After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father expressed his encouragement for the "Derby of the Heart", an Italian programme to aid the disadvantaged, and called on all people of good will to support relief efforts in Venezuela, which has been plagued by extensive flooding.
I extend a cordial thought to the organizers, to the artists and all who will be taking part next Tuesday, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, in the 10th Derby of the Heart. The aim of this praiseworthy initiative, which belongs to the spirit of the now imminent Jubilee, is to raise funds for associations that provide care for the weakest and most defenceless. May this Derby always be inspired with genuine solidarity! I extend my best wishes to all who will be taking part in this event and to those who will follow it on radio or television and support the beneficial purposes of this special Derby.
I am following with sadness the news from Venezuela, where an ever growing number of people have died, disappeared or been displaced by the torrential rains that have also caused enormous material damage. Once again I express my closeness to the beloved Venezuelan people and urge all institutions and people of good will to contribute generously to relieving their great suffering and to helping repair the tragic consequences of this tremendous natural disaster. May Our Lady of Coromoto intercede for these people who honour her as mother and patroness.
However, let us now reflect in particular on the first word: "Rejoice, be glad". This is the first word that resounds in the New Testament as such, because the Angel's announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist is the word that still rings out on the threshold between the two Testaments. It is only with this dialogue which the Angel Gabriel has with Mary that the New Testament really begins. We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy: "rejoice, be glad!". The New Testament is truly "Gospel", the "Good News" that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child and we can informally address this God.
It was the Greek world above all that grasped this innovation, that felt this joy deeply, for it had been unclear to the Greeks whether there was a good God, a wicked God or simply no God. Religion at that time spoke to them of so many divinities: therefore, they had felt they were surrounded by very different divinities that were opposed to one another; thus, they were afraid that if they did something for one of these divinities, another might be offended and seek revenge.
So it was that they lived in a world of fear, surrounded by dangerous demons, never knowing how to save themselves from these forces in conflict with one another. It was a world of fear, a dark world. Then they heard: "Rejoice, these demons are nothing; the true God exists and this true God is good, he loves us, he knows us, he is with us, with us even to the point that he took on flesh!".
This is the great joy that Christianity proclaims. Knowing this God is truly "Good News", a word of redemption.
Perhaps we Catholics who have always known it are no longer surprised and no longer feel this liberating joy keenly. However, if we look at today's world where God is absent, we cannot but note that it is also dominated by fears and uncertainties: is it good to be a person or not? Is it good to be alive or not? Is it truly a good to exist? Or might everything be negative? And they really live in a dark world, they need anaesthetics to be able to live. Thus, the words: "Rejoice, because God is with you, he is with us", are words that truly open a new epoch. Dear friends, with an act of faith we must once again accept and understand in the depths of our hearts this liberating word: "Rejoice!".
We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness. Let us give this joy and the joy given will be returned to us. Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ. Let us pray that this presence of God's liberating joy will shine out in our lives.
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18 January 2015