Pope’s homily: Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness

VATICAN CITY — Here is the Vatican’s English translation of the prepared text of the homily of Pope Francis for Christmas night Mass Dec. 24:

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us -– and within us as well –- there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Pope Francis places a statue of the baby Jesus before the altar of St. Peter's Basilica at the beginning of Mass. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis places a statue of the baby Jesus before the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of Mass. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country toward the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way toward the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

The scene in St. Peter's Square Christmas Eve just before Mass began. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The scene in St. Peter’s Square Christmas Eve just before Mass began. (CNS/Paul Haring)

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

Shy Italian monk from Assisi has become recording sensation

If you haven’t heard of 35-year-old tenor Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi, from Assisi, Italy, you should check out his story here.

He is the only friar in the world to land a major record deal (Decca Records/Universal Music Classics). His arias have made him a YouTube sensation. (In fact, he’s also featured in a video our Rome bureau produced in Assisi, “Francis: The saint and the pope,” shortly after Pope Francis’ election last March. He sings at the opening of the video, and he’s interviewed beginning at 3:30 — don’t miss it!)

He just released a new album, “Voice of Joy,” a collection of traditional Christmas carols, seasonal melodies and sacred arias. In keeping with his vow of poverty, all of the proceeds from concerts and album sales are directed to the Order of Friars Minor to benefit Franciscan efforts worldwide. In Assisi, at the friary founded by St. Francis, he has the job of welcoming visitors and is a carpenter. He was “discovered” in 2011 or so by some heavy-hitters in the music industry.

Cover of Franciscan friar's album (Courtesy Decca Records)

Cover of latest CD recorded by Franciscan friar. (Courtesy Decca Records)

This fall he was on tour in the U.S. One of those stops was at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, where he sang selections from his CD “Voice from Assisi,” nominated as Best Classical Album of the Year in 2012 at the Classic BRIT Awards in the United Kingdom.

One of the songs he performed to a rapt audience in the sanctuary of the monastery’s main church was the theme song from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film “Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna” (“Brother Sun, Sister Moon”), which is of course a biopic about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. The song was written by the legendary folk-rock-pop troubadour Donovan.

In late October, Friar Alessandro performed a free concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Calif., for 1,400 children from disadvantaged neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland. Organizers said 300 volunteers worked months “to create one magical day for the children” and expose them to “the beauty of the arts.” A documentary about him was broadcast recently on the Eternal Word Television Network.