Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sunday at the Vatican: Christmas -- and Controversy

Framed in the above image by the Vatican Christmas Tree, here's the translation of B16's message at this morning's Angelus:
Dear brothers and sisters,

the celebration of the Holy Birth is now upon us. Today's vigil prepares us to live intensely the mystery that the liturgy will invite us on this Night to contemplate with the eyes of faith. In the divine Newborn, who we will lay in the crib, is made manifest our salvation. In the God who made himself man for us, we all feel ourselves loved and welcomed, we discover being precious and unique in the eyes of the Creator. The Birth of Christ helps us to be conscious of how much human life is worth, the life of each human being, from his first instant until his natural end. Whoever opens their heart to this "baby wrapped in swaddling clothes" and lying "in a manger" (cf. Lk 2:12) he offers the possibility of looking with new eyes upon the reality of each day. He will be able to relish the power of the interior wonder of the love of God, who succeeds in transforming in joy and also in suffering.

Let us prepare ourselves, dear friends, to encounter Jesus, the Emmanuel, God with us. Born in the poverty of Bethlehem, he wishes to make himself a companion on the journeys of each one of us. In this world, from when He himself "extended" into it, no one is a stranger. It's true, we are all in passage, but it is this Jesus who makes us feel at home on this earth sanctified by his presence. He ask us, then, to make him a home that's welcoming for all. The surprising gift of Christmas is precisely this: Jesus has come for each one of us and in him we have been made brothers. The corresponding engagement is that of ever-more surpassing preconceptions and prejudices, breaking down the barriers and eliminating the differences which divide, or worse, place individuals and peoples into conflict, so that we may build together a world of justice and peace.

With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, let us live these last hours that separate us from Christmas, preparing ourselves spiritually to welcome the Baby Jesus. In the heart of night He will come for us. It's his desire, therefore, to also come within us, to live in the heart of each one of us. With that coming, it's indispensible that we be prepared and make ourselves ready to receive him, ready to make space for him inside ourselves, in our families, in our cities. May his birth not find us [merely] impelled to celebrate Christmas, forgetting that the protagonist of the feast is He himself! Help us, Mary, to maintain the interior recollection indispensible to taste the profound joy that marks the birth of the Redeemer. To her let us return now with our prayers, thinking particularly of those preparing to spend their Christmas in sadness and in solitude, in sickness and in suffering: to all of them, may the Virgin bring comfort and consolation.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae....
Insider tip: the strong human-life references in the first paragraph are likely due to the recent controversy in Italy over the right-to-die advocate Piergiorgio Welby, a muscular-dystrophy sufferer who died Wednesday after his respirator was removed at his behest.

Author of a book called Lasciatemi Morire -- "Let Me Die" -- Welby's case has inspired a fierce political row in Italy, where the church weighed in after his death by denying the activist a Mass of Christian Burial. (The title of his book appears to be a play on Lasciatemi Andare -- "Let Me Go" -- last year's published account of the final weeks of the life of Pope John Paul II.)

Secular funeral rites for Welby were held today in Rome. In the above photo, a religious sister comforts Welby's mother, Luciana.

AP/Andrew Medichini
PHOTO 2: AP/Riccardo De Luca