Text of Pope Francis’ homily at Christmas Mass

VATICAN CITY — Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’ homily at Christmas Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9:1). “An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Savior: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.

We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light”. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.

 

(CNS photo by Paul Haring)

(CNS photo by Paul Haring)

The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.

Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.

Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). The “sign” is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.

On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me? More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!

The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). People who were unassuming, open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: “O Mary, show us Jesus!”

Remembering murdered Jesuit confrere, pope appeals for peace in Syria

UPDATE: Full story on the pope’s remarks and more.

VATICAN CITY — Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria:

Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims.

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction. I also remember the numerous people who have been kidnapped — Christians and Muslims, Syrians and people from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. We ask the Lord to grant that they may quickly return to their loved ones and families and communities.

From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May there be respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the desired peace be reached through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Vatican panel’s document on role of theologians, bishops available here

In the new issue of Origins, the CNS documentary service, the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says theologians and bishops have distinct but complementary roles in teaching the Catholic faith (click here for the CNS story), but theologians ultimately must defer to the pope and bishops regarding the authentic interpretation of the faith. Titled “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria,” the 20,000-word text looks at developments in Catholic theology since Vatican Council II and offers criteria for recognizing theology that is authentically Catholic.

You can download this edition of Origins here (.pdf). It also includes the text of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s March 2 letter to U.S. bishops saying the White House has failed to consider the U.S. bishops’ concerns on the contraceptive mandate for health insurance plans.

To purchase copies of the regular print version of this edition of Origins (Vol. 41, No. 40), call (202) 541-3290.

Vatican lawyer on plaintiffs’ decision to abandon 2010 Murphy sex abuse lawsuit

UPDATESex abuse lawsuit against Vatican withdrawn

ROME — Jeffrey S. Lena, an American attorney for the Holy See, announced today that the plaintiffs in a 2010 federal lawsuit against the Vatican regarding Father Lawrence Murphy, who sexually abused students at a Milwaukee Catholic school for the deaf, have notified the court that they have decided to abandon the suit. Below is Lena’s statement:

Statement of Jeffrey S. Lena Regarding John Doe 16 v. Holy See, et al.

(Case No. 2:10-cv-00346 RTR, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin)

On February 10, 2012, Jeffrey R. Anderson, Esq. of the law office of Jeff Anderson and Associates, working together with columnist Marci Hamilton, Esq., filed a voluntary notice of dismissal in the case of John Doe 16 v. Holy See.

The Notice of Voluntary Dismissal — which was filed by the Plaintiff’s lawyers to avoid their duty to submit to the Court a court-ordered response to the Holy See’s Motion to Dismiss — requested that the “Court take notice of this dismissal and remove this matter from its docket.”

With these ignominious words, the John Doe 16 case died silently on a Friday afternoon in what attorney Jeff Anderson has himself called “the crucible of the courtroom.”

Things were different at the beginning of this case. On April 22, 2010, counsel for Plaintiff orchestrated a press event replete with props and other trappings designed to induce a media feeding frenzy. During the frenzy, Plaintiff’s counsel dramatically announced that they held information demonstrating a “world-wide conspiracy” related to sexual abuse that was directed by the Holy See. That outworn and discredited claim was in fact the centerpiece of a planned sequence of media events that took a very serious matter — the sexual abuse of a child — and turned it into a tool to assert fallacious allegations of Holy See responsibility and liability for John Doe 16’s abuse. Continue reading

Second statement by bishops on HHS mandate calls for its total rescission

In a new statement tonight on President Obama’s noontime announcement of a new plan for mandatory contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the “only complete solution” to the religious liberty implications of the insurance mandate “is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”

Titled “Bishops Renew Call To Legislative Action On Religious Liberty,” the 700-word statement expanded on an earlier statement the same day saying the Obama announcement might be “a first step in the right direction” but that the conference still had concerns and reserved “judgment on the details until we have them.”

Tonight’s statement is a much more detailed analysis of the new plan. It notes that what it calls “the lack of clear protection” for religious employers and insurers “is unacceptable and must be corrected.” It also pledged to continue “efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.”

Here is the full text of tonight’s statement:

The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Today, the President has done two things.

First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty. Continue reading

Bishops respond to Obama announcement on contraceptive mandate

UPDATE: Full news release.

SECOND UPDATESecond statement by bishops on HHS mandate calls for its total rescission

The following statement was just issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

‘The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.

‘Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

Bishops criticize court ruling on same-sex marriage

Both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the California Catholic Conference issued statements this afternoon criticizing the federal appeals court ruling  striking down the California ban on same-sex marriage.

The USCCB news release:

WASHINGTON—Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joins the bishops of California in denouncing the February 7 decision of a federal court rejecting the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a voter-approved  initiative in California that recognizes marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“Today’s court ruling is a grave injustice, ignoring the reality that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “The Constitution of the United States most assuredly does not forbid the protection of the perennial meaning of marriage, one of the cornerstones of society. The people of California deserve better. Our nation deserves better. Marriage deserves better.”

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the August 4, 2010 decision of a federal district judge who had ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

“Our society does not operate in an amoral or value-less vacuum,” said Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “To flourish, it must be infused with moral direction that is grounded in the truth. Of course, the true meaning of marriage, like the gift of human life, is ultimately not subject to a vote or court ruling. But in California, as in every other state where marriage has been put to a vote, the people justly upheld the truth of marriage. How tragic for California, for the nation, and especially for children, that this correctly-informed judgment has now been set aside.”

The California Catholic Conference statement:

We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been—and always will be—the most basic building block of the family and of our society.

In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.

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