Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
At the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
"Do not be afraid;
for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a Savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger."
Dear Friends in our Lord Jesus Christ,
In this year 2005 all of us have experienced many difficult situations.
As a nation we have been deeply affected by the results of war and violence in Iraq.
Our fellow citizens have suffered enormously through catastrophic hurricanes and been tried to the core of their being, even being tempted to lose hope. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan have suffered even more through earthquakes, leaving tens of thousands dead and two to three million people homeless.
The extended criminality of our city has been a plague to our honor, as has been the terrible sexual abuse suffered by minors in different sectors of our Church.
The reports of the use of torture in our country’s defense unsettles us and challenges our national sense of justice and integrity. The overall increase of violence throughout the world, including human trafficking and violence to the defenseless unborn and elderly, is revolting to all of us.
In these and so many other tragic situations, we begin to understand how much we need a Savior and how kind and merciful God is to send us His Son, His Eternal Word born of the Virgin Mary, to save us from our sins and to help us to cope with and overcome evil.
In this context we repeat again the beautiful words of our Gospel this evening: "Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
This wonderful proclamation of the birth of Jesus Christ dominates our celebration at this Midnight Mass. The Church invites us to join in and to praise God for this marvelous event that touches the lives of all of us, takes away our fear, and gives us joy, hope and strength.
The Church characterizes this birth of our newborn Savior Jesus Christ, which we see depicted in our Christmas manger, as a wonderful exchange. This birth represents indeed a wonderful exchange between God and man.
It is through the Virgin Mary, the woman of all salvation history, that God takes on our humanity and God gives us a share in His divinity.
Not only is this exchange wonderful, but everything about it is wonderful. The exchange is wonderful in the Child. Who is this Child? Who is this Child born in Bethlehem on Christmas night? This Child, whose name is Jesus, is both the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary. This Child shares divinity with His Father in heaven. He is God like His Father. This Child shares humanity with His Mother. He is human like His Mother and like all of us. In this exchange God takes on our humanity and gives us a share in His own divine life. And when we accept Jesus into our lives through faith and Baptism, we become children of God, His brothers and sisters.
This exchange is also wonderful in the love that is at its origin. The reason why the Child came into the world, the reason why Jesus is born at Bethlehem is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to be our Savior. This exchange is indeed wonderful in the love that motivates God’s plan. Out of love God sent His Son into the world, so that He could take our flesh, sanctify our humanity and then give us a share in His divine life.
But there is more! This exchange between God and man is also wonderful in what it means to Christ. What it gives to the Son of God is wonderful. God, from all eternity, is the God of love. But at Bethlehem God begins to love in human flesh. And this is something new and wonderful: for God to share our human flesh and, with our emotions and with our heart of flesh, to be able to love us with His eternal love. Yes, this exchange between God and man is indeed wonderful in the humanity that it gives to Jesus Christ.
And then, too, this exchange is wonderful in the consequences that it has for us. In Christ, in Jesus Christ, in the Baby at Bethlehem, God’s solidarity with us, God’s solidarity with all humanity is complete and His love is total.
But, yes, in the mystery of Christ’s birth, total also is the solidarity that Christ requires of all His brothers and sisters with the rest of humanity. Christ requires that He be loved in every human being by every other human being, because humanity now belongs to God. Humanity now belongs to Christ, and Christ will never allow Himself to be separated from those who share humanity with Him.
And this, dear friends, is where our Christmas message takes us: to the consequences of this wonderful exchange. Our Christmas message takes us to humanity in need: to every brother and sister in need of Jesus Christ and His love, His pardon, His mercy, His healing, His compassion, His Gospel of eternal life.
Our Christmas message makes us reach out to every human being suffering from hunger and disease; suffering in body, mind and soul; suffering from war and hatred; suffering from natural causes and disasters, and those suffering from their own sins and the sins of others.
The Word—the Word of God—became flesh and dwelt amongst us. He dwelt amongst us in Jesus Christ. And to all those who accept Him, He gives the power to become the children of God.
In our second reading Saint Paul alludes to all these consequences, saying that the grace of God that has appeared—this wonderful mystery of God’s humanity—trains us and challenges us, to live temperately and justly and devoutly, and to be eager to do what is right, what is right toward our God, what is right toward our brothers and sisters.
This, dear friends, is indeed our Christmas message. It expresses the faith of a Church that is irrevocably committed to love and care for all human beings, because in Jesus Christ she adores an incarnate God who is the Word made Flesh. In His humanity all human life is sacred, and every human right is inviolable.
This Christmas message—rooted in adoration of the newborn Savior, in adoration of the Child at Bethlehem—requires a new commitment from us to uphold and defend, in His Name, the dignity of human life from whatever wounds or weakens, dishonors or destroys it. It brings with it an invitation for us to work to uplift the human condition of all those who share humanity in common with the Son of God and who are destined for eternal life with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In particular it demands from all of us a new commitment to protect all children, in whom the innocence and love of the Christ Child are reflected.
How important it is, dear friends, for each one of us all during the year to be a part of the living, praying, worshiping community—the servant Church of Jesus Christ. This is a challenge that comes to us at the birth of Jesus—the challenge resulting from the wonderful exchange between God and man, between God and all of us.
Therefore, each of us must realize that everyone is welcome in the community of the Church. Everyone is welcome to come home to stay in the Church of God. Everyone is needed. Everyone is needed throughout the year, and everyone is called by God. Everyone is invited by this great love story of God our Father to be part—to be an active part—of this wonderful exchange between the Son of God and humanity. Christ came to be close to all of us. He came to bring us into His Church, in which we are truly a living, praying, worshiping and serving people. Christ came at Bethlehem to call us to accept Him freely, and, in accepting Him, to accept His Church.
There is a place of honor for all of you, dear friends, in the community of Christ’s Church, and Jesus needs you. He needs you here week after week to pray with Him, to serve with Him, to love others in His Name. A tremendous challenge! Yes, this wonderful exchange of divinity and humanity remains a challenge for us tonight and throughout the year. It is a challenge to all of us who have the immense privilege of being brothers and sisters of that Child in Bethlehem; that Child who is our Savior, our God; that Child who is the Son of the Eternal Father; that Child who is the Son of the Virgin Mary; that Child who is the Savior of the world.
The angel was right, dear friends. The message is meant for all of us. Let us listen once again: "Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord." Amen.