Pope Benedict XVI's Homily on New Year Mass. January 1st, 2013

In his homily on the Feast of Mary, Holy Mother of God January 1st, Pope Benedict XVI tells us to look to God and to His son, Jesus for true peace in a world fraught with problems, darkness and anguish. Pope Benedict points to Mary, Jesus' mother, as an example of interior peace despite the unforseen events that were to disrupt her life. "This is the inner peace," he said, "that we want to have in the midst of the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events the meaning of which we often fail to grasp and which unsettle us."

Saint Peter's square on January 1st, 2013

Below is a translation from the Italian original text of Pope Benedict's homily:

Dear brothers and sisters!
" The Lord bless us and keep us! Let his face shine upon us!” Thus we prayed, in the words of Psalm 66, after listening to the first reading on the ancient priestly blessing for the people of the covenant. It is particularly significant that at the beginning of each new year God projects upon us, his people, the brightness of his holy Name, the Name which is pronounced three times in the solemn formula of the biblical blessing. It is no less significant that the Word of God - which "became flesh and dwelt among us" as "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1,9.14) - is given, eight days after his birth - as we are told in today's Gospel - the name of Jesus (cf. Lk 2:21). 

It is in this name that we are gathered here. I cordially greet all those present, starting with the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I greet with affection Cardinal Bertone, my Secretary of State, Cardinal Turkson, with all the members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; I am particularly grateful to them for their efforts to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace, which this year has as its theme, "Blessed are the Peacemakers." 

Although the world is unfortunately still marked by "hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing inequalities between rich and poor, by the dominance of a selfish and individualistic mentality also expressed by an unregulated financial capitalism," as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that "the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift. All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). "( message, 1). This beatitude "says that peace is a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort… It is 'inner peace with oneself, and outer peace with one another and with all creation "(ibid., 2 and 3). Yes, peace is the good par excellence to be invoked as a gift from God, and at the same time, to be built with every effort. 

We can ask ourselves: what is the foundation, the source, the root of this peace? How can we feel peace within us, despite the problems, darkness and anguish? The answer is given by the readings of today's liturgy. The biblical texts, the first taken from the Gospel of Luke, call us to contemplate the inner peace of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Many unforeseen events take place for her during the days in which "she gave birth to her firstborn son "(Lk 2:7); not only the birth of the Son, but before that, the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn, the search for a makeshift shelter in the night, and then the song of the angels, the unexpected visit of the shepherds. In all this, however, Mary is not broken, she is not shaken, she is not upset by events greater than her; she simply considers them, in silence, as they unfold, she keeps them in her memory and in her heart, reflecting on them calmly and serenely. This is the inner peace that we want to have in the midst of the sometimes tumultuous and confusing events of history, events the meaning of which we often fail to grasp and which unsettle us. 

The Gospel passage ends with a mention of the circumcision of Jesus. According to the Law of Moses, eight days after birth, a child was to be circumcised, and in that moment he was named. God himself, through his messenger, had told Mary - and also to Joseph - the name to be given to the Child was "Jesus" (cf. Mt 1:21, Lk 1:31), and so it is. The name that God had already established even before the child was conceived, is now officially given at the time of his circumcision. And this marks once and for all Mary’s identity: she is "the mother of Jesus," in short, the mother of the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord. Jesus is not a man like any other, but is the Word of God, one of the divine Persons, the Son of God: therefore the Church gave Mary the title of Theotokos: "Mother of God". 

The first reading reminds us that peace is a gift of God and is linked to the splendour of God's face, according to the text of the Book of Numbers, which handed down the blessing used by the priests of the people of Israel in the liturgical assemblies. A blessing that repeated the holy name of God three times, the unpronounceable name, and each time it connects two verbs indicating an action in favour of man: "The Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace"(6:24-26). Peace is therefore the culmination of these six actions of God in our favour, in which he speaks to us in the splendour of his face. 

For the Holy Scripture, contemplation of the face of God is supreme happiness: " you gladden him with the joy of your face," says the Psalmist (Ps. 21.7). From the contemplation of the face of God joy, security and peace is born. But what does it concretely mean to contemplate the face of the Lord, as can be understood from the New Testament? It means to know Him directly, as much as is possible in this life, through Jesus Christ, in whom He was revealed. Enjoying the beauty of the face of God means penetrating the mystery of His name as manifested to us by Jesus, understanding something of His inner life and will, that we may live according to His loving plan for humanity. The apostle Paul expresses this in the second reading from the Letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), speaking of the Spirit who, in the depths of our hearts, cries, "Abba! Father. " This is the cry that springs from the contemplation of the true face of God, the revelation of the mystery of His Name. Jesus says: "I have manifested thy name to the men" (Jn 17:6). The Son of God made flesh has made known the Father, He has allowed us to perceive in his visible, human face the invisible face of the Father; through the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, he has made us know that in Him we too are children of God, as St Paul says in the passage we have just heard: "As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”"(Galatians 4:6). 

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the foundation of our peace: the certainty of contemplating in Jesus Christ, the splendour of the face of God the Father, of being children in the Son, and thus having, on life’s journey, the same security that a child feels in the arms of a good and omnipotent Father. The splendour of the face of the Lord upon us, that gives us peace, is the manifestation of His paternity; the Lord turns His face to us; He shows Himself as our Father and gives us peace. Here lies the principle of that profound peace - "peace with God" - that is inextricably linked to faith and grace, as St. Paul writes to the Christians of Rome (cf. Rom 5:2). Nothing can take this peace away from those who believe, even the difficulties and sufferings of life. In fact, sufferings, trials and darkness do not corrode, but rather increase our hope, a hope that does not disappoint because "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom 5.5). 

May the Virgin Mary, whom we venerate today under the title of Mother of God, help us to contemplate the face of Jesus, Prince of Peace. Support us and accompany us in this new year, obtain for us and for the whole world the gift of peace. Amen!

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