Each new civil year begins on the octave day of the nativity of Our Lord, which is also the day of His circumcision and that of the imposition of the Name of Jesus. In the liturgical traditions of both east and west, the octave of Christmas has equally been also a day on which we pay special honour to the Divine Maternity of Mary, through whom the Saviour has come to us. All this helps us focus on the essentials for the year to come.
First of all, let this entire year be spent under the invocation of the most holy name of Jesus. That simple word, which means Saviour, summarises in itself the entire mystery of God’s merciful love for us and His plan of salvation. That name is itself a prayer and it suffices to pronounce it in order to ward off the most virulent attacks of the enemy. Our first resolution then is to invoke frequently the Holy Name of Jesus throughout the year.
Secondly, the Lord’s circumcision, which was a painful act of submission to the Mosaic Law to which He was not bound, shows us that to live in the light of the newborn saviour, we need to be ready to carry our cross and bear the pains of day to day life in this world. Our second resolution will then be to embrace the daily cross, however hard that may be, even if it draws blood, as did the circumcision, confident that by uniting it with the passion of Our Lord it will bear fruit for the salvation of souls.
Thirdly, Mary’s Divine Maternity should shed its light upon this coming year and it will if we have the habit of invoking here frequently. Her name too is a prayer, one that is intensely repugnant to the enemy, for he has no hold over her, and a simple prayer to her, the simple pronouncing of her most holy Name calls down upon us immense blessings.
As the Church mourns the death of Pope Benedict XVI, I would like to share with you a couple texts from his hand. The first is fittingly read on this octave of Christmas. In a little book called Images of Hope, he writes:
“In the Child Jesus, the defenselessness of God is apparent. God comes without weapons, because He does not wish to conquer from outside but desires to win and transform us from within. If anything can conquer man’s vainglory, his violence, his greed, it is the vulnerability of the Child. God assumed this vulnerability in order to conquer us and lead us to Himself. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand” (Is 1:3). The Church Fathers saw in these words a prophetic saying that points to the new people of God, the Church of Jews and Gentiles. Before God all men, Jews and Gentiles, like oxen and asses, lacked understanding and reason. But the Child in the crib opened their eyes, so that they now recognise the voice of the master, the voice of the Lord…. Who are the ox and the ass today, who are “my people”, who do not understand? Why is it the case that non-reason knows and reason is blind?… What about us? Are we far distant from the stable because we are too fine and sophisticated for it? Do we, too, not get so caught up in scholarly interpretation of the Bible, in establishing the inauthenticity or the genuine historical places, that we become blind to the Child Himself and perceive nothing of Him. Are we not all too often in “Jerusalem”, in the palace, inside ourselves, our own vainglory, our fear of persecution, rather than able to hear the angel voices in the night, to go there, and to worship? Let us look in this night at the faces of the ox and ass asking: My people does not understand; do you comprehend the voice of the Lord?” (in Images of Hope, ch. Ox and Ass at the Crib).
The second text is taken from what is known as the Subiaco Address. It was pronounced at Subiaco on 1 April 2005, just 2 days before the death of John Paul II, and less than three weeks before his own election to the papacy. In it, he presents St Benedict as a model for the restoration of a Christian culture. On the threshold of this new year, his words should incite us monks to be better monks and the faithful to follow the spirit of the holy Rule:
“The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man’s ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need. Above all, that of which we are in need at this moment in history are men who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world. The negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against Him, has darkened God’s image and opened the door to disbelief. We need men who have their gaze directed to God, to understand true humanity. We need men whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God and whose hearts God opens, so that their intellects can speak to the intellects of others, and so that their hearts are able to open up to the hearts of others. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men. We need men like Benedict of Norcia, who at a time of dissipation and decadence, plunged into the most profound solitude, succeeding, after all the purifications he had to suffer, to ascend again to the light, to return and to found Montecassino, the city on the mountain that, with so many ruins, gathered together the forces from which a new world was formed. In this way Benedict, like Abraham, became the father of many nations. The recommendations to his monks presented at the end of his Rule are guidelines that show us also the way that leads on high, beyond the crisis and the ruins. Just as there is a bitter zeal that removes one from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal that removes one from vices and leads to God and to eternal life. It is in this zeal that monks must exercise themselves with most ardent love: May they outdo one another in rendering each other honour, may they support, in turn, with upmost patience their physical and moral infirmities… May they love one another with fraternal affection… Fear God in love… Put absolutely nothing before Christ who will be able to lead all to eternal life” (Subiaco address, 1 April 2005).