December 24, 2012, Monday — Waiting
Pope Benedict had some words for all of us on the eve of Christmas.
“Truth takes us by the hand”
In one of the Pope’s recent Twitter messages — the Pope began sending occasional “tweets,” as the messages are called, on December 12, and is now “followed” by more than 2 million people — he said something worth meditating on this Christmas.
“We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us,” the Pope wrote several days ago. “Christ, who is the truth, takes us by the hand.”
Perhaps it is worth repeating: “We do not possess the truth. The truth possesses us…”
There is much room for reflection just in these two phrases. For example, this “personification” of truth as something which can “possess” a person — as if truth itself is personal, alive, conscious — may be as profoundly comforting as it may be surprising. That is, when we have come — as it appears we humans are trying to come — into the knowledge (“gnosis“) of all the “things” of the universe, knowing the “truth” about everything from atoms and molecules and geology and astronomy and cosmology to forces and vectors and radiation and gravity and magnetism, and more, we will be in possession, still, of mere facts, mere “things,” luminous and lovely, but ultimately impersonal. Having surveyed and grasped (possessed) all the things under heaven, we will still simply be on the path toward being possessed by something still higher than all of this, the transcendent, the metaphysical, the personal… the divine, who, by definition, is utterly and eternally worthy, because holy…
But here is not the place for a lengthy reflection; it is almost Christmas!
The essential point of the Pope in this message is this: when truth seems far away, when we fall into confusion and fear, the way forward, the way out of confusion and toward truth, toward the peace of faith which comes from knowing and assenting to the truth, is receptivity… to receive from outside of ourselves the truth which we may have lost sight of, which may have become obscured for us.
In other words, when we are lost, we do not have to find our own way home; someone else will come to find us and bring us home.
The value of this teaching is that, if followed, it frees us from the heavy burden of feeling we must cut through all confusion, all doubt, on our own, through our own reasoning, by our own power of intellect. This is a heavy burden indeed, under which many stagger and, in the end, fall.
No, the Pope is saying, that is not the way.
Rather, the way is to place onself in an attitude of receptivity, of expectation, in order for the light of God, of His truth, to shine upon us, into whatever dark spaces there may be within us — especially at Christmas…
And this attitude of receptivity, or expectation, is, of course, the essence of Advent… to await the arrival of the expected Messiah.
Pope Benedict alluded to this same attitude of receptivity and trusting expectation when he prayed the noon Angelus yesterday.
From his study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, addressing pilgrims and tourists gathered below on the fourth, and final, Sunday of Advent, Benedict reflected on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth — the Gospel reading for the day.
“The episode does not represent a mere gesture of courtesy, but dramatizes with great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New Testament,” the Pope said.
For Benedict, the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, both pregnant, was that “watershed moment” when the Old Testament, reaching its fulfillment (that fulfillment would come some 33 years later, in the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday) met the New Testament.
The new covenant was about to begin to be “actuated,” or had just started to be actuated, after so long a period of waiting.
Elizabeth, elderly and yet, miraculously, fertile, is a figure of all Israel awaiting the Messiah, Benedict said.
The expression Elizabeth utters when she greets Mary — “Blessed art thou among women” — is one that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, is spoken to the warrior women Jael and Judith, whose efforts saved the nation of Israel from peril, he said.
“Now, it (this expression) is spoken to the gentle young woman who shall, before too long, give birth to the Savior of the World,” he said.
And so, in a sense, this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is the first meeting between Judaism and Christianity, though both of the women are Jewish, and Christianity has not yet even begun to exist — except in the sense that Mary has already conceived Christ in her womb.
So this meeting between two Jewish women is also between two Christian women, that is, two followers of the Christos, the Messiah, who is already present in Mary’s womb, though he is not yet visible in the world.
At the moment of this epochal meeting, the two women embraced.
The two faiths were not yet sundered, because there was not yet any reason for their sundering.
Elizabeth and Mary embraced, and greeted each other, with much affection and love.
So the story of the Visitation expresses the beauty of mutual receiving and welcoming, the Pope said.
“Wherever there are those who welcome one another, where there is careful attention, wherever there are people who make room for another,” Benedict said, “there is God – and the joy that comes from Him.”
He added: “Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting to those who are experiencing difficulty, especially the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and little children, and let us also imitate Elisabeth, who received her guest as God, Himself.”
The Pope concluded by asking the faithful to pray that all men might seek God earnestly, and find that it is “God Himself who comes first to visit us.”
And so, as in the Pope’s teaching above, it is God who comes first to visit us, no matter what dark night we may be passing through, who comes toward us, who takes us by the hand…
After praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict greeted the pilgrims below in many languages. In English he said:
“Today, as we approach the Solemnity of our Lord’s Birth among us, let us strive again to make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ child with love and humility before such a great gift from on high. In anticipation, let me already wish you and your families a holy and peaceful Christmas!”