On the mystery of God who humbled himself and became a Child
VATICAN CITY — Devotion to the Child Jesus is the secret to growing in humility, Pope Francis said in his final general audience catechesis for 2015.
On this last Wednesday of the year, the pope invited pilgrims gathered in a chilly St. Peter’s Square to enter into “the school of the Virgin Mary,” to meditate on the humility of God who became a child to save us.
“This is a great mystery. God is humble! We who are proud, filled with vanity and believe we are a big deal, we are nothing! He, the great One, is humble and becomes a child,” he said.
The pope called on the Christian faithful to renounce any claims to a false autonomy, and “to welcome instead the true form of freedom, which consists in knowing the one who stands before us, and serving him.”
Here below we publish a translation of Pope Francis’ final general audience catechesis for 2015.
Brothers and sisters,
Good morning. During these Christmas days the Child Jesus is placed before us. I am sure that, in our homes, many families still set up a nativity scene, carrying on this fine tradition that dates back to St. Francis of Assisi and keeps alive in our hearts the mystery of God who becomes man.
Devotion to the Child Jesus is very widespread. Many saints cultivated it in their daily prayer and desired to model their lives on that of the Child Jesus. I think especially of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who as a Carmelite nun took the name of “Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.” She — who is a Doctor of the Church — knew how to live and bear witness to that “spiritual childhood,” which one assimilates by meditating, in the school of the Virgin Mary, on the humility of God who for our sake became a child. And this is a great mystery, God is humble! We who are proud, filled with vanity and believe we are a big deal, we are nothing! He, the great One, is humble and becomes a child. This is truly a mystery! God is humble. This is beautiful!
There was a time when, in the divine-human person of Christ, God was a child, and this must have its own special meaning for our faith. It is true that his death on the cross and his resurrection are the ultimate expression of his redeeming love, but let us not forget that all his earthly life is revelation and teaching.
During the Christmas season we remember his Childhood. To grow in the faith, we need to contemplate the Child Jesus more often. Of course, we do not know anything about this period in his life. The few indications we possess refer to the imposition of his name after eight days after his birth, and his presentation in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:21–28); and also the visit of the Magi with the subsequent flight into Egypt (cf. Matt. 2:1–23). Then, there is a big jump to age 12 when, with Mary and Joseph, he goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, and instead of returning with his parents, stops in the Temple to speak with the doctors of the law.
As we see, we know little about the Child Jesus, but we can learn much from him if we look at the lives of children. It’s a lovely habit that parents and grandparents have, to watch children and what they do.
We discover, first of all, that children want our attention. Why do they have to be at the center? Because they are proud? No! Because they need to feel protected. We also need to place Jesus at the center of our lives and know — even though it may seem paradoxical — that we are responsible for protecting him. He wants to stay in our arms. He desires to be cared for, and to be able to fix his gaze on ours. Also, it brings a smile to the Child Jesus to show him our love and our joy because he is in our midst. His smile is a sign of love that gives us the certainty of being loved.
Lastly, children love to play. Playing with a child, however, means abandoning our logic to enter into his. If we want him to have fun, we need to understand what pleases him, and not be selfish and make them do things that we like. It’s a lesson for us.
Before Jesus, we are called to give up our claim to autonomy — and this is the crux of the problem: our claim to autonomy — to welcome instead the true form of freedom, which consists in knowing the one who stands before us, and serving him. He, a child, is the Son of God who comes to save us.
He came among us to show us the face of the Father who is rich in love and mercy. Let us hold tight the Child Jesus in our arms, placing ourselves in his service. He is the source of love and serenity. It will be a good thing, today, when we go home, to go near the crib and kiss the Baby Jesus and say, “Jesus, I want to be humble like you, humble like God,” and ask of him this grace.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.