Bethlehem alters history
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2018 - 12:00am

Pope Francis, during the first few years of his papacy, was a beloved figure as he brought promises of reforming the Catholic Church. His encyclicals condemning materialism and capitalism were widely praised.

This year, however, has been a very difficult year for Pope Francis. The accusations of sexual abuse by priests and bishops have reached global proportions in countries like Chile, Australia, United States and Ireland. Pope Francis has been accused of moving too slowly to sufficiently address this issue. 

This Christmas, Pope Francis, has returned to his traditional messages in his two addresses – Christmas Eve Homily and Christmas Day Message. In the first he talked about materialism and consumerism; and, in the second he talked of fraternity. Both messages have been widely covered by media. However, while the homily has been discussed, the actual words of the Pope have not been published. Here are excerpts from his Christmas Eve homily:

Bethlehem: the name means house of bread. In this “house,” the Lord today wants to encounter all mankind. He knows that we need food to live. Yet he also knows that the nourishment of this world do not satisfy the heart. In Scripture, the original sin of humanity is associated precisely with taking food our first parents “took of the fruit and ate,” says the Book of Genesis. They took and ate. Mankind became greedy and voracious. In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.”

Bethlehem is the turning point that alters the course of history. There God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: “Here I am as your food.” He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus  begins to say “ Take and eat. This is my body.” The tiny body of the child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed.  From the “house of bread,” Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbors. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter in our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. For once, Jesus dwells in our heart, the center of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love. Tonight, as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn Child a new fragrance of life, the odour of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity? In Bethlehem, beside where Jesus lay, we see people who themselves had made a journey: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn out meals, but bids us rise quickly from table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves: At Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?”

In the last  paragraph of his homily, Pope Francis ends with the message of love:

“ Let us go now to Bethlehem.” With these words, the shepherds set out. We too, Lord, want to go up to Bethlehem. Today, too the road is uphill the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into wordliness and consumerism.

For the last two millennia the Catholic Church has faced and surmounted numerous challenges. History has taught us that in this struggle against new challenges, it is the papacy that always plays a key role because Catholics have always been taught that the pope is the Voice of Christ and is infallible when it comes to the teaching of dogmas. There have been many times when the Papacy has been slow to respond to changing social conditions. However, the Church has endured for two millennia because the Papacy eventually responds to these challenges. 

It is our prayer that Pope Francis can surmount the problem of sexual abuse and division in the Church so that he can lead the Church in confronting the many social problems confronting the world today. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout this December (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email


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