This evening the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, gave the following homily during the celebration of first vespers for the beginning of Advent (original in Italian here) [translation mine]:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
with this evening’s celebration, the Lord gives us the grace and the joy to open the new Liturgical Year, its first stage being Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning caries within itself a particular grace, so blessed from the Lord. In this Advent will be given, once again, to experience the closeness of Him who created the world, which directs the story and that took care of us, reaching to the height of his condescension to become man. It is this great and fascinating mystery of God with us, God made one of us, is what we celebrate in the coming weeks towards holy Christmas. During the time of Advent, we feel the Church taking us by the hand, and as in the image of Most Holy Mary, she expresses her maternity making us experience the joyful waiting for the coming of the Lord, that embraces all of us in his saving love and consolation.
While our hearts leap forward toward the annual celebration of the birth of Christ, the liturgy of the Church directs our gaze to the final goal: the encounter with the Lord that will come in the splendor of His glory. This is why, in every Eucharist vigilant in prayer, “we announce his death, proclaiming his resurrection until He comes.” The liturgy never ceases to encourage and sustain us, putting upon our lips, in the days of Advent, the cry with which He concludes the whole Sacred Scriptures, in the last page of the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) of Saint John: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22,20).
Dear brothers and sisters, our meeting this evening to begin our Advent journey is enhanced by another important reason: with all the Church, we want to solemnly celebrate the vigil prayer for nascent life. I desire to express my thanks to all those who have joined this invitation and to those who dedicate themselves in a specific way to welcome and preserve human life in various situations of fragility, especially in its early stages. At the very beginning of the Liturgical Year, we live anew the expectation of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of God that is made small, becomes a child; he speaks to us of the coming of a God who is near, that has wanted to live the human experience, from the beginning, so to save humanity completely, fully. Thus, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord and the beginning of human life are intimately connected and harmoniously woven together through the one salvific design of God, the Lord of life of all and of every one. The Incarnation reveals to us with an intense light and in an amazing way that every human life has a highest, incomparable dignity.
Man presents an incomparable originality in respect to all other living things that populate the earth. He is present as a unique and single subject, given intelligence and free will, as well as a material reality. He lives simultaneously and inseparably the spiritual dimension and the corporal dimension. It suggests also in the text of the First Letter to the Thessalonians that was proclaimed: “May the God of peace – writes saint Paul – sanctify you perfectly, and you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23). We are therefore, spirit, soul and body. We are part of this world, tied to the possibility and the limits of a material condition; at the same time we are open to an infinite horizon, capable of speaking with God and to welcome Him in us. We work in the earthly reality and through it we can perceive the presence of God and attend to Him, truth, goodness and absolute beauty. We savor fragments of life and of happiness and we long for total happiness.
God loves us in a profound way, total, without distinction; he calls us to friendship with Him; he renders us participants in a reality above every imagination and of every thought and word; his own divine life. With emotion and gratitude we are made aware of the value, the incomparable dignity of every human person and of the great responsibility that we have towards all. “Christ, who is the new Adam – affirms the Second Vatican Council – reveals the mystery of the Father and of his love, also fully reveals man to himself and manifests his highest vocation…With his incarnation of the Son of God he is united in a certain way to every man” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
To believe in Jesus Christ means to also have a new gaze upon man, a gaze of trust, of hope. Moreover the experience itself and the right reason attest that to be human is the a subject capable of discernment (intendere) and of will, self-conscious and free, unique and irreplaceable, the summit of all earthly realities, that must be recognized as a value in itself and merits to be always welcomed with respect and love. He has the rights of not being treated like an object to be possessed or like a thing that can be manipulated and at will, of not being reduced to only an instrument for the benefit of others and of their interests. The person is a good in its very self and should always seek his integral development. Love towards all, then, if sincere, tends spontaneously to become preferential attention fro the weakest and most poor. On this line we find the concern of the Church for the unborn, the most fragile, the most threatened by egoism of adults and by the obscurity of the conscience. The Church continues to reiterate what she the Second Vatican Council has declared about abortion and every violation against nascent life: “Life, once conceived, must be protected with the utmost care” (ibid., n. 51).
There are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize the conscience with specious motivations. With regard of the embryo in the maternal womb, science itself shows evidence of the autonomous capacity of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the complex growth of the organism. This is not the accumulation of biological material, but of a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in the womb of Mary; so was every one of us, in the womb of a mother. With the ancient Christian author Tertullian we can affirm: “It is already a man who will be” (Apology, IX, 8); there is no reason for not to consider a person from conception.
Unfortunately, also after the birth, the life of a child continues to be exposed to abandonment, to hunger, to misery, to sickness, to abuse, to violence, to exploitation. The many violations of their rights that are committed in the world painfully wound the conscience of every man of good will. Before the sad panorama of injustice committed against human life, both before and after birth, I make my passionate appeal to Pope John Paul II to the responsibility of each person. “Respect, defend, love and serve life, every human life!” (Enc. Evangelium Vitae, 5). I exhort the protagonists of political, economic and social communication to do what is in their power to promote a culture always respectful of human life, to procure favorable conditions and support networks for the reception and development of it.
To the Virgin Mary, that welcomed the Son of God made man with her faith, with her maternal womb, with the loving care, with supportive accompaniment and vibrant love, we entrust the prayer and commitment in favor of nascent life. We do so in the liturgy – that is place where we live the truth and where the truth lives in us – adoring the divine Eucharist, in which we contemplate the Body of Christ, that Body that became flesh in Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit, and from her is born in Bethlehem, for our salvation. Ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine (Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary)! Amen