Once again, I'm forced to rely on news reports. The Vatican link is here, but the 2006 message doesn't seem to be up yet. Once again, what I read I find I don't really disagree with. Indeed, I'm glad to know the Pope and your humble host have wrestled with the same questions:
"Does a 'Saviour' still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium?" he asked in his address to tens of thousands of people in a sunny St. Peter's Square.We think, of course, we are the masters of our destinies. Such thinking is not new, nor is it necessarily sinful (I'm not going in that direction, let the reader understand). But our mastery still doesn't amount to much:
"Is a 'Saviour' still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?"
"Is a Saviour needed by a humanity which has invented interactive communication, which navigates in the virtual ocean of the Internet and, thanks to the most advanced modern communications technologies, has now made the Earth, our great common home, a global village?"
"People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism," he said from the central balcony of Christendom's largest church.Once again, and because I don't have time to look for yet another example, I think the poet was right. And already we are bearing down on the comites Christi:
"Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith," he said.
"Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all," he said.
JUST as it is the crucified who is "Messiah," so it is the cru¬cified who is Sun and Light-Tree and the end of darkness and the world's health. That is evident in the liturgy by all the light themes being sung at mass, the Christ-mass, at the meal which proclaims Christ's death until he comes. . . . It is further evident in the themes of the littleness and hiddenness and humility of the birth-present in hymnody and readings¬themselves sub-themes of the cross, or in the cross references of the readings ("a sword will pierce through your own soul also"), or, most especially in the feasts which have very anciently accompanied the day of Christmas (the feasts of the comites Christi, Durandus called them in the thirteenth century, the "companions of Christ"). This sun is hated by the rulers of the world and his cross is foreshadowed in the sufferings of the Innocents and in all unjust sufferings. This Sun ("I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.") [d. Roman liturgy readings for St. Stephen] invites to witness and to a martyrdom parallel to his own.
So it is that our Christmas comes to have the admirabile commercium, "the wonderful exchange," as its central theme-our wretchedness for his blessedness, as Luther would say. Or so it is "only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason" (T. S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral).--Gordon Lathrop