square following First Vespers on New Year’s Eve, but this year his visit was canceled to prevent crowds from gathering during the pandemic.