– During a prayer service for the close of 2016, Pope Francis said the arrival of a new year should serve as an opportunity to toss out attitudes of selfishness and exclusion, focusing instead on how to imitate God’s closeness to each person through his incarnation.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be naïve. We know that we are tempted in various ways to adopt the logic of privilege that separates, excludes and closes us off, while separating, excluding and closing off the dreams and lives of so many of our brothers and sisters,” the pope said Dec. 31.
In looking to the infant born in Bethlehem, “we should acknowledge that we need the Lord to enlighten us, because all too often we end up being narrow-minded or prisoners of an all-or-nothing attitude that would force others to conform to our own ideas,” he said.
“We need this light, which helps us learn from our mistakes and failed attempts in order to improve and surpass ourselves,” he said, adding that this light comes from the courageous and humble awareness of the people who repeatedly find the strength “to rise up and start anew.”
Pope Francis spoke to attendees of his annual Dec. 31 Vespers liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which the ancient “Te Deum” hymn is sung to give thanks for the year that is ending. The Eucharist is also exposed for a few minutes of silent adoration at the end of the prayer.
In his homily, he said that what is “so surprising” about God’s plan for salvation is that he accomplishes this “through the smallness and vulnerability of a newborn child.” In Christ, God didn’t take on “a human mask,” but shared completely in our human condition, he said.
Far from being “an idea or an abstract essence,” God wanted to be close, in the flesh, to those who feel lost, hurt, discouraged, afraid, inconsolable, or who feel burdened by loneliness so that sin, despair and exclusion “would not have the final word.”
The manger, he said, invites us to adopt this “divine logic,” which isn’t centered on privilege or favors, but rather on closeness and encounter.
Pope Francis then gave thanks to God for his generosity over the past year, which he said is “no sterile nostalgia or empty recollection of an idealized and disembodied past,” but rather “a living memory, one that helps to generate personal and communal creativity because we know that God is with us.”
He said the manger is a challenge for us “not to give up on anything or anyone,” adding that to look at the manger scene means finding the strength “to take our place in history without complaining or being resentful, without closing in on ourselves or seeking a means of escape, looking for shortcuts in our own interest.”
Looking at the Nativity, he said, means recognizing “that the times ahead call for bold and hope-filled initiatives, as well as the renunciation of vain self-promotion and endless concern with appearances.”