Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Lengthy Way

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God's love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.
Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: "Come to save us!" Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice.
Urbi et orbi  message, December 25, 2011
Reflection – The Pope went on in this address to mention the nations and peoples of the world suffering especially in this time—the litany of trouble spots that is all too familiar to those who follow the news closely.
When we contemplate the world as it is, with all its war and hunger, disease and oppression, and when we contemplate the sufferings that may come more close to ourselves personally and those we love—illness and death, marital breakdown and financial worries—the temptation is always there to at the very least question God’s care and presence, perhaps even his reality.
For many today, it is more than a temptation—the suffering and ugliness of the world seems to make faith difficult to the point of impossibility. To us who have faith, and to those whose faith may be shaky, the Pope calls us to contemplate this mysterious baby in the manger, this mysterious coming of God into the world, not as a mighty warrior to put all the armies to flight, not as an all-powerful king to take command and dispense perfect justice, not as an all-encompassing wonder worker taking all our afflictions away, but as a baby.
‘The lengthiest way’ of salvation – what a nice turn of phrase that is. God chooses to save us by entering into our woes with us, not by taking our woes away. There is such a deep reality at play and at stake here.
What is our central illness, our central affliction, the passion that drives all passions, the poison that blights everything it touches? It is that we want something other than God, or want something in preference to God, or in place of God. This is how wars start, how poverty and oppression thrive, how relationships are fractured, and how even our bodies are damaged and so break down and perish. The poison is universal; it is in all of us, and so all of us share in its effects.
So God comes to us—and we see in this Christmas mystery He offers us nothing but Himself. If He had come in might and power immediately, solving all our problems and curing all our ailments, he would have, in fact, solved nothing and cured nothing. We poor benighted human beings would have simply welcomed all the gifts and blessings He was giving us… and turned our backs on Him, as we do.
God made us so that we will never be truly well, never truly happy, never truly free, until we love Him, turn towards Him, seek Him, worship Him. This is the order of all created reality, and we are His creatures. He is our happiness, our health, our freedom, our joy, our peace.
And so He embarks on the lengthiest path of salvation, but the one ‘which respects the truth about him and about us’. And He remains so present in each of our lives, helping us, yes, healing us, yes, in so many mysterious and often hidden ways. But always, in His presence, His help, and His healing, drawing us to the deep healing, which is to love Him and seek Him and follow Him with all our hearts.
How does this play out on the world stage, in Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, North Korea, and in the myriad personal tragedies each of us is bitterly acquainted with in our families and loved ones? I don’t know.
But I know the truth of what I have written above in my own life. I also know that I am nothing special, just another sinner in need of mercy and salvation. So I know that God must be doing for each human being what He is doing for me, or at least wanting to.
This is the deal God offers us, though, to enter and share our human condition Himself, and in that to transform it from within, to make it a sharing in the mystery of love and grace. And each of us must decide if this is true, this Christmas present, this gift of God to us.


  1. Thank you for this Fr. Denis! I had read the Pope's homily on Christmas eve and day, but you have illuminated it in a new way. This transformation He invites us to, from within, is truly a gift. May our lives always be a song of thanksgiving for this beautiful precious gift!


  2. Dear Fr Denis,

    I just found your blog and this post. Thank you ever so kindly for sharing this with us.

    My experience and understanding as you say, “this gift of God to us” – this gift of grace comes to me through other people. We are made in the image and likeness of God – this God of love. But this present is a gift – a gift I receive if I am open to receive. Receptivity is an exchange of receiving and reflecting back the very goodness of God within us all. God created every day and it was good, and we all have this goodness, for we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Trouble is I found that by my own means I cannot see this. It comes to me through you – through the people around me! I truly believe we all desire God, and we have the desire to love. Trouble is having not received this love, my love is directed to the material goods of this world. I wish Catholic writings were based on how to be open to receive rather than what we do wrong. Until we receive this agape love, this sacrificial, unconditional love from another there will always be the wandering heart. I realize sin cuts me off from receiving this gift, but on my own I am hopelessly lost.

    This is one of my favourite passages that illuminates my poor writing ability:

    “The Notion of the “Good”: If only God is “good,” then we can experience and know the “good” only in the experience of ourselves in the act of imaging God as being related to (the Logos) and relating to others by making the gift of ourselves.”

    Ratzinger: “The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.”

    “Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life, she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist. This is the root of the phenomenon known as hospitalism. When the initial harmony of our existence has been rejected, when that psycho-physical oneness ahs been ruptured by which the ‘Yes, it is good that you are alive’ sinks, with life itself, deep into the core of the unconscious – then birth itself is interrupted; existence itself is not completely established…. (T)he charism of revolution has been for a long time not just remonstrance against reparable injustices but protestation against existence itself, which has not experienced its acceptance and hence does not know that it is acceptable. If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the thou; the way to the thou leads through the I.”[3]

    [3] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.


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