Sunday, 4 January 2009
Christmastide Message from the Chaplain to the International Juventutem Federation
Spiritual words, from the Ecclesiastical Assistant:
Dear Juventutem members and friends,
Let us do our best to focus on the great mystery of the Incarnation and let us not be distracted by material things."Et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei – Then all flesh shall see God’s salvation”: these final words in today’s Holy Gospel remind me of the famous exhibition at the National Gallery in London, UK, in the year 2000, named: “Seeing Salvation”. On display were a great number of beautiful representations of Our Lord. The exhibition explored how the figure of Christ has been represented in the Western tradition. Looking at paintings, sculptures, coins and engravings, it examined different aspects of the visual identity of Christ and the different pictorial questions that artists have confronted as they made his image. The man who was at the origin of the exhibition had had to work hard to convince the Gallery’s authorities to accept such a theme, particularly as it would clash with the opening of the Tate Modern gallery (where reverence and even good taste are not often on display). The “Seeing Salvation” curator was rewarded since the exhibition has been an utmost success, attracting the largest number of visitors of all exhibitions hold in Britain for 20 years – more than 5,000 per day during 4,5 months!
We want to rekindle in our souls the craving for seeing the Messiah, whose coming had been announced as early as right after the original sin, in the book of Genesis, when God had told to the serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head” (Genesis 3:15). We want to listen even more attentively to St John the Baptist, the great herald of the Most High, in whose voice are gathered and summarized centuries of expectations and of prayers and of hopes from all the generations of just men and of holy women and of deserving children, since our fallen race was deprived of the sight of God’s adorable Face.
Because this is what it is all about: we were created in a state of perfection which made us fit to actually see God. But we have lost this grace through our sins and since then we are looking for the true light and are so often deceived by false ones. Every minute our magazines and TV screens and radios display the latest news about these sportsmen, politicians and actors ambiguously called “stars”, to such an extend than even good Catholics are tempted to look at these “stars” and follow in their direction. Blind leading the blind.
On the contrary, we want to know only one Star, and this is the “Star of Jacob”, the “Sol Justitiae” or “Sun of Justice” just about to rise in Bethlehem. He is the true Light, granting genuine radiance to all creatures, as much as they wish to reflect and mirror his splendor, and letting all their beauty turn into darkness whenever they turn away from Him. We know this of course, since we hear it every day at Mass in the Last Gospel:“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4).
Now more than ever, we want to see this true Light of God, and be delivered from this world’s flashing illusions! We want to see the face of God again and be ravished in such splendour! But our souls are still very weak and mistake true glory with pretence and true might with arrogance. This is why of all the means of salvation, God has chosen to be born of a woman as a true Child of men and Son of God. In but a few days this King will lie not even in a bed since “there was no place for Him at the inn” (Luke 2:7), but in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, between a poor Virgin of Israel and a Carpenter, surrounded not with crowds of devout human subjects but with donkey and ox: “That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and his own received Him not” (John 1:9-11).
In order to see this Light, one has to put away the dirty spectacles of human pride and of self will, one has to be able to simply believe the Good News of the Creation and of the Redemption. One has to accept and believe that, to start with, we have not made our own selves but have been made by Another greater than us, and that this Mighty One, Whom we hade rejected, demonstrated his essential bounty in setting up a most wonderful and loving scheme in order to save us, instead of abandoning us or of destroying us.
This is why the shepherds were the first ones informed: “Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news of a great event that will bring joy to all the people: there has been born for you this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, Who is the Lord Messiah” (Luke 2:8-11). Oh, with what joy and gratitude the good shepherds must have ran to the cave, with what simplicity of heart they must have knelt in front of the manger and, before this throne of humility, more precious than gold, must have paid their homage to the new born King!
But I anticipate. Today we are still with Our Blessed Lady on our way to Bethlehem. Today we share with Her and with St Joseph a mixture of worry and of joy. We worry because Our Lady is about to give birth and we know that the City of David is overcrowded with Jews, travelling to this their place of birth in order to fulfil emperor Caesar Augustus’ edict of registration. And we rightly fear that no relative, no friend of Joseph might have any spare room for this poor and inconsiderable cousin from Nazareth to stay in, let alone for his wife to give birth. We see Our Lady prepare nonetheless the swaddling clothes and the basic items She might have brought with Her for her Son to be born. We see St Joseph and Our Lady weary from travelling and anxious to know how the Lord of lords, soon to enter the City of David, is going to be welcomed.
But we also rejoice with them, since we know that God does not fail, and that His scheme of redemption will not be stopped for lack of protocol, not even for lack of blanket! Rather, with St Joseph and with Our Lady, we do what depends essentially on us, who do what nobody can do in our stead, we do what would be sadly lacking if we neglected it, I mean: we prepare a spiritual habitation for the Divine Child in our hearts. We welcome God’s saving Light: we believe, we repent, we expiate, we hope and love always deeper:
“That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and his own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13).
Dear Juventutem friends, let us get ready then for seeing Salvation! We know that if our eyes have been carefully designed by God to receive light and be fulfilled by it, to a much greater extent our intellect is designed to discern the truth and our will power to reach out to what is good. And this is just about to be supremely and perfectly fulfilled when, during Midnight Mass, we will unite in spirit with the shepherds before the manger (and with St John at the foot of the Cross simultaneously). Through our intelligent faith then, at the Elevation of the Host after the Consecration, in our hearts with every possible strength and conviction let us make ours the words of the Last Gospel: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Hence let us give thanks in this moment, for we will have seen God’s Salvation indeed, which is the literal meaning of the Holy Name of Our Lord really present in the Host: “Jesus”.
Fr Armand de Malleray, FSSP – Ecclesiastical Assistant to the Juventutem International Federation.