At close of 2016, Pope says selfishness should be a thing of the past

Pope Francis presides over Vespers and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in St Peters Basilica Dec 31 2015 Credit Alexey Gotovsky CNA Pope Francis presides over Vespers and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 31, 2015. | Alexey Gotovsky/CNA.

During a prayer service for the close of 2016, Pope Francis said the arrival of a new year should serve as an opportunity to toss out attitudes of selfishness and exclusion, focusing instead on how to imitate God's closeness to each person through his incarnation.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be naïve. We know that we are tempted in various ways to adopt the logic of privilege that separates, excludes and closes us off, while separating, excluding and closing off the dreams and lives of so many of our brothers and sisters," the Pope said Dec. 31.

In looking to the infant born in Bethlehem, "we should acknowledge that we need the Lord to enlighten us, because all too often we end up being narrow-minded or prisoners of all-or-nothing attitudes that would force others to conform to our own ideas," he said.

"We need this light, which helps us learn from our mistakes and failed attempts in order to improve and surpass ourselves," he said, adding that this light comes from the courageous and humble awareness of the people who repeatedly find the strength "to rise up and start anew."

Pope Francis spoke to attendees of his annual Dec. 31 Vespers liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica, during which the ancient "Te Deum" hymn is sung to give thanks for the year that is ending. The Eucharist is also exposed for a few minutes of silent adoration at the end of the prayer.

In his homily, he said that what is "so surprising" about God's plan for salvation is that he accomplishes this "through the smallness and vulnerability of a newborn child." In Christ, God didn't take on "a human mask," but shared completely in our human condition, he said.

Far from being "an idea or an abstract essence," God wanted to be close, in the flesh, to those who feel lost, hurt, discouraged, afraid, inconsolable, or who feel burdened by loneliness so that sin, despair and exclusion "would not have the final word."

The manger, he said, invites us to adopt this "divine logic," which isn't centered on privilege or favors, but rather on closeness and encounter.

Pope Francis then gave thanks to God for his generosity over the past year, which he said is "no sterile nostalgia or empty recollection of an idealized and disembodied past," but rather "a living memory, one that helps to generate personal and communal creativity because we know that God is with us."

He said the manger is a challenge for us "not to give up on anything or anyone," adding that to look at the manger scene means finding the strength "to take our place in history without complaining or being resentful, without closing in on ourselves or seeking a means of escape, looking for shortcuts in our own interest."

Looking at the Nativity, he said, means recognizing "that the times ahead call for bold and hope-filled initiatives, as well as the renunciation of vain self-promotion and endless concern with appearances."

Francis then pointed to the image of the Holy Family, noting the many "hopes and aspirations" a young Mary and Joseph must have felt at Jesus' birth and stressed the need to focus on the "debt" owed to today's youth, as well as the genuine concern of all for their place in society.

"We have created a culture that idolizes youth and seeks to make it eternal. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, we have condemned our young people to have no place in society," he said, noting that we have "slowly pushed them to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist or fail to promise them a future."

Instead of promoting genuine, dignified work allowing youth to actively participate in society, we have demanded that they be "a leaven for the future" but at the same time "discriminate against them and condemn them to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed."

Unlike the innkeeper in Bethlehem who told Mary and Joseph there was no room "for life, for the future," each person is asked to take at least some responsibility for helping youth to find real possibilities of building a future in their own countries, he said.

If we want to secure a future "worthy" of our youth, we should do so "by staking it on true inclusion: one that provides work that is worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary," he said.

Francis closed his homily urging attendees to contemplate the God-Child at the end of the year, explaining that doing this serves as an invitation "to return to the sources and roots of our faith. In Jesus, faith becomes hope; it becomes a leaven and a blessing."

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