This is now my third post on the Pope’s Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, because I have not yet highlighted something that I find very beautiful in what he had to say. He addressed at length the issue of clerical sexual abuse – and surprisingly (or perhaps not for this professor-Pope) he found an historical allusion to the problem in a vision of St Hildegard of Bingen. But among all that, there was this, which surely needs more attention:
Among us priests and among the lay faithful, especially the young, there was a renewed awareness of what a great gift the Lord has entrusted to us in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God’s name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord’s strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one’s life task not this or that, but simply human life itself – helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God.
Yes, at Christmas time we marvel at “how beautiful it is” that God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. But the incarnation of the Mission of God did not end with the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. Unlike Moses and Mohammed, Jesus did not leave us with a book to contain his Gospel: he left us with a Church with a priestly ministry that continues to incarnate the Gospel. Just today I went to make my Christmas confession, and marvelled at “how beautiful it is” to hear the same words that Jesus addressed to the paralytic (Mark 2): “your sins are forgiven”. On Christmas Eve I will again receive, from the hands of the priest, the very body and blood of the man who as a baby lay in the manger in Bethlehem. It was for the sake of this ministry – more than anything else – that I became a Catholic almost ten years ago.