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In his morning homily today at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis focused on two concepts: sterility and fruitfulness.
His reflection drew from the births of Samson and of John the Baptist, both of them born to sterile women, as recounted in the readings of the day.
He commented on how in those days sterility was considered a shame while the birth of a child was seen as a grace and a gift from God.
The first commandment that God gave to our fathers, the pope said, was “Fill the earth, be fruitful!”
“Where there is God there is fruitfulness,” Francis reflected.
In this context, the Holy Father mentioned nations that “have chosen the path of sterility and suffer from that serious disease that it a demographic winter (…) They do not have children.”
Whatever is said of “economic wellbeing,” it is not a blessing to have countries that are empty of children: “Fruitfulness,” he said, “is always a blessing of God.”
And fruitfulness can be material or spiritual, the pope explained, saying that a person may choose not to marry, like priests and consecrated persons, but must live by giving life to others. Woe to us, he continued, if we are not fruitful with good works.
The devil, the pope continued, wants infertility: “He does not want us to give life, be it physical or spiritual, to others.”
“He who lives for himself produces selfishness, pride, vanity, greasing the soul without living for others. The devil is the one who grows the weeds of egoism and stops us from being fruitful,” he said.
The pope said it is a grace to have children who will close our eyes when we die, and he recalled the example of a 90-year-old missionary in Patagonia who would say that his life had passed like a breath but that he had had so many spiritual children beside him, right up until his last illness.
And he invited the faithful to look to Christmas:
“Here is an empty cradle, we can look at it. It can be seen as a symbol of hope because the Child will come, or it can be seen as an object from a museum, empty of life. Our heart is like the cradle: Is it empty? Or is it open to continuously receive and give life?”
I suggest, Francis concluded, looking at this empty cradle and saying: “Come, Lord, fill the cradle, fill my heart and help me to give life, to be fruitful.”