The message of Christ’s birth brings dignity to those discarded by life because Jesus was born a poor outcast, Pope Francis said in a low-key Christmas Eve Mass.
Francis celebrated an early Midnight Mass in St Peter’s Basilica with a congregation of fewer than 100 people and with just a small number of cardinals and bishops, due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
The Mass, normally attended by the hierarchy of the Roman Curia and diplomats representing countries from across the world, took place at 7.30pm Rome time so that people could return home in time for the 10pm curfew.
“The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God,” the 84-year-old Roman Pontiff said in his homily.
“He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love. And to discover something important. As he did in Bethlehem, so too with us, God loves to work wonders through our poverty.”
Too often, the Pope explained, people look for "mangers" that are “filled with ephemeral things” in an endless pursuit for possessions. As a result, they forget the manger at Bethlehem which is materially poor, yet rich in love.
“How often instead, in our hunger for entertainment, success and worldly pleasures, do we nourish life with food that does not satisfy and leaves us empty within,” Francis said.
“God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him.”
The Pope pointed out that despite the “injustice towards so many of our brothers and sisters,” God still offers his “only- begotten Son, who is all his joy,” which itself begs a question.
“Was the Lord right in giving us so much? Is he right still to trust us? Does he not overestimate us? Of course, he overestimates us, and he does this because he is madly in love with us. He cannot help but love us,” Francis explained.
The Pope went on to quote the 19th century poet Emily Dickinson to say that from Christmas onwards “God’s residence is next to mine, his furniture is love”.
Francis concluded his homily with a prayer: “Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be. In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for, from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.”
The Pope is celebrating Christmas during a national lockdown brought in by the Italian Government on 24 December. It means that all papal liturgies are taking place with very few people present, and his Urbi et Orbi message (to the city and to the world) will be delivered from inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace rather than from the balcony of St Peter’s.