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He was made man

Catechesis with Papa Benedict XVI 
Paul VI Hall, General Audience, Wednesday 9 January 2013 - in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
In this Christmas season let us reflect once again upon the great mystery of God who came down from his Heaven so as to enter our flesh. In Jesus, God was incarnate, became man like us, and thus opened to us the road towards his Heaven, towards full communion with Him.

In these days, the term the “Incarnation” of God has repeatedly rung out in our churches, so as to express the reality that we celebrate at Holy Christmas: the Son of God was made man, as we recite in the Creed. But what does this word central to Christian faith mean? Incarnation derives from the Latin "incarnatio". St Ignatius of Antioch — at the end of the first century — and, above all, St Irenaeus used this term reflecting on the Prologue of the Gospel of St John, in particular on the expression: “And the Word was made flesh” (Jn 1, 14). Here the word “flesh”, according to Jewish usage, indicates man in his integrality, all of man, but precisely under the aspect of his caducity and temporality, of his poverty and contingency. This is to tell us that the salvation brought by God was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth touches man in his concrete reality and in all the situations in which he finds himself. God has assumed the human condition so as to heal it of all that separates it from Him, so as to permit us to call him, in his Only-Begotten Son, by the name of “Abba, Father” and truly to be children of God. St Irenaeus affirms: “This is the reason for which the Verb was made man, and the Son of God, Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Verb and by thus receiving divine filiation, might become son of God” (Adversus haereses, 3, 19, 1: PG 7,939; cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460).

“The Verb was made flesh” is one of those truths to which we are so accustomed that the greatness of the event that it expresses hardly strikes us anymore. And in this Christmastide, in which this expression often returns in the liturgy, one is at times more attentive to the external aspects, to the “colours” of the feast, than to the heart of the great Christian novelty that we celebrate: something absolutely unthinkable, that only God could work and that we can only penetrate with faith. The Logos, who is with God, the Logos who is God, the Creator of the world (cf Jn 1, 1), for whom all things were created (cf Jn 1, 3), who has accompanied and accompanies men in their history with his light (cf Jn 1, 4-5; 1, 9), became one among others, took up his dwelling amongst us, becoming one of us (cf Jn 2, 14). The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council affirms: “The Son of God... worked with the hands of a man, he thought with the intelligence of a man, he acted with the will of a man, he loved with heart of a man. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is thus important to rediscover amazement in front of this mystery, to let ourselves be enveloped by the greatness of this event: God, the true God, Creator of everything, as man has traveled our roads, entering into the time of man, so as to transmit to us his own life (cf 1 Jn 1, 1-4). And He did it not with the splendour of a sovereign, who subjugates the world with his power, but with the humility of a child.

I would like to underline a second element. At Christmas, gifts are usually exchanged with the people closest to us. Sometimes this can be a gesture done by convention, but generally it expresses affection, it is a sign of love and esteem. In the prayer over the offerings at the Mass on the night of the Solemnity of Christmas, the Church prays thus: “Accept, O Father, our offering on this night of light, and by this mysterious exchange of gifts transform us into Christ your Son, who has raised man next to you in glory”. The thought of the gift, therefore, is at the centre of the liturgy and reminds us of the original gift of Christmas: on that holy night, God, in being made flesh, wanted to be made gift for men, he gave his very self for us; God made of his Only Son a gift for us, He assumed our humanity so as to give us his divinity. This is the great gift. Also in our giving, it is not important whether a present is expensive or not; those who cannot give a little of themselves always give too little; indeed, one sometimes seeks to substitute one's heart and the commitment of the gift of oneself with money, with material things. The mystery of the Incarnation indicates that God did not do as such: he did not give something, but he gave his very self in his Only-Begotten Son. We find here the model for our giving, so that our relationships, especially the most important ones, may be guided by the gratuitousness of love.

I would like to offer a third reflection: the fact of the Incarnation, of God who was made man like us, shows us the unheard of realism of divine love. Indeed God’s action was not limited to words, we could even say that He was not content to speak, but immerses himself in our history and takes upon himself the fatigue and the weight of human life. The Son of God was made truly man, was born of the Virgin Mary, at a determined time and place, in Bethlehem during the reign of Emperor Augustus, under the governor Quirinius (cf Lk 2, 1-2); he grew up in a family, he had friends, he formed a group of disciples, he instructed the Apostles to continue his mission, he ended the course of his earthly life on the cross. This way of God's action is a strong stimulus to question ourselves on the realism of our faith, which must not be limited to the sphere of feeling, of emotions, but must enter into the concrete of our existence, that is, it must touch our everyday life and orient it also in a practical way. God did not stop at words, but showed us how to live, sharing in our own experience, except sin. The Catechism of St Pius X, which some of us studied as children, with its conciseness to the question: “What must we do to live according to God?”, gives this answer: “To live according to God we must believe the truths revealed by Him and keep his commandments with the help of his grace, which is obtained through the sacraments and prayer”. Faith has a fundamental aspect that affects not only the mind and the heart, but our whole life.

I propose a last element for your reflection. St John affirms that the Verb, the Logos, was from the very beginning with God, and that everything was made through the Verb and nothing that exists was made without Him (cf Jn 1, 1-13). The Evangelist clearly alludes to the account of creation found in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and rereads it in the light of Christ. This is a fundamental criterion in the Christian reading of the Bible: the Old and the New Testaments must always be read together and, starting from the New, the deepest meaning of the Old also opens up. That same Verb, who has always existed with God, who is God Himself and through whom and in view of whom everything has been created (cf Col 1, 16-17), was made man: the eternal and infinite God immersed himself in human finiteness, in his creature, so as to bring man and the whole of creation back to Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendour of which surpasses that of the first creation” (n 349). The Fathers of the Church brought Jesus closer to Adam, to the point of defining him as “the second Adam” or the definitive Adam, the perfect image of God. With the Incarnation of the Son of God a new creation takes place, which gives the complete answer to the question “Who is man?” It is only in Jesus that God’s plan for the human being is fully manifested: He is the definitive man according to God. The Second Vatican Council reiterates this forcefully: “In reality only in the mystery of the incarnate Verb does the mystery of man find true light .... Christ, the new Adam, fully manifests man to man himself and reveals to him his highest vocation” (Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22; cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 359). In this Child, the Son of God contemplated at Christmas, we can recognize the true face not only of God but the true face of the human being; and it is only by opening ourselves to the action of his grace and by seeking to follow him every day, that we realize the plan of God for us, for each one of us.

Dear friends, in this season let us meditate on the great and marvellous richness of the Mystery of the Incarnation, so as to let the Lord illuminate us and transform us always more in the image of his Son made man for us."


"Je salue avec joie les pèlerins francophones, particulièrement les élèves qui ont le voyage à Rome pour me rencontrer! L’Incarnation de Jésus est centrale dans notre foi. Laissez-vous toucher par la grandeur de cet événement, plutôt que par les aspects extérieurs de la fête. Bon pèlerinage!

I greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Nigeria, Taiwan and Brazil. My cordial greeting goes to the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians from the United States. I also thank the choirs, including those from Saint Joseph University and from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace!

Mit Freude grüße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Im göttlichen Kind, das uns Maria, die Jungfrau, geboren hat, können wir erkennen, was der Mensch wahrhaft ist und sein soll. Öffnen wir ihm also unser Herz, dann kann der Plan der göttlichen Liebe in uns wirklich und die Welt wahrhaft gut werden. Danke.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España, México y otros países latinoamericanos. Exhorto a todos a meditar el misterio de la encarnación para que el Señor os ilumine y os transforme cada vez más en imagen de su Hijo hecho hombre por nosotros. Que Dios os bendiga.

Uma cordial saudação a todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, a quem agradeço a presença e desejo a riqueza imensa e inesgotável que é Cristo, o Deus feito homem. Revesti-vos de Cristo! E, com Ele, o vosso Ano Novo não poderá deixar de ser feliz. Sobre vós e vossas famílias, desça a minha Bênção.

البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.

Witam serdecznie przybyłych na audiencję Polaków. Boże Narodzenie i Objawienie Pańskie pomagają nam zrozumieć tajemnicę Boga, który „dla nas ludzi i dla naszego zbawienia zstąpił z nieba”. W Słowie, które stało się człowiekiem, w narodzonym Dzieciątku Jezus, Bóg objawił nam swoją dobroć i miłość. Odpowiedzmy na nie głęboką wiarą, naszą miłością, oddaniem się Bogu i pełnieniem na co dzień Jego woli. Z serca wam błogosławię.

Srdačno pozdravljam hrvatske hodočasnike, osobito učenice ženske klasične gimnazije svetoga Vinka u Zagrebu. Slijedeći primjer velikih svjedoka vjere vašega naroda, budite vjerni svojim krsnim obećanjima. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

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Porgo un caloroso benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto il gruppo della Parrocchia San Paolo in Pagliare del Tronto e i sacerdoti e religiosi della Diocesi di Andria. Tutti esorto a vivere con generosità il proprio impegno ecclesiale stimolati anche dall’Anno della fede, perché il Signore riempia i cuori della gioia che solo Lui può donare.

I address a special greeting to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Next Sunday we shall be celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a favourable opportunity for rethinking our own belonging to Christ in the faith of the Church. Dear young people, may you rediscover every day the grace that comes from the Sacrament you have received. May you, dear sick people, draw from Baptism the strength to stand up to moments of suffering and hardship. And may you, dear newlyweds, be able to express the commitments of Baptism in your journey of family life. May the Lord bless all of you."