At Vespers for the close of 2017, Pope Francis said that the only adequate response to God’s gift of His Son Jesus is one of profound gratitude for the many graces we’ve been given, particularly in the last year.
From Mary “the Church has inherited and continuously inherits this inner perception of fullness, which nourishes a sense of gratitude, as the only human response worthy of the immense gift of God,” the Pope said Dec. 31.
“A heart wrenching gratitude which, starting from the contemplation of that Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, extends to everything and everyone, to the whole world.”
“It is a ‘thank you’ that reflects Grace; it does not come from us, but from Him; it does not come from me, but from God… In this atmosphere created by the Holy Spirit, we raise to God thanksgiving for the year that draws to a close, recognizing that all (that is) good is his gift.”
Pope Francis spoke during a short homily for Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica, held every year on Dec. 31. During the prayer, the ancient “Te Deum” hymn is sung in thanksgiving for the past year. At the end there is also a short time of Eucharistic Exposition for silent adoration.
In his homily, Francis reflected on the Scripture passage: “When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son,” saying that this tradition evening prayer “breathes the atmosphere of the fullness of time.”
This isn’t because it is the last day of the calendar year, he said, but because our faith “makes us contemplate and feel that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, gave fullness to the time of the world and human history.”
He also pointed to Mary’s role as the Mother of God, and how she was the first to experience this “fullness” in a unique way. “Through her,” the Pope said, “the fullness of time flowed: through her humble and faith-filled heart, through her whole flesh impregnated by the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis also expressed his gratitude, as the Bishop of Rome, for the many people who with their small but concrete actions, show their love for the city of Rome. Whether it’s by being patient and prudent when stuck in traffic, respecting public places, or paying attention to the elderly.
He also noted his thankfulness and esteem for parents and teachers, who try to impart to children a strong civic sense, training them to have “an ethic of responsibility,” and “to take an interest in the reality that surrounds them.”
According to the Pope, these people, even if they aren’t in the news, make up the majority of the people who live in Rome, among them, many who are experiencing a difficult economic situation. Yet, they don’t cry about it or harbor grudges or resentment, he noted, they just “strive to do their part every day to improve things a little.”
“Today, in giving thanks to God, I invite you to also express gratitude for all these craftsmen of the common good, who love their city not in words but with deeds,” he concluded.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis delivered a short message before and after the recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square. In his speech, he expressed his closeness for the Coptic Orthodox people in Egypt, who recently experienced two attacks, one at a church and another at a shop.
“May the Lord welcome the souls of the dead, support the wounded, the family and the whole community, and convert the hearts of the violent,” he prayed.
Nine people were killed in two attacks on Coptic Christians in an area south of Cairo Dec. 29. A gunman stormed a church in the Helwan district of Egypt, shooting and killing six civilians and a policeman, before being intercepted and arrested.
The gunman had previously attacked a Coptic-owned shop in the same area, killing two brothers, according to Egypt’s interior ministry. According to BBC News, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling the gunman their “soldier.”
Before the Angelus, Francis said that like the Holy Family, all families have the mission of creating a good environment for the growth and nurturing of children, “so that they can live a good life, worthy of God and constructive for the world.”
In this way, Jesus “is truly one of us,” he continued, because “the Son of God becomes a child, agreeing to grow, to strengthen himself” just like each of us. And like all parents, Mary and Joseph experienced the same joy of seeing this in their son.
The feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth invites us to reflect on the experience of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who grew together “as a family in mutual love and trust in God,” he said.