‘How do we welcome the tenderness of God?’ Pope Francis’ Christmas Eve homily

Pope Francis angered Turkey by calling the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service
Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross as he leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Nov. 12, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross as he leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Nov. 12, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Pope Francis delivered the following Christmas Eve homily at the Vatican:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:1). “ An angel of the Lord appeared to (the shepherds) and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Savior: As the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.

We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light.. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.

The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself ( 2 Timothy 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.

Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; He is always there, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.

Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The “sign” is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, He assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty; God who is in love with our smallness.

On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking Him, but rather allowing Him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?

More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!

The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

Dear brothers and sisters: On this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1). People who were unassuming, open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: “O Mary, show us Jesus!”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.


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  • I’ll pray for you Bob. You obviously are looking for some sort of sign; why else come here on Christmas eve and try to get a rise out of people you haven’t a hope of converting to your way? Just because you hate God doesn’t mean that God hates you.

  • Rob, you pray for me, and I’ll think for you. Seriously, there is no verifiable evidence that prayer has ever caused a divine being to do anything, ever. Give that some thought and maybe it will help you to leave your cowardly Christian delusion behind.

    Better yet, why don’t you try responding to what I actually said, instead of pushing more useless prayer tripe at the world. Again, the whole Jesus-sacrifice-salvation story, the foundation of the crazy Christian superstitions and the pope’s Catholic cult, is a steaming pile of nonsense out of the gate. How is it again that an omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers?

    It’s also worth asking why such a claimed benevolent, wonderfully kind, “god” has to put us through thousands of years of anxious waiting before “saving” us from a life that he supposedly created. The Christian beliefs are just plain ridiculous, and are founded on false premises.

    Good day, happy holidays, and here’s to a less religious 2015 for you all.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Give it a rest Bob……. Take the night off and you can start fresh again tomorrow.

    Merry Christmas.

    May the lord bless you and keep you. May the lord grant his light upon you, and may the lord grant you peace

  • Christianity has in fact nothing to do with superstition, In this person of Jesus, this truly human person, people saw a great light! In his words, in his actions, in his loving embrace of all those that the world had abandoned, those first disciples saw a light that could overcome darkness, a love that would rise above every hatred. Christmas is nothing more or less than an invitation to open ourselves up to the possibility of love, a love that transforms. This person of Jesus calls us to see within ourselves, and especially within our neighbor and even our enemy, the very best. We are image bearers of God, we are a creation with endless possibility.

    The “omnipotence” of God in Christianity lies in God’s incarnation, in God’s utter act of solidarity of becoming one with us. In this act, we see that true power is not in omnipotence, is not in violence, is not in disparaging the other, is not in the need to control but rather in the self-sacrificing love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes that in the end death does not win, love and life will triumph. God loves and we continue to hate. God believes and we continue to deny. God bears our inhumanity and we continue to act inhuman! WE ARE THE CAUSE OF OUR SUFFERING, GOD’S MODEL OF SELF SACRIFICING AND SELF SURRENDERING, AND SELF-LESS LOVE ARE THE ONLY HOPE FOR OUR REDEMPTION!

    Tonight the Servant Francis sends a message to the world to stop and listen and to let ourselves be loved by a God that has an infinite capacity to love. Is this not omnipotence….despite our arrogance, despite our hatred, despite our lack of faith, God loves. I hope we can see in one another our true humanity and in this Christmas use that humanity to truly incarnate the Divine in our world….Peace and may God’s Love and Hope shine in every corner of darkness that exists in our world, and in our hearts!

  • Bob, I’m trying to be constructive here not trying to pick a fight. A lot of what you are saying demonstrates your incomplete knowledge of theology. For example, the issue of prayer. You seems to take literally what people are saying when they pray, i.e. “God make me a more patient person, or heal my mother from her cancer”, Catholic and most mainstream Protestant theology maintain that the only thing that prayer changes is the prayer. Of course, it does not help that the church (defined as the people of God) consisted of a lot of people who think they know what they are talking about but don’t. I’ve found the strangest people in churches and the most wonderful people in churches. I’m afraid you won’t understand anything about God and theology until you are given faith. All understanding requires this most wonderful gift.

  • Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob… you’re just not tuning in to the right wavelength… keep adjusting your dial… you’ll find it… it’s there for all to behold! MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! Peace on earth and goodwill towards all…

  • Daniel, Bob’s points look to be accurate and reasonable. It looks like you haven’t addressed his points, either.

    Also, Christianity does fit squarely in the set of superstitions known as blood cults.

  • Looks like you got a bit too much of that ole Christian shame going on there “Dr.” Coelho ho. So what are you a “doctor” of???? Shame ho on you ho ho.

  • “Christianity has..nothing to do with superstition, In this person of Jesus, this truly human person, people saw a great light! In his words, in his actions….”


    The Jesus character from the bible is incoherent film flam.

    “Love your neighbor” – (Mark 12:31)



    a “FOOL!” – JESUS (Matthew 5:22)
    a “DOG!” – JESUS (Matthew 15:26)
    a “SWINE!” – Jesus (Matthew 7:6)

    (1 Corinthians 5:11)

    “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

    “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone … if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

    “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 1:10)

    Avoid Them” (Romans 16:17)

    “For whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 1:11)

    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” (Matthew 18:15)

    “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him….” (Titus 3:9-11)

    “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:13)

    “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonian 3:14)

    “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

    “If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! ” (1 Corinthians 16:22)


    “deem them unworthy…remove your blessings of peace.” – JESUS (Matthew 10:13)

    “Don’t waste….on the people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!” – JESUS (Matthew 7:6)

    “shake the dust off…FOR A TESTIMONY AGAINST THEM.” – JESUS (MARK 6:11)

    Atheist Max
    For Peace, Culture, The Separation of Church and State
    and to remind grown ups that Religion is dangerous garbage

  • Bob,

    It is really false religion that is ridiculous, and not the truth about God, his son, Jesus (who is not equal to him), and God’s kingdom or heavenly government.

    I can appreciate how you feel since God has been misrepresented by false religion for ages (for example, the Trinity and hellfire doctrines, or that only all good people go to heaven after they die); but it is now being exposed for what it really is—not the truth!

    Fotunately for all of us, false religion will be dealt deserving judgment from God and meet its swift end! Everyone will know how truly loving both God and his son, Jesus, truly are and how much they care for us humans!