Vatican City (AsiaNews) - This evening, during the celebration of the first Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, which was followed by the Te Deum, the moment of thanksgiving for the end of the year, Pope Francis focused his reflection on the "meaning of time," which "is not a reality alien to God".
The end of the year is in fact a time to think about one's journey of life, something that had a beginning and that will have an end, a time to thank God for the good we received, and a time to ask for forgiveness for the wrong we have done.
It is a time for self-examination, a time to ask ourselves if we live "like children or like slaves;" hence, the questions: "Do we live like people baptised in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, redeemed and free? Or do we live according to a worldly and corrupt logic, and do what the devil makes us believe is in our interest?"
The afternoon's celebration in St Peter's Basilica also gave the pope, who is bishop of Rome, an opportunity to express a critical appraisal of certain events that have recently rocked the city.
"Certainly," the Holy Father said, the city's "serious corruption problems, which recently came to the fore, call for a serious and conscious conversion of hearts in favour of spiritual and moral revival, as well as a renewed commitment to build a fairer and united city, where the poor, the weak and the marginalised are at the centre of our concerns and daily actions. A great daily attitude of Christian freedom is needed to have the courage to proclaim, in our City, that we must defend the poor, and not defend ourselves from the poor; that we must serve the weak, and not use the weak."
Such harsh words about recent events in Rome came at the end of the pope's reflections about how we lived and live, reflections about the end of a year when we praise the Lord and at the same time ask for his forgiveness. We praise him above all for the great gift we received. "He made us his children. [. . .] We were children, but we became slaves, heeding the voice of the evil one. No one but Jesus can rescue us from actual slavery, for he took on our flesh from the Virgin Mary and died on the cross in order to free us from the bondage of sin and to give us back our lost filial condition."
"At the same time, the gift itself for which we thank others is also cause for self-examination, for changing our personal and collective life, for asking: What way do we live? Do we live like children or like slaves? Do we live like people baptised in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, redeemed, and free? Or do we live according to a worldly corrupt logic, and do what the devil makes us believe is in our interest?"
"In our existential journey, there is always a tendency to resist liberation; we are afraid of freedom and, paradoxically, prefer slavery more or less unconsciously. Freedom frightens us because it places us in front of time and our responsibility to live it well. Slavery reduces time to a 'moment,' and so we feel safer; that is, it makes us live time disconnected from its past and our future. In other words, slavery prevents us from fully and truly living the present, because it empties the past and shuts if off from the future, from eternity. Slavery makes us believe that we cannot dream, fly, and hope."
"A few days ago, a great Italian artist said that it was easier for the Lord to take the Israelites out of Egypt that Egypt out of the heart of the Israelites. They had been, 'yes', 'materially' released from slavery, but during their travels in the desert, facing various hardships and hunger, they began to remember Egypt nostalgically, when 'we used to eat . . . the onions, and the garlic ' (cf. Nm, 11:5). Yet, they forgot that they ate at the table of slavery."
"In our heart [also] lurks the nostalgia of slavery, because it is apparently more reassuring, [with] more freedom, which is much riskier: How much do we like to be caged by so many fireworks, apparently beautiful but which actually last but a moment! Such is the realm of the here and now!
"For us Christians, the quality of our work, our life, our presence in the city, our service to the common good, and our participation in public and Church institutions depend on self-examination."
"Dear brothers and sisters, the end of the year means asserting anew the existence of a 'last hour,' that the 'fullness of time' exists. At the end of this year, in thanksgiving and in asking for forgiveness, we would do well to ask for the grace to be able to walk in liberty, to be able to repair the great damage done, and to be able to defend ourselves from nostalgia for slavery, to defend ourselves lest we pine after slavery. May the Holy Virgin, who is right in the heart of God's temple, when the Word - which was at the beginning - became one of us in time; may She, who gave the world the Saviour, help us welcome Him with an open heart, to be and live truly free as God's children."
At the end of the liturgical service, Francis left the Basilica to spend some moments of reflection in St Peter's Square in front of the crèche, where he greeted a few thousand people who, despite the very cold evening, were waiting for him.