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CCO Rise Up Address: Emmanuel -- God With Us in Real Time

January 5, 2010
[The following talk was given December 29th, 2009, at the Catholic Christian Outreach, or CCO, Rise Up Conference, held December 28th-January 1st in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Fr. Rosica offered a workshop, The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life, and the following address.]
POPE-CHRISTMAS
POPE-CHRISTMAS
Your Excellencies, Brother Priests,
Dear Friends,
Thank you for the privilege of addressing you once again at the 2009 Rise Up Conference in Winnipeg. Winnipeg in winter is not a vacation destination! However, Winnipeg in winter for CCO Rise Up, with 450 young adults and leaders of the Church from across this vast country, is big time springtime!
The theme chosen for this year’s Rise Up, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” is so timely as we bask in the afterglow of the Incarnation. The message of Christmas takes our breath away every year and continues to stagger the imagination: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the only begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word, our Creator wills to clothe himself in our nature, and to become man, our brother, one of us. God Himself lies in the manger, completely human, completely divine.
At our Christmas liturgies that still linger in our hearts and minds, we listened attentively to the words of the prophets, to the dream of Joseph, and the promise of the eternal God that takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin. It becomes clear to us that the story of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem was no idyllic country folk tale. It was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.
In the baby Jesus, God is "with us" not merely to bless us in some sort of cameo appearance at one difficult moment in history. Nor is God with us in that he is going to use Jesus to help us, protect us, rescue us from danger and guide us. No – the little Lord Jesus asleep in the manger of Bethlehem is "God with us" because he is God.
Today I would like to consider the Scripture stories that speak of the birth of Christ in history, about the Word becoming flesh. We will look at how Matthew, Luke and John explain this great mystery in their Gospel accounts. Then I will propose to you our response to this mystery that is prolonged in our midst through the Eucharist. What does it mean to adore the mystery of the Word made flesh? Finally, I will offer you three heroes of our faith who gave tremendous witness to the Word made flesh. By way of conclusion, I will share some observations about how our own words become flesh today and how we communicate with one another.
Matthew’s Story
Matthew's Gospel is about the scriptures being fulfilled in Jesus. In the genealogy, Jesus is the culmination point toward which Israel's long covenant history has been leading, particularly its puzzling and tragic latter phase. Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will "save his people from their sins" (1:21), liberation from exile is in view.
Matthew tells us that Jesus' birth in human history fulfills at least three biblical themes. He brings Israel into the Promised Land; "Jesus" is the Greek for "Joshua." As Emmanuel, “God with us”, Jesus embodies God's presence with his people (Isaiah 7:14, quoted in 1:23). As the new David, Jesus is the Messiah born at Bethlehem (2:5, fulfilling Micah 5:1-3).
In the name "Emmanuel," we find the answer to humanity's deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea (on our behalf) and a promise and declaration on God's part. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: "God, be with us!" And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: "I am with you" in this Child.
The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew's Gospel where the risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (28:20). God did indeed keep his promise in Jesus. Jesus truly fulfills the plan of God in word and deed, in desire and presence, in flesh and blood.
His rejection by his own people and his passion are foreshadowed by the troubled reaction of "all Jerusalem" to the question of the magi who are seeking the "newborn king of the Jews" (2:2-3), and by Herod's attempt to have him killed. Jesus' mission during his public life is limited "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (15:24), and he assigns the same limits to the mission of the Twelve (10:5-6). More than the other evangelists, Matthew takes great care to note that events in Jesus' life happened "so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled" (2:23).
Luke’s Story
The Infancy Narrative of Luke's Gospel contains some of the most touching, well-known biblical stories in the New Testament. On Christmas night we listened with awe and wonder to Luke’s beautiful Christmas story. In Luke’s story, we listen to the shepherds as they tell one another the reason why they are setting off to Bethlehem: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Luke presents us with the radical newness of Christmas night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh.
Let me raise several questions about Luke’s story…. about Mary and about the shepherds. Did the shepherds – religious outcasts from the hillside – ever anticipate the depths of the joy they suddenly found released in their hearts. When they heard the news they hurried off to Bethlehem. If they fell over themselves to get there, what was the journey back like? Perhaps the joy really did hit their feet and they surprised themselves by dancing.
After four weeks of waiting for the coming of Christ, we too should be prepared to be overtaken by joy at his arrival. If we have domesticated the announcement of his birth so that we are no longer stirred by the news, something is wrong with this picture! If we are not dancing for joy, we might have missed an important part of the whole story.
About Mary, the humble maiden of Nazareth, we are told that she treasured up these things, and pondered them in her heart. Mary had nine months to prepare for this birth, three of them spent with Elizabeth, whose own story was as surprising and full of God's mercy as her own. Yet even she was taken by surprise at the arrival of the shepherds and their story of angels – angels who had been notably absent when she and Joseph were looking for somewhere to stay. So she added all this to her storehouse of things to treasure and ponder, things that might one day reveal their deeper meanings.
What do we treasure and what will we ponder in our hearts of this great mystery we have just celebrated? Does it really hit us that Christmas has enveloped us in a glorious mystery? That God has drawn near to us? That angels have put on a Praise and Worship concert the likes of which the world has never witnessed? Yes, God has set out towards us! Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has traveled the longer part of the journey. He startles us and invites us: “Come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here.”
As Pope Benedict spoke so powerfully in his homily on Christmas Eve this year at the Vatican:
Let us see the sign that God has give us: God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him.
Through the mystery of the Incarnation – the Word made flesh – we are not given one new, mighty and glorious throne from which our God will rule over us, but two ways by which God will reign among us: from a crib in Bethlehem and from a cross in Jerusalem. We cannot have one throne without the other. They go together. Jesus' coming among us at Christmas reminds us that the touch of gentleness and mercy is victorious over hatred, violence, occupying forces, weapons, and monologue.
The Word Made Flesh in John’s Gospel
The prologue of John’s Gospel climaxes with the announcement: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14) (in Greek literally: pitched his tent among us.) It’s a form of divine camping in our midst! This presence came about though the free love of God: “In this way the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him” (I John 4:9).
On Christmas Day, John's Gospel Prologue is proclaimed instead of the rather idyllic story of the shepherds and the angels. The Word is not simply a message that we can put into words. It comes as a person, a life enfleshed and enacted. In Jesus, the message and the messenger are united. The medium is indeed the message!
Through the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation, the Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, exegeted or pondered. But the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed and loved! So it's all right for us to fantasize about that person's revolutionary dreams, for a world of peace and justice, a world where no one cries and no one goes hungry... a world where the only occupation that takes place will be the Lord's occupation of human hearts. But more than just fantasizing, Christmas asks us to believe his revolutionary dream, and to put it into practice each day.
The Word that becomes flesh is about compassion and vision, but there is also something frightening about it, a kind of desperate insistence. Our redemption is Jesus Christ. If the future were not the promise of Jesus Christ but the predictable outcome of present sociological trends, despair would overwhelm us and even kill us.
The Eucharist is the Word prolonged in history
Every Eucharist proclaims, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Because the life of Christ is oriented towards others, the Church must share this life with the world. The Life of Christ is his gift to the Church that is meant to be the Church's gift to the world. In the Eucharist we don't only receive the life of Christ. Beholding this most precious gift, we are moved as well to worship and adore the Triune God.
The Church that lives the life of Christ and offers his living sacrifice cannot run away from its mission to unearth the false gods worshipped by the world. How many people have exchanged the true God for idols like profit, prestige, pleasure and control? Those who worship false gods also dedicate their lives to them. In reality these false gods are self-interests. To keep these false gods, their worshippers sacrifice other people's lives and the earth. It is sad that those who worship idols sacrifice other people while preserving themselves and their interests. How many factory workers are being denied the right wages for the god of profit? How many women are being sacrificed to the god of domination? How many children are being sacrificed to the god of lust and pornography? How many trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god of "progress"? How many poor people are being sacrificed to the god of greed? How many defenseless people are being sacrificed to the god of national security?
Authentic Adoration
In the Eucharist, the Church joins Jesus in adoring the God of life. But the practice of Eucharistic adoration enlivens some features of worship. We believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist continues beyond the liturgy. At any time we can adore the Blessed Sacrament and join the Lord's self-offering to God for the life of the world. Adoration means being present, resting, and beholding. In adoration, we are present to Jesus whose sacrifice is ever present to us. Abiding in him, we are assimilated more deeply into his self-giving. Beholding Jesus, we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it.
During last year’s Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, one of the most profound catecheses or teachings was offered by Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Diocese of Imus in the Philippines. Bishop Tagle described adoration in these words:
Aside from the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple who kept vigil with the dying Jesus, the Roman centurion who had been watching over Jesus when he died could also be a model of adoration. Probably the centurion guarded Jesus from his arrest to his death. Seeing Jesus betrayed, arrested, accused, humiliated, stripped, and brutally nailed to the cross, he surprisingly concluded, "This man is innocent" (Lk 23:47), and "Truly, this is the Son of God" (Mt 27:54; Mk 15:39). Already hardened by many crucifixions he had supervised, he must have seen something new in Jesus.
At the conclusion of a routine execution came a profession of faith in Jesus. It was not just another crucifixion after all. It was the manifestation of innocence and of the Son of God. We learn from the centurion's "adoration" that Jesus' sacrifice of life cannot be appreciated for what it truly is unless the horror of the cross is confronted. Mark's gospel says the centurion stood facing Jesus. Like any leader of guards, he kept careful watch over this criminal Jesus. He did nothing but look at Jesus. Physical nearness was not enough however. He had to be intent, vigilant and observant so that he could account for every detail.
We learn from the centurion to face Jesus, to keep watch over him, to behold him, to contemplate him. At first the centurion spent hours watching over Jesus out of duty but ended up contemplating him in truth. What did the centurion see? We can assume that he saw the horror of suffering that preceded Jesus' death. He was an eyewitness to the torment, humiliation and loneliness inflicted on Jesus when friends betrayed and left him. He must have been shocked to see Judas planting a seemingly caressing kiss that was in fact an act of treachery. He probably wondered how swiftly a band of friends could abandon their teacher to preserve their lives.
…The centurion saw love blooming in the aridity of inhumanity. Amidst the noise of ridicule and lies, this man Jesus uttered words of fidelity and truth. Everywhere people were shouting "no" to Jesus, but the centurion heard from Jesus only "yes" to the Father, "yes" to neighbors, "yes" to mission. In this horrible cross of hatred and violence, the centurion found love, unwavering love, a love that refused to die, a love that was strong as steel against evil, yet tender before the beloved.
In Eucharistic adoration, let us join the centurion in watching over Jesus and see what he has seen. Let us cringe in horror at the sight of destructive evil. Let us marvel at the reality of spotless love, of pure sacrifice and worship. I wish that Eucharistic adoration would lead us to know Jesus more as the compassionate companion of many crucified peoples of today. Let us spend time too with the multitudes of innocent victims of our time.
We might be able to touch Jesus who knows their tears and pain for he has made them his own and has changed them into hope and love. Watching over our suffering neighbors, we could be changed like the centurion into discerners of truth and heralds of faith. And hopefully when people behold how we bear others' crosses in love, they too would see the face of innocence and the Son of God in us. Let us adore Jesus who offered his life as a gift to the Father for us sinners. Let us adore him for ourselves, for the poor, for the earth, for the Church and for the life of the world.
An exaggerated demand
In her essay entitled "The Mystery of Christmas," St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote:
In order to penetrate a whole human life with the divine life it is not enough to kneel once a year before the crib and let ourselves be captivated by the charm of the holy night. To achieve this, we must be in daily contact with God. [...] Just as our earthly body needs its daily bread, so the divine life must be constantly fed. 'This is the living bread that came down from heaven.'
If we make it truly our daily bread, the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation of the Word, will daily be re-enacted in us. And this, it seems, is the surest way to remain in constant union with God. [...] I am well aware that many think this an exaggerated demand. In practice it means for most of those who start the habit that they will have to rearrange their outer and inner life completely. But this is just what it is meant to do. Is it really demanding too much to make room in our life for the Eucharistic Savior, so that He may transform our life into His own?
Those who embodied the “Word made flesh” in their lives
Who are the people of our recent Christian tradition who understood the implications of the Word made flesh, the meaning of authentic adoration of God in spirit and in truth, and who put this into practice each day of their lives? I would like to offer you three examples of holy people who offered their lives for God and for humanity.
Blessed Brother André Bessette, CSC: Born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, Quebec, he was one of 12 children and suffered from a chronic stomach ailment that kept him out of school and often without work. A few years after his father's death, his mother died, but their piety and trust in God had deeply influenced young Alfred. When he reached the age of 18, he set out for New England in search of employment. He spent four years working in cotton mills and farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In 1867 he returned to Canada and sought the help of his childhood parish priest, Father André Provençal. The priest encouraged the young man to pursue his desire to enter into religious life.
When Alfred entered the novitiate, Father Provençal sent a letter to the novice master saying, "I am sending a saint to your congregation." Alfred was given the name “André” in religious life. At 25, André could not read and his health was so fragile the Holy Cross brothers assigned him to be the porter at Montreal's College of Notre Dame, where the congregation had just opened its novitiate.
The Holy Cross brothers had initially turned the less than five-foot-tall André away from seeking a religious vocation because of his delicate health. In reference to his assignment as doorman, he once quipped, "When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door."
He made his final vows in 1874 when he was 28 years old. For the next 40 years, André contented himself with his humble tasks of welcoming visitors, cleaning the premises and running errands. He put himself at the service of everyone including the students, whom he would tend to when they were ill. Many visitors would come to the college and ask André to pray for their loved ones who were ill, and many claimed they had been healed. Soon he attracted large numbers of people seeking help and he would give them a medal of St. Joseph, bring oil from a lamp burning before a statue of St. Joseph in the college chapel, anoint the ill and pray with them. News of his power to heal spread as people began to recover. In response to the many healings and conversions, Brother André would always insist it was the work of St. Joseph, not himself.
Brother André’s special affection for St. Joseph inspired him to build a church in his honor. Using the small sums he received cutting students' hair, as well as donations, the brother was able to build a modest structure in 1904, which he continued to expand as more funding became available. Brother André was named the oratory's custodian in 1909 as hundreds and then thousands of pilgrims made their way to Mount Royal to meet Brother André and pray to St. Joseph.
Brother André died on January 6, 1937, at the age of 91. Between his death and burial, more than 1 million people came to pay tribute to him. In May 1982, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Last week, just before Christmas, Pope Benedict announced that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had approved the miracle necessary for his canonization. In 2010, the humble porter of Mount Royal will be canonized, declared a Saint, by Pope Benedict XVI.
Brother André Besette is a gentle yet powerful witness who reminds us that in the midst of all of our endeavors and actions, we must strive for humility, practice hospitality, and love the poor. In this frail Brother of the Holy Cross, God’s strength and might were reveled to the world. Pauper, servus et umilis are the Latin words carved on his tomb at the Oratory in Montreal, meaning poor, servant and humble. They are also the words that are sung in the Panis Angelicus, the magnificent hymn about the Eucharist: bread that is poor, servant and humble, broken and shared for the world. In Brother André, the Word became flesh and truly pitched his tent among us… in Montreal and in Canada.
Today the oratory is the world's largest pilgrimage site devoted to St. Joseph, attracting some 2 million visitors a year. I have been a regular visitor to that holy place for many years. I will share with you something that only my secretary from World Youth Day knew. In May 1999, on the day that I was named National Director and CEO or World Youth Day 2002, I took the train to Montreal and spent the night at the Oratory. I placed World Youth Day 2002 in the hands of Blessed Brother André Bessette, asking him to bless our poor, humble efforts in making a making Christ alive in the hearts of the young people of Canada and of the world. In 2003, one year after that blessed event, I returned to Montreal to thank Blessed Brother André, who didn’t let me down. CCO is living proof that our prayers did not go unanswered.
Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman: Over the last century, the figure of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman has become a theological icon across a wide spectrum of opinion, above all for his unique capacity to blend a tenacious sense of Catholic identity with openness to the organic "development of doctrine."
A convert from Anglicanism, Newman was viewed with some suspicion during much of his clerical career, first by Anglicans who saw him as too Catholic, later by Catholics who wondered if he maintained too much of his Anglican ecclesiology. I have learned in my own life that I know that I must be doing something right when I get it from both sides!
John Henry Newman lived to see a sort of vindication, however, when he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. At his death in 1890 it was said that he more than any other person had changed the attitude of non-Catholics to Catholics. From 15,000 to 20,000 persons lined the streets as his body was borne to Rednal, eight miles away from Birmingham, for his burial. The Cork Examiner Newspaper affirmed, “Cardinal Newman goes to his grave with the singular honor of being by all creeds and classes acknowledged as the just man made perfect.” He was declared Venerable on January 22, 1991.
The English cardinal, after whom Newman Centres are named, has often been called "the Father of Vatican II" because he "anticipated key themes of the council." But if Newman was an innovative or radical theologian, he was so only because he was a deeply historical theologian. As Blessed John XXIII would say years later: “History is the great teacher of life.”
Where Newman anticipated the council in his theology, he was always careful not to exaggerate, not to lose his balance. Newman championed the cause of the laity, but he never conceived of some kind of lay as opposed to clerical Church. The Cardinal, being immersed in history, understood very clearly that councils move “in contrary declarations, perfecting, completing, and supplying each other.”
The first Vatican Council’s definition of papal infallibility needed to be complemented, modified by a much larger teaching on the Church, so, Newman correctly predicted that there would be another council which would do just that. Vatican II also needs complementing and modifying. Newman keenly appreciated that councils have unintended consequences by virtue both of what they say and what they don't say. I believe that Cardinal Newman is not only Father of Vatican II, but will also one day be a doctor of the post-conciliar Church.
If he were here today, Cardinal Newman would be very much at home with CCO. He was an outstanding university professor and chaplain who spent countless hours with young people. He was at home with them. This fall, one of John Henry Newman’s disciples, named Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, will travel to Birmingham, England to preside at the Beatification Ceremony for the great English Cardinal.
In Cardinal Newman’s love of the poor, the Word became flesh and lived among us. Through his brilliance of intellect combined with a striking humility, his homilies and writings continue to turn our hearts and minds toward God. Though his unwavering faith and love of Jesus and the Church, he was a model of ecumenism and dialogue. May he intercede for us now, for the ecumenical union of the Christian Churches, especially for the Anglican and Catholic Churches.
The third sterling example of a holy servant and witness is Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, born on September 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy in Eastern Poland. He was from a staunch Roman Catholic family and after secondary school, he decided to study for the priesthood, entering the seminary in Warsaw. Jerzy’s training was interrupted by two years of military service, during which he was beaten on at least one occasion for living his Christian faith.
After ordination, the young priest held several appointments before his final appointment to the parish of St. Stanislaw Kostka in a working-class neighborhood of the Polish capital. Due to poor health, he resided at St. Stanislas Church and worked part-time in the parish, which enabled him to work as well with medical personnel and university students. Thousands flocked to hear his Sunday sermons.
August 1980 saw the beginning of the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Striking shipyard workers from the Warsaw steel plant approached Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski to ask for a priest to say Mass for them. The Cardinal found Fr. Jerzy at St. Stanislaw Kostka Church. Solidarity represented for Fr. Jerzy a vision that he had first learned from St Maximilian Kolbe: that of spiritual freedom amidst physical enslavement. Fr. Jerzy promoted this vision of the truth about the vocation of every man and woman among the workers who gathered around him.
On December 13, 1981, the communist authorities imposed martial law on Poland, arresting many Solidarity activists and commencing a program of harassment and retaliation against others. Fr. Jerzy regularly attended the trials of Solidarity activists, sitting prominently in court with their families so that the prisoners could see that they were not forgotten. He began a monthly Mass for the Country, to be celebrated for all the imprisoned and their families. Fr. Popieluszko insisted that change should be brought about peacefully; the sign of peace was one of the most poignant moments of each monthly Mass for the Country.
On October 19, 1984, shortly after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Canada, and as I was completing my theological studies in Toronto, Fr. Popieluszko was kidnapped by security agents on his way back to Warsaw after a visit to a parish in the neighboring town of Bydgoszcz. Fr. Jerzy’s driver was told to get out of his car and get into the police car where he was cuffed and gagged. Fr. Jerzy was then savagely beaten until he lost consciousness, and his body was tied up in such a way that he would strangle himself by moving. His weighted body was then thrown into a reservoir. The driver, who managed to escape, told what had happened to the press. On October 30, Popieluszko’s bound and gagged body was found in the freezing waters of a reservoir near Wloclawek.
The priest’s funeral was a massive public demonstration drawing together more than half a million people in the working class section of Warsaw. Official delegations of Solidarity appeared from throughout the whole country for the first time since the imposition of martial law. Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was buried in the front yard of his parish church of Saint Stanislas Kostka. Since then this church has become a shrine of the Solidarity Movement. Fr. Jerzy’s brutal murder was widely believed to have hastened the collapse of communist rule in Poland.
I have prayed several times at his tomb on the grounds of St. Stanislas Kostka Church in the working class suburb of Warsaw, asking Fr. Jerzy for courage and steadfastness in my own life. I have been amazed at the streams of people, mostly young couples, who come and pray at his tomb throughout the day. Many told me that he was their catechist, or that he prepared them for marriage or helped them under martial law. Fr. Jerzy provides a model for us, calling us to strive that what we say and do outwardly should always agree with our inward conscience. His life also reminds us of the price that we may be called upon to pay as “witnesses to the truth about man and woman”.
Last Saturday, just before Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI issued the decree of Martyrdom for this young priest who lived in our time. Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko is a martyr because his murderers hated the Christian faith. As a martyr, no miracle will be necessary for his Beatification. The miracle was his life, his public witness and his brutal death. In this young priest and friend of young people, the Word was made flesh and lived among us. And we beheld his glory in all of its incredible fidelity and excruciating agony. The seed fell into the ground and died has now born much fruit. The blood of martyrs is the seed for the Church in Poland and throughout the world.
The ways our words become flesh
New forms of electronic communication are everywhere and being reinvented again rapidly, but God doesn't care. God does not buy a new iPhone or get a new app (mobile application). His communication platform is the human person. The Christmas message announces a new divine presence among us. Each day of our lives we seek the personal presence of those whom we care for and who care about us. We cannot imagine to leave friendship and love at a distance. Photographs, memories, letters, e-mail, text messages and phone calls are not enough. We want to enjoy the personal presence of those who fill our minds and let us live in their hearts. We live in God’s heart, and Christmas visibly brought among us the Son of God who cares infinitely for each of us. God did not want to live that love at a distance.
Friendship in virtual spaces is quite different from real time friendship. True friendship depends on mutual revelations, and can only flourish within the boundaries of privacy and modesty. The distance and abstraction of our online friendships and online relationships can lead to a kind of systemic desensitization as a culture if we are not wise, prudent and attentive to these new realities. Along with the increase in online networking, there are increasing levels of reported loneliness. Certain questions arise from the phenomenon of Social Networking. What is it doing for us? What is it doing to us? What is it doing to our sense of social boundaries? To our sense of individuality? To our friendships? We expose everything, but are we feeling anything?
The great challenge in the era of Facebook and Twitter consists in presenting the profound message of Jesus and the teaching of the Church without being sidetracked by technology's superficial aspects. An almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we're losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community. In using the media to evangelize and teach the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed. I really believe that this is the secret to the success of Catholic Christian Outreach: reaching the individual!
The feast of Christmas reminds humanity of one profound message: that God has mixed with the human family, and loved them all- the women and the men, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those who love and those who hate, those who are beautiful and those who are not. And only God, himself, knows who is close and who is far from him. From now on, we can recognize God, not in the power and glory of our temple worship, our power, prestige and numbers. At Christmas we are taught where to find God: in the midst of humanity, in the thick and thin of the human race, in the smile and tears of a newborn baby, in the suffering of strangers, in the cherished gift of friendship. From now on, anyone who really understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way. This human way was the method of people like André Bessette, John Henry Newman and Jerzy Popieluszko and the countless hosts of saints, martyrs and blessed who now bask in the glory of the Word made flesh, dwelling in our very midst.
The highpoint of Jesus’ self-communication is in the Eucharist. Let us remember that the Word did not become an e-mail, an SMS or text message, or some kind of divine oracle uttered from some distant heaven long ago. Through Mary, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word became close to real people in real time. May the Lord bless you, as your own words become flesh among the people to whom you give witness in our own real time. Thank you.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Television Network