Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Baby Jesus and Modernity

The implicit goal of all modernity’s struggles for freedom is to be at last like a god who depends on nothing and no none, and whose own freedom is not restricted by that of another. Once we glimpse this hidden theological core of the radical will to freedom, we can also discern the fundamental error which still spreads its influence wherever such radical conclusions are not directly willed or are even rejected.

“Truth and Freedom,” Communio 23 (Spring, 1996), 28

Reflection – We had a major blizzard here last night, along with (apparently) a significant swath of North America, which of course knocked power out and generally wrought chaos of various winter-themed varieties. In consequence, this post will be a bit on the short side—we are all a bit boulversé at the moment.

Here, though, we see another Christmas-themed reflection from Ratzinger. Eh? What’s that, you say? You don’t quite get the connection with this abstract philosophical statement about freedom and modernity and the baby Jesus? Haven’t you been paying attention here?

The whole thing is our human idea, not just modern, but human, that freedom means being unbound by any restriction, unfettered, uncontrolled, unconstrained whatsoever. This is our great grand idea of what it means to be free.

We don’t know what we’re talking about. God shows us what true freedom is, and he shows us that by being bound in swaddling bands, being carried around by Mary like a package (a beloved, cherished package, but still!), being nailed to a cross and immobilized, lying dead in the tomb, and even now in his risen ascended flesh handing himself to us in the Sacred Host, placing himself at our disposal.

Not a lot of ‘unfetteredness’ there, eh? Fetters as far as the eye can see. And this is God, and this is the perfect man.

Freedom means being unfettered in one thing and one thing only, and that is the unbound freedom to love and to pour oneself out in a constant gift of love, in truth and in justice. Every other freedom—all the freedoms we rightly cherish and wish to preserve as members of a free society—are only fully good, only fully realized if they are at the service of love and of truth.

This, by the way, is why we are such dire straits in our society today. Some value our ‘freedoms’ more, some less, but few indeed understand that true freedom and true human life only is secured by the gift of love and a passion for justice which is truth. Because there is precious little of this happening in the modern world, society is falling apart, and this is why there is so much violence, killing, madness, evil. Sorry to be so blunt and plain spoken, but there it is. The blizzard made me do it.

The baby Jesus has a deep secret, a deep truth to tell us about all these matters. What is it to be free, what is it to be human, what is it to have a good life, what is it to fulfill our destiny? Look at the little one lying on the straw, the baby at the breast, the man on the cross, the host in the tabernacle. The answer lies there, and until we find that answer and make it our own, we will lurch from one abortive effort at freedom to another which truly make us less and less free all the time.
Happy Christmas to you all—let’s all make sure we come to the manger and stay there, so He can give us the Christmas present we most deeply need at this time and in our world. Love, and from love, freedom, peace, and joy.


  1. Father Denis,

    Sometimes I think I understand you and then, I read the next line and am confused...

    Somehow, the beginning has to be admitting that the world is not outside of us, but in us. In the deepest part of ourselves Christ has been born, continues to be born. So, in the deepest part of us, we are already in contact with the whole of creation, of which ER are only a tiny part.

    But in this tiny part, by all our loves and needs and desires- the world is changed by us and we are changed by it.

    So the question is for me is not so much about how free I am to touch the world ...but how to validate the deepest relationship to it. Because, we cannot make choices about any of it as if we are separate from it. It is all part of us.

    Thank you for your words from the blizzard today.

    Bless you. Holy, peaceful, joyful ...and WARM Chritmas to you, dear one

    1. Yes, I agree with everything you say here! Peace to you, and a most blessed and joyful Christmas to you and yours.


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