Contemplation of Christ in the mystery of the Incarnation
by: José Fernández Riol, CM
(This article first appeared in Anales, Volume 120, #2, March-April 2012 and has been translated and posted on this site with permission of the editors)
I would like it if the incarnate God, whom we celebrate each day in the mystery of the Eucharist, would truly become the center of our life and mission and an indispensable meeting each day with Christ and our brothers and sisters (Constitutions, 19b). Let us fully live this encounter with Christ and with our brothers and sisters … let us live this perfect incarnation in our life so that our whole life becomes filled with God … God who comes to us in order to transform us and who asks for constant conversion and the total giving of self.
When I say let us contemplate Christ in his incarnation, I am not just referring to that first moment of the Incarnation that took place at the time of Jesus’ birth. I am referring to Christ, who throughout the course of his life, shared in our existence and taught us to call God, Father … taught us to experience ourselves as brothers and sisters and taught us to imitate him in giving ourselves totally to others in order to establish the Kingdom of God in our world. To truly contemplate the mystery of Christ will help us to find ourselves with Jesus who is wholly human, radically identified with love and rooted in the God of the poor … to contemplate the mystery of Christ will help us to open our heart to the ultimate mystery of the only begotten Son of God, the brother of all people.
We ought to be aware of the fact that the Christian community does not have the only correct image of Christ. Why do we say this? We do so because Jesus is inexhaustible … some people will highlight a particular aspect of Christ while others will highlight a different aspect. In the first Christian communities there was a plurality of images: the image that Saint Paul presented to us in his letters is different than the image that Saint Mark presents to us in his gospel and is different than the image that Saint John or Saint Matthew present to us.
How can we say that we understand that Jesus Christ became incarnated into our world, into our life and our communities and continue to live in the same selfish manner, with the same resentments, the same sorrows, the same bad temperament … if my life is Christ, contemplated in the mystery of the incarnation and if I understand this mystery as a mystery of love, then what are the implications of this with regard to my commitment? What are the demands of conversion so that incorporation into the incarnate Christ becomes real and life-giving?
From the perspective of the Incarnation our God is a God who has abandoned his heavenly throne and his rights: he emptied himself and became incarnated, human … the incarnation is a movement from all-powerful to weakness, from eternity to the limitations of time and space, from infinite wisdom to the scandal of the cross. Jesus revealed himself not from afar, from some prudent distance but plunged into our history that is so agitated, tumultuous and stormy … he became a real, concrete, individual human being. In the incarnation Jesus becomes God’s proposal and God’s answer … proposal because Christ is the ultimate and definitive plan of God for humankind; response because Christ is God’s amen.
Let us mediate on this mystery of the incarnation. Saint John says: God made his dwelling among us (John 1:14) … God did not enter into some comfortable situation. To pitch his tent among us meant that God did not have a place of his own and was unable to claim certain property rights and in fact, had no certainty that he would not be cast out from this place where he decided to dwell. Jesus established his dwelling among us in a very fragile tent, exposed to the winds and the inclement environment … he made no noise and it was as though he was asking our permission and assuring us that he would not disturb us. Those who pitch a tent know that in order to enter the tent they have to bend down and take up a very uncomfortable position … they have little protection from the outside. In the person of Jesus, God has come to live among us … he had no power, he placed no impositions upon us and did not lord it over us, he did not cry out or dictate condemnatory laws. His commands are invitations: if you wish … if someone wants to follow … I am the door and I call: if someone opens …
The Constitutions of the Daughters repeat over and over that we ought to contemplate Christ in order to live with the characteristics that we contemplate in Christ: The Sisters find Christ and contemplate Him in the heart and life of those who are poor (Constitutions 10a); the Sisters contemplate in Christ those dispositions which will draw them close to the most deprived, endeavoring to make them a part of their own lives (Constitutions 13); they contemplate Christ in the self-emptying of his Redemptive Incarnation and they marvel “that a God should somehow be unable or unwilling to be separated from man” (Constitutions 17b). What are those characteristics of Christ that inspire and nourish the spirituality and the activity of the Daughters of Charity? The Constitutions point out these characteristics: Adorer of the Father, Servant of His Loving Plan, Evangelizer of those who are poor (Constitutions 8a). In other places in the Constitutions we find these additions: Jesus the Servant (Constitutions 16b), the self-emptying of His Redemptive Incarnation (Constitutions 17b).
Contemplation of the incarnate Christ and the characteristics that are discovered in him are part of our Vincentian charism. Jesus Christ is the one who is sent by the Father, the Father’s missionary to those who are poor … the one who at the end of his earthly life transmitted his mission to the disciples so that they might continue the mission: as the Father has sent me, so I send you so that the Good News might continue to be proclaimed in a preferential manner to those who are poor and so that the disciples might continue to be in the center of the Church and the world: What a happiness, my brothers, to do what Jesus Christ did on earth, to proclaim Good News to the poor … yes, my brothers, to the poor. To imitate Jesus Christ, to follow Jesus and to make him the center of our life … this is to become like Jesus so that we might do what he did … so that his mission might continue from one generation to the next.
In a letter that Vincent wrote to M. Portail we find the following words which describe the central place the Son of God played in Vincent’s faith and life: Remember, Monsieur, we live in Jesus Christ through the death of Jesus Christ, and we must die in Jesus Christ through the life of Jesus Christ, and our life must be hidden in Jesus Christ and filled with Jesus Christ, and in order to die as Jesus Christ, we must live as Jesus Christ (CCD:I:276). Vincent saw in Christ’s humanity the fulfillment of the mission that the Father had entrusted to Jesus. Vincent encouraged the first Daughters of Charity to imitate the manner in which Jesus served the poor, the manner in which Jesus healed people, encouraged them and instructed them … in this way the Sisters will honor the holy humanity of Our Lord by imitating his action in this respect. What a happiness, sister, to do what God did when He was on earth! (CCD:IX:50).
Vincent’s vision and understanding of Christ was based on his reading, meditation and contemplation of the Word of God. Vincent’s image of God was derived from the Scriptures. In Saint John’s gospel Vincent discovered Christ as the one who worshiped the Father whom he sought to glorify and who fulfilled the Father’s will. In Saint Paul, Vincent discovered the Christ who emptied himself and took the form of a slave. In Saint Matthew and Saint John, Vincent discovered the Christ was present in the poor and also discovered the inseparability of the love of God and the love of neighbor. In Saint Luke, Vincent discovered Christ, the evangelizer of the poor, one who was filled with charity, mercy and compassion. Vincent always had recourse to the example of Jesus Christ whose nourishment was found in doing the will of the Father.
From this perspective we see that Jesus, in his words and actions, desired only one thing, to glorify the Father: the Son of God declared of himself that he did not seek his own glory but that of his Father. Everything he did and said was in order to glorify Him (CCD:XII:121). Jesus Christ was filled with God and did nothing on his own and did not seek his own personal satisfaction, rather he fulfilled the Father’s will and did those things that were pleasing to the Father.
Who do you say that I am?
In light of our previous considerations we can pose the same question that Jesus asked his disciples: Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29). The question continues to demand a response from each one of us. Undoubtedly we have confronted this question on many occasions. We have to deepen our response in order to see to what degree it has shaped our life. Are we, like Peter, somewhat inconsistent in our response, answering the question with a formula learned from our catechism … or does our answer reflect the commitment we have made with our life. Peter needed time to understand the profound significance of his response but finally he made a commitment. To what degree does Jesus’ question and our response lead us to a commitment that involves the whole of our life?
To formulate this question implies a risk. Yet we must be willing to take the risk and courageous in posing this question with all its consequences. It is a most significant question and much is at stake because our response points out what is important in our life … will we find ourselves with God, with the incarnate God and thus hear the same words of praise that were spoken to Peter? Peter teaches us that there is much to gain if we respond with the offering of our life … much more to gain than if we simply ignore the question. The marvel of Peter’s life is that he was able to discover the significance of Jesus, the incarnate God and thus able to discover the implications of the incarnation.
We, who have responded adequately to Jesus’ question, ought to be aware of the responsibility that we acquire by identifying ourselves as Christians and as persons who have consecrated ourselves to God who became incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. We know that we are an “other” Christ on earth and that we continue the work of Jesus Christ because, as Vincent stated, we do the same thing that Jesus did. Therefore, to respond in an authentic manner to this question means that we are willing to be like Jesus Christ, willing to live like Jesus Christ, willing to feel and think like him, willing to give our lives to those persons who need us, willing to place ourselves in the situation of having no place to rest our head. Our response implies that we will not judge, less we be judged and that above all else we will respect the freedom of the human person and we will seek out the company of those who are poor and despised, those who have no one and nothing … for we do not want anyone to have to repeat the words of Gandhi: I have found the world in need of a revolution … one that Christ initiated and Christians did not know how to continue.
To respond like Peter and proclaim: you are the Messiah! supposes that each day we are willing to collaborate with the Lord, that we view life and events with the eyes of Jesus and thus judge events from Jesus’ point of view … a difficult position as we know from the gospel scene that we are speaking about. Minutes after Peter made his solemn and resounding affirmation, he rebelled against Jesus who had revealed to the disciples how he would give his life on behalf of the Messianic cause … a cause which Peter himself had just referred to.
Peter, who was able to say, you are the Messiah, now protested and was unable to understand and walk the path that Jesus was pointing out to him. For Peter, the Messiah implied triumph and power … it meant that the Messiah would conquer and redeem the people from the burdens that had been placed on them by foreigners … it meant that the splendor of the Temple would be restored. Now, however, Peter had to listen to the person he had just affirmed as Messiah speak about death … an ignominious death. He had to listen to Jesus speak about pain, abandonment, silence, total failure…
Hopefully we will not forget this lesson so that we do not repeat Peter’s experience and declare without hesitation that Jesus is the Messiah and then contradict our affirmation, thus revealing that our words have little significance in our daily life. The Lord continues to speak to us as he did to Peter and tells us that we are not thinking like God but are thinking like human beings … that on a practical level we prefer another type of Messiah.
To believe in the incarnate Christ is first of all to enter into a relationship with Jesus and to discover that he is the only one who can respond, in a definitive manner, to the deepest desires, needs and hopes of the human person. To believe in Jesus Christ is to learn to live as he lived, to discover what is the surest and most human way to confront life and death, to discover the meaning of living as a human person and to live in this manner each and every day. Our faith has to be grounded on an encounter with the person of Jesus because it is only in this manner that we can believe in Jesus and discover in Jesus the ultimate meaning of life.
To believe in Jesus does not mean that we profess our faith in set formulas but rather that we follow Jesus. We are believers to the degree that we believe what Jesus believed, that we understand life like Jesus understood life, that we struggle for and defend the same causes that Jesus struggled for and defended, that we approach those whom Jesus approached and that we die with the same hope that Jesus died with.
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem when he asked the disciples the question about their view of his person. As they traveled they passed through towns and villages where they proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom. Therefore it is only right that this should also be the path for those who want to be disciples of Jesus. As disciples we must make certain options. If we are willing to go forward then we are on the path, on Jesus’ path … we allow ourselves to be led by Jesus to those places where he wishes us to go. We can either travel with him along the path or, like the blind man from Jericho, we can sit down on the side of the road. The wonderful reality behind all of this is that we can discover Jesus and follow him unconditionally regardless of the path that he is pointing out to us … we can learn from Jesus so that we are able to teach the poor about Jesus … teach them with words and with our life.
It is quite incredible to reflect on the rejection and the resentments that many people have with regard to God … equally incredible to consider the distorted images that people have of God. We can ask from where and how have people received such distorted images? What were their religious and Christian experiences that led them to such a situation? Our image of God is decisive with regard to our transmission, in word and deed, of our faith in God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We have to encounter the true face, the true image of God as our Father. We have to find this image of God as responsible adults who know how to integrate the images of God as Father and God as Mother, who know that God is Father but is not a jealous God. God is unconditional love and at the same time is a responsible love that is respectful of our freedom.
In order to discover this image we have to be witnesses to the living God who is Father, who is love that is given to the extreme of death, who rose and lives with us, who accompanies us during our daily life, who gives joy and meaning and hope to our life, who fills us and makes us happy, who inspires our very being and our activity. Each day we have to listen to Jesus in order to know what God is asking of us … we have to listen to Jesus alone.
Christ gives us the true image of God. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God … Christ is the incarnation of the Word, the presence of God’s love. That which God spoke of old in the prophets to our fathers, in sundry ways and diverse manners, He has now, at last, in these days, spoken to us once and for all in the Son. Herein the Apostle declares that God has become, as it were, dumb, and has no more to say, since that which He spoke before, in part to the prophets, He has now spoken altogether in Him, giving us the All, which is His Son (Saint John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Part II chapter 22, #4).
Jesus does not want spectators but asks for unconditional adhesion to his person and his cause. Because our whole being radically changes in accord with the manner in which we respond to his question, it is no exaggeration to say that those who have not responded whole-heartedly to this question have not begun to live the real Good News. If we can say that for us Jesus is the Messiah of God, a friend, an older brother, the Word that is near to us, the One who enters into an intimate relationship with us and guides our life … if Jesus is the brother whom we rely on when we plan our future and is present in all the important decisions of our life … when we confront serious problems … if Jesus is the love that we consult when making decisions… if Jesus is the person who is near to us and grounds our friendships, our life in community, our interpersonal and family relationships … if Jesus is the brother who enables us to embrace the problems of all people as our own and helps us to avoid saying, this is your problem … if Jesus enables us to act in this way because we believe there is no problem that affects others, affects our brothers and sisters most in need that does not affect us and therefore we cannot be indifferent … if we love the elderly, the infirm, the defenseless and children and love them as Jesus did … if we love women who are abused and love those from whom we expect nothing because all they can give us are their concerns and problems … if Jesus is all of these and if we act in this way… then it is Jesus who helps us to labor in order to create a better, more just, more Christian and more human world; then it is Jesus who helps us begin each day, rising up from our own failures and overcoming the weaknesses that we know are such a part of our life. We need Jesus’ help so that we do not “throw in the towel” because we want to sit on the side of the road and thus give in to the temptation to let everything pass us by because things are not unfolding according to our desires. Yes, we rely on the relationships that we have established with our brothers and sisters in order to give meaning to our commitment, our consecration and our vocation that we live out in the midst of a world that seems to value people not for what they are but for what they have … we also rely on our brothers and sisters to teach us to look with compassion on those who neither think like us nor share our lifestyle.
If we experience internally that the Lord is asking: who do you say I am and if we answer with a committed response then the world will be able to contemplate the unusual reality of persons who create a surprise … if we do not create this surprise then perhaps we are not faithful witnesses of God, who became incarnated in Jesus Christ.
I am in the midst of you as one who serves
The beloved Son, sent by God, was incarnated and came to serve. As a child Jesus stated that he had to be concerned about the affairs of his Father (Luke 2:49). He lived his whole life in conformity with the Father’s will. In serving God and doing the will of the Father Jesus saved men and women and manifested the positive aspects of service thus revealing how the Father wants to be served: he wants us to imitate Jesus who is Lord and Master and wants us to consume ourselves in serving our sisters and brothers: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) I have given you a model to follow … no slave is greater than his master (John 13:15). I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:27).
The virtues of Christ which we as Vincentians focus on are primarily those virtues that enable us to continue his mission as evangelizer and servant of the poor. The purpose for which God established our various institutions and associations is none other than that of continuing the mission of Jesus Christ. This, however, will be impossible to do unless we clothe ourselves in the spirit of Jesus. Among the many gospel maxims Vincent chose those that would enable us to fulfill this mission in the best possible way. Therefore he emphasized mobility, the beatitudes and the evangelical counsels.
Jesus Christ presented himself as the servant of God the Father’s plan with regard to love. Like Christ, the Daughters of Charity (and all Vincentians), ought to give themselves totally to God in serving the poor. We give ourselves to God and become servants in order to reveal to the poor God’s saving plan as well as God’s plan with regard to love. This service is done with humility, simplicity and charity … virtues of a servant that make us like Christ, the servant and allow us to continue the mission because we are clothed in the spirit of Jesus Christ. In the Company we find in Vincent’s words the meaning of the offering of ourselves to God: we must embrace poverty, humiliations and sufferings, detaching ourselves from all that is not God, and being united with our neighbor through charity in order to be united with God himself through Jesus Christ (CCD:XII:108).
The content of Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father is demonstrated in his service and defense of the kingdom of God which demands a new order, namely, that absolute priority is given to those persons that society has marginalized: the weak and the defenseless. Jesus’ death is the supreme service that could be offered to all those who are crucified and disinherited here on earth. Therefore, to suffer and die with and for those persons who are poor is to be with Jesus as one who serves. This implies that we are in constant solidarity with all those who are forgotten and lost. In light of the meaning of the cross’ solidarity, it would be good to contrast our “realistic spirituality of service” with the bold demands of following the crucified-servant. The final document of the 1985 General Assembly points out: In imitation of Jesus the Servant and of Mary the servant, our Founders wanted us to be servants, in humility, simplicity and charity. Servants: we want to be with the poor and also with our Sisters. To live humility, simplicity and charity is a challenge that Saint Vincent and Saint Louise still present through us to the world today (Final Document, General Assembly 1985, #9, p.12).
In order to continue the mission of Christ, evangelizer and servant of the poor, we have to do this, as the Constitutions point out, with the same spirit as Christ: To follow Him and carry on His mission, the Daughters of Charity choose to live totally and radically the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, making them available for the purpose of their Company: the service of Christ in persons who are poor (Constitutions, 8).
Christ is the servant of the Father’s plan with regard to love and this conformity to God’s will, or, if you will, this conformity to the plan of God was expressed by Jesus through loving, saving, and serving men and women in his Incarnation, passion and death on the cross. The loving plan of God was accomplished by Christ through his service and total commitment to the cause of the poor and the defenseless. The Daughters of Charity discover the manner in which they are to serve the poor as a result of their reflection on this characteristic of Christ, the servant … they offer the gift of themselves to God thus becoming the servants of the poor. Therefore, humbled in love, the Daughters become one with the poor and serve them as their master, teachers, brothers, and sisters … serve them as they approach them physically, psychologically, morally and socially.
Jesus’ service to humankind reaches its fullness in the paschal mystery, the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The reality of the cross becomes very visible: those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35). This is the Jesus who stands before us, the Jesus whom we wish to follow … Jesus, who became incarnated in flesh and bone, who as a result of fidelity to the Father and to his sisters and brothers took upon himself the conflict with the truth, a conflict that resulted in his death … death on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross must be viewed from a broader perspective than that of Calvary … we must see Jesus’ handing over of his whole life as an offering, a holocaust and therefore within this perspective we place the constant opposition and persecution that he experienced, the loneliness and misunderstandings … the apparent failure of his mission.
This imitation of Jesus Christ who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45) means that we enter into solidarity with those men and women who today are “crucified” in the midst of the world: those who suffer as a result of poverty, marginalization, social exclusion, abandonment, loneliness, dehumanization, oppression, exploitation … people who are despised, deprived of their rights, forgotten and treated unjustly …
Vincent was very explicit when he asked the Daughters to honor their name and become true servants of the poor … to serve the poor with their whole soul, their whole heart, and their whole body: What a lovely title, Sisters! Mon Dieu! What a lovely title and what a beautiful designation! What have you done for God to deserve it? Servants of the Poor is the same as saying Servants of Jesus Christ, since He regards what is done to them as done to himself, for they are His members (CCD:IX:256). By serving poor persons we honor what the Son of God did while on earth in His holy humanity (CCD:IX:51).
If we desire to serve God in the person of the poor and thus imitate Jesus Christ, we will be followers of our Founders and will give glory to God. We will live in the state of charity in the Company which is the Vincentian manner of living out the inseparability of love of God/love of neighbor, affective/effective love. Vincent learned about the unity of these realities from Saint John who stated: Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters (1 John 4:20-21).
We have left everything and we have followed Jesus Christ. After walking with Jesus for years it seems reasonable that we should question ourselves about the manner in which we have responded to God’s call and thus evaluate our following in light of our service and self-surrender. It is necessary to give new life to the radicalness of our convictions, especially if we have waned in living our our first good intentions.
To follow Jesus Christ, the servant, demands that we clothe ourselves in the attitudes of a servant and trust in Jesus’ word; it demands that we recognize Jesus as the only Savior and that we commit ourselves to the Lord in the service of those who are poor … and do this without becoming attached to anything that could impede our following and our availability for such service. To follow Jesus, the servant, demands that we place ourselves at the service of the Kingdom and put aside every temptation to serve two lords. To serve Jesus Christ, the model of service, demands radicalness and the offering of our whole being. The radicalness must penetrate every dimension of our life and demands renunciation so that the very depths of our being might be transformed.
Radical following, serving Christ in the poor … all of this means that we live with integrity, that we do not place conditions or reservations on our commitment … it means a total, selfless service on behalf of those who are poor … a service from the perspective of faith, with the true attitudes of a servants, a life of welcoming and a service that involves intimate communion and continually giving witness to the values of our charism.
To be children of God is to learn how to live together as brothers and sisters
There is a very close relationship between faith in God, love of God and love of our brothers and sisters … so close a relationship that if there are no concrete fruits of love in daily life then the faith of that individual or community is wavering or false. We can say we know God and we love God only if we love our brothers and sisters … loving others enables us to remain in God’s love because God is love. This was the great revelation of Jesus, the Son of God: love of God is love of one’s brothers and sisters. Faith in God and love of others are inseparable.
Saint John says that love is something that corresponds to God and is of God. God is love and loves us. For us the reasonable response, the logical consequence would be to love God. But Saint John goes beyond human logic and states that the gospel response is to love our brothers and sisters. Thus we ought to empty ourselves of the love that is stirred up in us as we become aware of the fact that we are loved by God. As we share this love with others we reveal the true depths of our love (1 John 4:20).
We have experienced this love and we have been possessed by love: we have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us (1 John 4:16); we have seen and testify (1 John 4:14). Our testimony is that of fraternal love, intimately united to the love of God and inseparable from God’s love. It could be no other way. It is impossible to know God in this way and not desire him; it is impossible to discover the Good and the not follow it; it is impossible to contemplate beauty and not admire it. If we have known God, Love, Good, Beauty … it is because God lives in us and we in him and therefore we act from the perspective of God’s logic and dynamic. God, through the working of the Spirit (1 John 4:13), has shared his life with us so that we remain in him, living with a love like his, a love that was revealed in Jesus: a love of self-surrender, liberation and salvation (1 John 4:14). Until the time of Jesus, God’s love had never been revealed with such depth and never had God’s love required such a radical handing over of self: to give one’s life for one’s sisters and brothers. Those who persevere in this attitude of fraternal love are in God and God is in them (1 John 4:16) … it could be said that they are begotten by God (1 John 4:7) and it can also be affirmed that they know God (1 John 4:8)
We can state that we have known love, that we are submerged in God’s love and that we have been absolutely and totally embraced by God. If we become bogged down and remain standing with our arms folded, if we say: it is good that we are here (Luke 9:33), then we have not understood anything. Jesus reveals God’s love to us and calls us Beloved. Saint John who proclaims: God is love, asks us to love one another (1 John 4:7). This is not some form of blackmail on the part of God because love does not need to oblige. Rather love has a power that attracts and so God’s love impels us to give of ourselves and to empty ourselves because love is repaid with love.
Christian love, because it is a mirror of God’s love, is a love without limits, without human logic. Saint Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, points out some of the characteristics of this love in the passage that has often been called the hymn to love: love is patient, love is kind … it does not seek its own interests … it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). To love in a Christian manner begins with the simple things in our daily life. We can all understand this but to maintain this love as a lifestyle is the task of heroes. Despite this we should not be discouraged. Love flows from God and at the same time is directed toward God and directed toward our brothers and sisters. We can live in this manner because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5).
To proclaim that God is love involves us in the difficult but marvelous task of making this God/love present in our world; it also means that we extend our love to others, to those whom God loves most. To proclaim that God is absolute love who forgives and loves unconditionally, to proclaim that we have experienced this love in the very depths of our being … to do this is the labor of a life of prayer and a life of self-surrender because no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
To understand the Incarnation is to recognize that we are children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. To understand the Incarnation is to know how to invoke God as Father and Jesus as the One who is brother to us all. The Incarnation teaches us how to live as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus; it teaches us how to journey through life as sons/daughters, brothers/sisters. The Incarnation demands that we learn to act in accord with the will of God: Not everyone who say to me, ”Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (Matthew 7:21). More specifically, the Incarnation demands that we clothe ourselves in an attitude of universal love: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:44-45).
Jesus taught the disciples to address God as Father, Abba, because he [Jesus] is his Son and wants us to be and to live as children of God. Thus we can speak with God who has taken the initiative and proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). With the Incarnation of God’s Son it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, #6). The words of Isaiah: seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6) … these words become a reality in Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. We can ask for, look for and cry out to God as Father because he is continually asking for, looking for and crying out for us: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If they hear my voice and open the door, then I will enter their house and dine with them and they with me (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus Christ teaches us to look for God. Those who search for him have already found him … and we must remember to look for him in those places where he said he dwells, that is, in our brothers and sisters, in the world of the poor and those most in need (Matthew 25:31-36). It is true that those who love their sisters and brothers have found God and they show us that authentic love for our brothers and sisters implies that we act with justice on behalf of those who are poor.
Jesus, through the way he lived his life, revealed how his love is present in the midst of the world: he has chosen us as brothers and sisters; he makes us brothers and sisters to one another and sons and daughters of God. Jesus’ love is a real love, a love that is directed toward all men and women, a love that embraces all humanity. This love is particularly noteworthy as it comes in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty, as it comes in contact with the human condition that reveals the limitations and frailty of people. Jesus’ awareness of himself, the fundamental proof of his mission as Messiah, is to reveal the Father’s love and mercy. The gospels recount how Jesus was frequently touched by the needs of different people, how he was compassionate toward all people regardless of their need.
As Jesus reveals the Father’s love-mercy, he demands that people imitate the Father and model their life on God’s love and mercy. This demand is a central part of the Messianic message and constitutes the very essence of the gospel. The Master expressed this very well in the commandment that was defined as the greatest and most important (Matthew 22:38). We can also say that this was expressed in the form of a blessing when he said: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7). This enables us to live together as brothers and sisters, to do good which includes loving our enemies, thus imitating God who is gracious toward the wretched of the earth. The ideal disciple is the one who is merciful, the one who, like the good Samaritan, is moved with compassion (Luke 10:30-37).
Learning to be brothers and sisters implies extending forgiveness in a generous and gracious manner because the forgiveness that we demand from God is intimately bound up with the forgiveness we grant to our brothers and sisters whom we believe have offended us. Forgiving our brothers and sisters is an indispensable condition to receive God’s forgiveness.
The forgiveness that God has given to us in Jesus Christ is something absolutely gratuitous and prior to our extending forgiveness to our brothers and sisters. Forgiving our brothers and sisters is the fruit of the forgiveness that we have received from God. Our ability to forgive is grounded on the forgiveness that has been extended to us. We are prepared to forgive once we have experienced the forgiveness of God. The willingness of Zacchaeus can only be explained in light of the fact that he became aware of Jesus’ goodness. We are not models of forgiveness for God, rather God is the model of forgiveness for us: as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do (Colossians 3:13).
Forgiving our brothers and sisters is, at one and the same time, a condition and the fruit of God’s forgiveness. We have received the initial forgiveness of God in Christ and therefore we can forgive others. But if we do not forgive, if God’s forgiveness does not produce fruits in us then, like the unfaithful and unforgiving servant of the parable (Matthew 18:23-35), the definitive forgiveness can be taken away from us. But if we are motivated by the forgiveness that we have received from God and forgive our sisters and brothers, then we can ask God and God will grant us definitive forgiveness.
To be children of God supposes that we live with an attitude of complete trust in God, seeking only the Kingdom of God and his justice and concerned about nothing else … your heavenly Father knows all that you need (Matthew 6:32). To be children of God means that we are aware of the fact that all the hairs of our head are counted and not one of them falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge (Matthew 10:30). God the Father will be our protector during those times of difficulty and persecution: for it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10:20).
A community of believers is not a community where fear, anguish, selfishness and envy abide … quite the contrary; it is a community of individuals who have complete trust in God, the Father. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). A community of believers rejoices in having God as a Father: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God (1 John 3:1). Therefore the members of a Christian community who invoke God as Father live in a state of tension as they attempt to be perfect just as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), as they attempt to enlighten people so that they may see their good deeds and glorify the heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16) and as they say to people: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).
On the first day of the year we celebrate the feast of Mary’s Maternity. In Mary the human and the divine become united in an incredible manner. Because of her faith and poverty, Mary entered into a relationship with God and allowed God to establish a relationship with her. Mary is also a mystery of communion. Mary, so human and so divine, seduces and enchants through her profound silence, through her profound contemplation and suffering and through the gift of her tenderness and mercy. As a result of her dedication to God, her self-surrender to God and her own vision of God, Mary was completely open to God. Mary reveals her Son as the true Savior of humankind … Son of the Father and brother to all people … Jesus was not satisfied in showing us “the way” but he himself walked that “way”. Mary presents us to Jesus and she is filled with gentleness and mercy … gentleness in her relationship with Jesus who in turn was respectful, loving and merciful toward all of us … Mary’s maternal protection was multiplied. May Mary help us to discover Jesus Christ incarnate in our life and in the life of our sisters and brothers.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM