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Monday, December 19, 2005

Presence, not presents, is real gift, pope says at 1st papal parish visit

Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The real gift of Christmas is to bring joy to others, not expensive presents that waste both time and money, Pope Benedict XVI said Dec. 18 at Santa Maria Consolatrice Church here.

Pope Benedict XVI waves to a group of priests as he arrives Dec. 18 to celebrate a Mass in the Roman church of Santa Maria Consolatrice, which had been the pope's titular church from the time he was made a cardinal in 1977. (CNS photo from Reuters)
Joy can be spread in any number of simple ways: "a smile, an act of kindness, a helping hand, forgiveness," he said. By bringing joy to others, joy will soon come back to those who gave it, he added.

"Joy is the real gift of Christmas, not expensive things that cost time and money," the pope said during his first visit as pope to a Rome parish.

Santa Maria Consolatrice Parish is located in a working-class neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Rome. The 60-year-old church had been the pope's titular church from 1977, when he was named a cardinal, until 1993.

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger frequently visited the parish to celebrate Mass and preside over confirmations. In his Dec. 18 homily, the pope thanked the nearly 1,000 parishioners for attending the Mass on the last Sunday in Advent and said his visit to the parish was "like coming home."

He said the "friendships and affection" that have been formed over the years with parishioners and clergy at the Rome church "warmed my heart and still warm it today."

The pope dedicated his homily to three key words or elements in St. Luke's account of the Annunciation, in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary that God has chosen her to bear the Son of God.

The first word is rejoice, he said of the word Gabriel uses to greet Mary. "The first word of the New Testament, therefore, is an invitation to be joyful."

The good news of the Gospel brings joy because it shows "God is not far away from us, unknown, inscrutable, perhaps dangerous," he said. Instead, "God is close to us, so close that he made himself a child."

In a world "dominated by fear, uncertainties" and where God is absent, the words, "be joyful because God is with you" open up a whole new world of hope, the pope said.

The second element the pope highlighted from the Annunciation is the angel telling Mary, "Do not be afraid."

While it might seem that Mary would be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, the angel assured her, "Yes, you will be carrying God, but God will be carrying you," the pope said.

He said Mary, too, is telling the faithful to not be afraid in this world "full of fear: fear of misery and poverty, fear of disease and suffering, fear of loneliness and of death."

The last element the pope highlighted was Mary's acceptance of God's will even though his plan for her seemed "too huge for a human being" to fulfill.

The pope said Mary tells the faithful today to be courageous, to say yes to God even if "at times it seems so difficult" to do and it may be more tempting to follow one's own desires.

But God desires the best for his children even if what he asks of them may feel "like an almost unbearable burden, a yoke that is impossible to carry."

In reality, God's will is not a burden, he said.

"It gives us the wings to be able to fly high" and to open one's life to God and his guidance, he said.

After celebrating Mass, the pope was driven back to the Vatican where he recited the noonday Angelus from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Before reciting the Marian prayer, the pope called on the faithful to devote time to silence to better hear what God is saying.

St. Joseph embodied a silence that reflected his deep "contemplation of the mystery of God" so that he would always be ready to carry out God's divine will, the pope said.

He added that St. Joseph's silence does not "demonstrate inner emptiness, but to the contrary, the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart and that guides his every thought and act."

Such silent, reverent reflection is "much needed in a world that is often too noisy, that doesn't foster meditation and listening to the voice of God," he said.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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