The following homily was delivered at the Xavier School Christmas Eve Mass by Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ. on 24 December 2013.
On the feast of St Francis Xavier, I drew parallels between St Francis Xavier and Pope Francis, saying that they are both on fire with God’s compassion. I drew attention to the fact that they both serve as examples of caring for the poor and suffering.
Tonight we celebrate our first Christmas under a Jesuit Pope, and I would like to turn to him again for inspiration. Two weeks ago, he was asked what Christmas is for him. He said that Christmas speaks of hope and tenderness.
In the past nine days, especially if you have made a Christmas novena through the Simbang Gabi, you have heard the Christmas story told from different perspectives. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph—they all had important roles to play in the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we analyze the socio-political situation into which Jesus was born. Pope Francis says that is all well and good, but it is all a product of our own contemplations. At the moment of Christ’s birth, which is what we celebrate tonight, it is all very simple. Let me quote the Pope: When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: Have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us.
Remember how the angel Gabriel always begins his messages to Mary and Joseph—do not be afraid, which is just another way of saying, be hopeful. God will open doors for you. God will look after you.
It has been a difficult year for our country. We have mounted relief drives one after the other for the typhoons and floods of August, the siege of Zamboanga, the earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu, Typhoon Yolanda, and our usual Christmas Drive for the poorest members of the Xavier community. I was afraid there would be donor fatigue, but I have been touched and amazed at the generosity you have shown. As a nation, we had more than our fair share of tragedies, but God still opened doors for the victims. During times of crisis, we realize that we have it in us to be concerned about others, enough to alter our lifestyles by simplifying our gatherings and thinking of more ways to help the suffering.
That is hope. But the Pope reminds us that there is still a second message from God at Christmas time: Don’t be afraid of tenderness. I am a father who caresses you.
Pope Francis practices what he preaches. We have all been touched by the sincerity of his gestures, and his willingness to live in the moment and show tenderness towards others. He is not afraid to show his spiritual side, to empathize with those who suffer, and to take delight in the innocence of children.
There are always people around us who are suffering. Last week, we had three Xavier parents, all fathers, who passed away at a young age. Among the alumni, there are also families mourning the deaths of loved ones at this time. We need not look far to find people who are in need. I am sure that on your way here, you saw children begging in the streets, or entire families living in sidewalks hoping that there will be people who will share Christmas blessings with them.
Don’t be afraid of tenderness. Don’t let your cynical self rationalize your response. Christmas is about tenderness, about God the Father caressing us and loving us. That is why Jesus’ is the only birthday in the world where the celebrant is always a baby. We know that he grew up, taught us about God and the Kingdom, and suffered a horrible death, but on his birthday, we remember him as a baby. God himself, born to us as one of us.
If Christmas is about hope and tenderness, it is because of our joy that God is with us. Emmanuel. God saves us and redeems us in Jesus, the joy of human desiring. It is not, after all, the food and the gifts that matter, but our joy in not being left alone in this world. God is with us. We experience light and peace because of God’s gift. Come, let us spend a few moments adoring Christ who saves us, who is God with us.