A few hours ago, Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi message to a large crowd of faithful gathered at St. Peter's in Rome. During the speech, he repeatedly called upon Christ, Our Lord, as Savior of the World, to save the nations from the evils of poverty, famine, persecution, suffering and war. Christ, said Pope Francis, is "the Salvation for every person and for all peoples."
While I wish to distract neither from the horrible plight of so many suffering around the world today nor from the genuineness of the Holy Father's sentiments, I find myself wondering: Did Christ come to save us from these things? Did He come to save us from poverty, famine, persecution and suffering? Did He come in the glory of His power to establish a kingdom in which there is no want, no calumny, no corruption? Is this the reason for His appearance two millennia ago? Is this the meaning of His Advent?
Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Salvation of the World. But we must ask: salvation from what?
Undoubtedly, Christ performed great miracles which fed the hungry, cured the sick and raised the dead. He forcefully rebuked those who would follow Him to leave off from calumny and all manner of vice, to forgive one's enemies and love one another with a divine love. But when those whom He miraculously fed sought Him out to make Him king, He rebuked them, saying:
Amen, amen I say to you: You seek Me, not because you have seen miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of Man will give you. For Him hath God, the Father, sealed. (John 6:26-27)
For the people of Israel expected the Advent of the Messiah to be the dawn of an age of prosperity and plenty, of abundant riches and fat harvests, of the return of the rule of God's Law over the land. Had not the Prophets of God described it so? Indeed, they had. Where, then, was the fulfillment of the expectation? Where was the prosperity, where the riches, where the justice? The masses huddled about and pressed upon Christ, wretched in their poverty and scarred from years of punishment at the hands of their persecutors, and He spoke to them thus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Christ did not come to save us from earthly evils, but from the spiritual evil which has made for itself a home in the heart of man: sin. Without fixing one eye on the supreme majesty of God and the other on the utter depravity of sin, we cannot begin to understand the real meaning of the Advent of Our Blessed Lord. And our age is one which has lost sight of both. Should it, then, come as a surprise to find that the wonder of Christmas - that God should deign to condescend to sinful man in order to comfort and instruct him, and ultimately to redeem him with His own Body and Blood - has been reduced to empty platitudes and appeals for relief from that which would make us saints?
Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
I pray, gentle reader, that you may find a moment to recall both God's majesty and the depravity of your own sin before receiving the Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord this day, so that you may feel true joy at such a gratuitous gift.
|Adoration of the Child|
Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656)