The end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is the perfect occasion to reflect on how well people have used the time and gifts God has given them — especially how well people have helped the poor, Pope Francis said. While God is eternal, time is important even to him, Pope Francis said during a prayer service New Year’s Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. “He wanted to reveal himself and save us in history,” becoming human to demonstrate “his concrete love.”
At the end of a year, like at the end of life, he said, the church teaches its members to make an examination of conscience, “remembering all that happened, thanking the Lord for all the good we received and were able to do and, at the same time, remembering where we were lacking and our sins. Give thanks and ask forgiveness.” While God created humanity to be his children, he said, original sin and its remnants continue to distance people from God, often making them slaves who follow “the voice of the Evil One.” God sent Jesus to ransom sinners from their slavery, the pope said, which gives rise to an essential question in one’s examination of conscience: “Do we live as children (of God) or as slaves?” “Do we live as people baptized in Christ, anointed by the Spirit, ransomed and free?” he asked. “Or do we live according to worldly logic: corrupt, doing what the devil wants us to believe is in our best interest?” Pope Francis told those gathered in the basilica that all people, even Christians, have “a tendency to resist freedom; we fear freedom and, paradoxically, we prefer slavery” although often people are not aware that that is what they are doing. “Freedom frightens us because it places time before us and, with it, the responsibility to live it well,” he said. “A nostalgia for slavery nests in our hearts because it appears more reassuring than freedom, which is much riskier.” Slavery focuses just on the moment, he said, making people forget their past, but also robbing them of hope for the future. “Slavery makes us believe that we cannot dream, fly or hope,” the pope said. The end of a year, he said, is a reminder that there will be a “final hour” and all people will be judged, particularly on how they used their freedom and how they cared for the poor. After the prayer service, despite the cold, Pope Francis went into St. Peter’s Square to pray before and view up close the Nativity scene. With hundreds of people huddled behind barricades, he spent about twenty minutes greeting the crowd, as well as offering a personal “Happy New Year” and handshake to the Italian police officers on duty.