It has been an oppressive year. The COVID-19 pandemic has crowded into our lives, forcing us to rearrange how we work, how we worship, how we make those so important connections to family and friends.
As Christmas approaches, the pandemic threatens to smother some of the joy we normally feel as we celebrate Christ coming into our world to lead us to eternal salvation.
But we need not give in to the pandemic or to fear, Pope Francis assures us, for nothing can extinguish the light of Christ, he said in remarks after praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 6.
In his talk, the pope noted two familiar symbols of the holy season already visible in the square: this year’s Nativity scene that was being set up and a Christmas tree, a 92-foot tall spruce, already standing as a beacon of the season. They are among the many Christmas traditions practiced around the world, but they are more than that, the pope said. “They are signs of hope, especially in this difficult time.”
But if we are to truly fan the flames of this hope, we must go beyond mere symbols and traditions cast free of their foundation, which is Jesus, “the infinite goodness” that shines on the world, the pope said. To make our hope real and strong, we must have a true conversion of the heart. This is the conversion that is the aim of the Advent season.
Conversion requires a new “direction and orientation” in our lives and in our way of thinking, the pope said. We must turn “from evil to good, from sin to love of God,” he explained.
“To exclude sin, it is also necessary to reject everything that is connected to sin; the things that are connected to sin and that need to be rejected – a worldly mentality, excessive esteem for comforts, excessive esteem for pleasure, for well-being, for wealth,” the pope added.
Instead, we must seek communion and friendship with God, Pope Francis said. “But this is not easy,” he said. Temptations constantly try to pull us to the things that keep us close to sin, according to the pope.
It may be difficult, but it is not impossible, the pope reminded us, if we lean on God. “It is a grace that the Lord gives you, and thus we need to forcefully ask God for it” and “open ourselves up to the beauty, the goodness, the tenderness of God.”
“God is not a bad father, an unkind father, no. He is tender. He loves us so much, like the Good Shepherd, who searches for the last member of his flock,” the pope said.
“You begin to walk, because it is he who moves you to walk, and you will see how he will arrive,” Pope Francis added. “Pray, walk, and you will always take a step forward.”
Let this be the time we let God lift us above the fear, above the pandemic, above the temptations and sin that keep us from our Father. Let this be the time when we allow a conversion of the heart lead to a true and lasting change in our life.