For Love Has Made You Now Become Poor
For Love Has Made You Now Become Poor
Homily for the Pontifical Mass of the Nativity of the Lord
Ad Missam in die
Puer natus est nobis,
et filius datus est nobis:
cujus imperium super humerum ejus
et vocabitur nomen ejus magni consilii Angelus.
Today’s Solemnity is the fulfillment of the promises that the Lord has made to His people; promises contained in the ancient prophecies, beginning with that of the Protoevangelium, in which the blessed seed of the Woman is mentioned as the conqueror of the accursed seed of the Serpent. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your lineage and her lineage, and he will bruise your head, and you will bruise her heel (Gen 3:15). Isaiah solemnly specifies: A child is born to us, a son has been given to us. On his shoulders is power, and his name will be: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).
At the Mass in Nocte, the Introit showed us the generation of the Son of God from the Father in the eternity of time: Dominus dixit ad me: filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te. That eternity contemplated in the night – whose silence evokes the Mystery of God – comes down from heaven with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity in the history of the human race. Here then is the Mass at Dawn that pierces the darkness of sin in which humanity finds itself: Lux fulgebit hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus. A light will shine upon us today because the Lord is born for us. Then, with the Mass in Die, the Saviour’s humanity is shown: Because a child is born to us, a son is given to us. On his shoulders is the sign of sovereignty and he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Puer, says Scripture. But puer does not only mean child, but also servant, because it is in obedience to the Father that the Son agrees to strip Himself of His divinity, formam servi accipiens in similitudinem hominum factus, et habitu inventus ut homo; taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of men, he appeared in human form (Phil 2:7). That nobis, that for us, thus expresses the purpose of the Incarnation and Passion of the Lord, promised to our First Parents to redeem their descendants who had fallen through sin, a promise that was fulfilled with the coming into the world, secundum carnem, of the eternal Word of the Father. We understand well why the wisdom of Holy Church makes us kneel every time we remember the ineffable mystery of divine charity: et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis (Jn 1:14).
The Word became flesh: if we think of these words, we cannot help but be dazzled, contemplating the infinite goodness of God in the face of our unworthiness and misery. But even more dazzling than the light that illuminates the darkness of the Holy Night – holy because it marks the entry of the Man-God into history and into the world – is the light that illuminated the night of Holy Saturday, when the body of Jesus Christ, martyred, scourged, nailed to the Cross and finally laid in the tomb, rose from the dead, triumphing over the Enemy of the human race and fulfilling the ancient promise contained in the Sacred Scriptures.
In the silence of eternity, the eternal generation of the Son from the Father is accomplished; in silence the Incarnation was accomplished, after the Fiat of Mary Most Holy; in the silence of the cave of Bethlehem the Redeemer is born; in the silence of the tomb he rises. And in the silence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus Christ, according to the words of the priest, descends every day on the altar to make Himself the food and drink of salvation.
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de cœlis: He came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation. Natus est nobis. Datus est nobis: the Lord was not only born for us, but He gave Himself to us, and in our place – as the first fruits of the human race – He wanted to die, in obedience to the decrees of the Eternal Father, to redeem us, to redeem us from the infinite sin with which Adam and Eve were stained, and from all the sins committed by all men of all times. In fact, only God could make reparation for that infinite offense against God; only a Man could make reparation in the name of men: this is the reason for the Incarnation of God.
When we contemplate the Child Jesus lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes, we must understand that that Puer – in the double sense of child and servant – begins his Passion on the prickly straw of the crib, in the cold of the night of December 25th: You, who are the Creator of the world, lack clothes and fire, O my Lord! exclaims St. Alphonsus in the hymn we all know [Tu scendi dalle stelle]. How much more this poverty enchants me: for love has made You now become poor. For this reason, popular piety, instructed by solid doctrine, shows us the image of the Child sleeping lying on the Cross. For this reason, in medieval depictions we see, standing near the cave, the Cross of Golgotha: Why do you suffer so much? For my sake!
Why is the Nativity so dear to us? Why has the Nativity scene always been present as a symbol of Christmas? Is it because we see the Holy Family represented in it? Or because of the evocative setting of the shepherds, the Magi, the ox and the donkey? That Nativity scene – which devotion has kept intact over the centuries – is so dear to us because in it we find our Redemption per sanguinem ejus proclaimed (Eph 1:7), and we yearn to see that Puer – the One Announced by the Prophets, the Awaited, the Desired of all Peoples – who comes into the world for us, and to die for us, and to make reparation for the eternal death that we have brought upon ourselves by disobeying God. Jesus Christ is born to die, and he calls our hearts – if only we dare to think about it truly, and not superficially – to fix our gaze on the Child who has not had time to be born and already suffers in His most holy flesh, and above all prepares to suffer the torments of the Passion of which we, ungrateful creatures, are the cause.
Jesus was born poor. Poor not due to an imposed and unwanted lack, but rather due to that total deprivation that leads God Himself, the Word of God, to annul Himself – exinanivit, says Saint Paul (Phil 2:7), to lower Himself, to renounce the perfect glory of heaven in order to become flesh: the Word who becomes flesh. And He assumes that flesh, that Divine Body – by virtue of the hypostatic union – to suffer, to struggle, to die, to allow Himself to be scourged, crowned with thorns, beaten, wounded, insulted, spat upon and finally killed for us, to bring us back to our destiny of eternal bliss, which we had also tasted in the earthly Paradise and which we lost, yielding to the temptation of the Serpent. A temptation that was clearly a deception: eritis sicut dii – you will be like gods. But we were already sicut dii, immortal and perfect, without disease, without difficulty in learning, without being subject to the passions. We lived in the Garden of Eden in God’s presence and needed nothing, because the magnificence of our Creator provided for everything. Yet we preferred to believe Satan’s lies and disobey God, who had given us everything. Well, all that we had received freely was incomparably surpassed by the gift of Himself that God wanted to make in response to our ingratitude: the gift of Himself in the Incarnation and in the Redemption, so that for our infinite offense He has indeed driven us out of the earthly Paradise, but He has also given us His Son to make reparation for our sins, with a generosity and goodness that only God can show. O felix culpa!
The Nativity scene speaks to us of this infinite Love, which God fulfills by following a divine pedagogy: He gives Himself to us – something that we cannot even comprehend in all its ineffable greatness – but He always asks for our cooperation; not because He needs it, but because He wants our nothingness to be associated with His everything, to elevate, ennoble, and sanctify it. The Lord asked permission from the Virgin to incarnate Himself in Her womb, and in view of Her Fiat He preserved her from sin. He can give us everything, even to the point of giving us Himself, as long as we too respond to this infinite Love – the love of perfect Charity – with the only thing that we can give back with our whole being: supernatural love. And like the father who gives his son the money with which to buy him a Christmas present; just as the king in the parable gives the guests the garment with which to present themselves at the wedding, so the Lord goes so far as to give us the supernatural Grace with which to reciprocate His love. When we listen to the words of Divine Wisdom, “He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11), we must hear them addressed to us not only as a warning to recognize our nothingness in order to be filled with the whole that the Lord gives us – quia respexit humilitatem ancillæ suæ (Lk 1:48) – but also as a prophetic sign of Divine Love that humbles itself and as an inescapable punishment for Satan’s pride: dispersit suberbos mente cordis sui, deposuit potentes de sede, divites dimisit inanes.
Hatred of Christ – the cornerstone and stumbling block against which His enemies crash – is motivated precisely by the inability due to pride to understand the Mystery of Charity that leads God to become man, the Lord to become a servant; or at least to bow down in adoration before this Charity which is God. Deus Caritas est (1 Jn 4:8). And, as Saint John admonishes: qui non diligit, non novit Deum, he who does not love does not know God (1 Jn 4:8). The inability to love and to allow ourselves to be loved is, in the end, what carves out the abyss between God’s infinite Charity and our wretched pride, which makes us reject both the Lord’s Love for us and the love that He inspires towards Himself in our sick hearts through Grace. It is Charity that burns away our sins, purifies our souls, and raises us to the heights of holiness, making us truly like God; while love for ourselves, for the seductions of the world, and for the pleasures of the flesh plunges us into the only abyss from which not even the Omnipotence of the Lord can snatch us, because turns us, the world, and the devil into our idols, the false gods who can give us nothing but death.
We must understand the infernal deception that the devil sets for us every time he tempts us into thinking that he can free us from Christ and His Law. The more we rise up believing ourselves to be free to think, act, and speak as we wish, the more our soul is entangled by the chains that prevent it from ascending to God; the more we fill ourselves with ourselves, the less room we leave for Grace. Instead, we must listen to that divine Word who first gave us the example of humility and obedience to the point of becoming man and dying for us. God who needs nothing makes Himself in need of everything, so that we who are in need of everything can find in Him what no creature, not even the Angels, dare to hope for.
Let us look at the Nativity scene, then, and in it let us contemplate with emotion the humility of the Virgin whom the Trinity wanted to become the Mother of God: ecce enim ex hoc beata me dicent omnes generationes. Let us look at the humility of Saint Joseph, the silent and strong guardian of the Divine Family. Let us look at the humility of the Angels, who, unlike the rebellious spirits, sing the Gloria over that poor cave where, in humility, the promised Messiah is born. Let us look at the humility of the shepherds, at their simple gifts, at their pure faith, at the fact that material poverty has not prevented them from recognizing the only treasure that deserves to be jealously guarded: that son of Joseph, of the royal tribe of David, who with the cry of a little child bursts into the darkness of the world to bring light to it, to be the true and only Light Himself – as Simeon will say in a few days – Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloria plebis tuæ, Israël (Lk 2:32). And so may it be.
+ Carlo Maria, Archbishop
December 25, 2023
In Nativitate Domini