12/14/2008, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: closeness of God is not physical or temporal, but "of love"

Benedict XVI blesses the "infants" for Nativity scenes brought by the children of Rome, and offers the prayer: Open our hearts / that we may receive Jesus in joy / always do what he asks / and see him in all those / who are in need of our love.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The "closeness" of God, spoken of in today's Mass, is not physical or temporal, it does not indicate the approach of the end of the world, but is a closeness "of love: love draws near." The approach of Christmas, indicated among other things by the large tree set up in St. Peter's Square, next to the Nativity scene being assembled, and the "Infants" that according to tradition Roman children bring this Sunday to St. Peter's Square in order to have them blessed by the pope, prompted Benedict XVI to pray, at the Angelus, that "Jesus, who by his birth brings the blessing of God to men, may be welcomed with love in all of the homes in Rome, and in the world."

Children with statues of the baby Jesus (in the photo), therefore, took center stage today in St. Peter's Square. The pope asked them to unite themselves with his prayer, "that we may receive Jesus in joy." This is a joy to which this Sunday is especially dedicated, called "Gaudete Sunday," "be joyful," because during the Mass "a passage is read from St. Paul, 'Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say: rejoice'. And immediately after this, he adds the reason: 'The Lord is near' (Phil. 4:4-5). This is the reason for our joy. But what does it mean that 'the Lord is near'? In what sense must we understand this 'closeness' of God? The apostle Paul, in writing to the Christians of Philippi, is clearly thinking of the return of Christ, and is inviting them to rejoice because this is certain. Nonetheless, St. Paul himself, in his letter to the Thessalonians, warns that no one can know the moment of the Lord's coming (cf. 1 Thes. 5:1-2), and he cautions against any alarmism, as if the return of Christ were imminent (cf. 2 Thes. 2:1-2). So already at that time, the Church, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, increasingly understood that the 'closeness' of God is not a question of space and time, but a question of love: love draws near! Christmas is coming to remind us of this fundamental truth of our faith, and, in front of the Nativity scene, we can taste Christian joy, contemplating in the newborn Jesus the face of God, who out of love drew close to us."

"In this light," he continued, "it is a pleasure for me to renew the tradition of the blessing of the 'Infants', the statues of the baby Jesus to be placed in the Nativity scenes. I address myself in particular to you, dear boys and girls of Rome, who came this morning with your 'Infants', which I now bless. I invite you to unite yourselves with me, following attentively this prayer: God, our Father, / you so loved men / that you sent your only Son Jesus, / born of the Virgin Mary, / to save us and lead us back to you. / We pray that with your blessing / these images of Jesus, who is about to come among us, / may be, in our homes, / a sign of your presence and of your love. / Good Father, / give your blessing to us as well, / to our parents, to our families and to our friends. / Open our hearts, / that we may receive Jesus in joy, / always do what he asks, / and see him in all of those / who have need of our love. / We ask you this in the name of Jesus, / your beloved Son, who comes to bring peace to the world. / He lives and reigns for ever and ever. / Amen."

Photo courtesy of CPP

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