VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The shepherds of the Gospel, to whom the angel appeared to announce the birth of Christ, responded correctly when they heard the news that God had entered the world, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope reflected on the shepherds tonight in his homily for the Christmas vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, and offered them as role models for how to respond to the news of Christ's birth.
"What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling
"The Lord is here," said the Holy Father. "From this moment, God is truly 'God with us.' No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us."
Benedict XVI said that the news of Christ's birth "cannot leave us indifferent": "If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me."
But not everyone who hears the message, responds correctly, the Pontiff noted.
"The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason," he reflected. "They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received."
The Pope explained that the "first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch -- they could hear the message precisely because they were awake."
"We must be awake," the Holy Father urged, "so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people."
"The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own," said Benedict XVI. "His 'self' is locked into this dream world that is his alone and does not connect him with others.
"To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people."
The Pontiff attributed the conflict and division in the world to "the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world."
"Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another," he added.
"Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God," the Pope continued.
Benedict XVI said that to wake up one must "develop a receptivity for God."
"There are people who describe themselves as 'religiously tone deaf,'" he explained. "The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some.
"And indeed -- our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us 'tone deaf' toward him.
"And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly."
"In order to arrive at this vigilance," the Pope added, "this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear 'tone deaf' and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself."