Traces N.11, December 2009

In Front of Him

The challenge is all there, on that leaflet stuck on the wall in the corridor of the Faculty of Physics in Milan University. The text is the flyer that Communion and Liberation published concerning the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that, in name of a “confessional neutrality,” fined Italy for the crucifixes hanging on schools walls.
Some extra words have been added in pen, though, by persons unknown–many observations (some of them out of place) and some questions. But most arresting is a line inserted at a slant, covering a word, just one, to change the tense of the verb and to change history: “Christ is a living man who brought a judgment into the world…” has become: “Christ was (or really is?) a living man…”–“was,” past tense. Something to put away in the files, like the crucifix, or even more than the crucifix… Because it seems impossible that He is.

The challenge lies there, in that scribble that we ourselves often make, without wanting to and almost without realizing it. It doesn’t take much. Stopping at the surface, at our own measure, we don’t realize fully what Christmas brings into the world–an absolute novelty, something never seen or imagined before: a human phenomenon, a point of reality capable of corresponding incomparably to the infinite depth of our hearts. And it’s something that enters history in order to stay there, because it is able to conquer time and space and reach the heart of anyone anywhere. It is contemporary to everyone, everywhere, beyond the bounds of culture and traditions, and all those ties that seem to make it impossible.

This issue of Traces shows this is true, as we look at the Holy Land, where that Fact continues to be a mysterious element of hope that everyone must (or can) take seriously now; Africa, with so many witnesses, changed now by an encounter that has penetrated the resistance of culture; Central Europe, which still tries to confine that Fact to the past, but where people are found who cannot but be fascinated still now when Christ breaks into their lives. These are all very different situations, almost separate universes, in which that Presence which flourishes in the most imperceptible way imaginable (a baby in a manger) is able to establish now an incomparable dialogue with the heart of man, taking possession of it, freedom permitting, and making it blossom.
And what Christmas is can be seen more than anywhere else in our experience. In front of Him, we flourish, we savor life as never before, and we truly breathe, to the point of becoming able to love ourselves and others, as the Christmas Poster on the cover cries out: “Unless Christ is a presence now–now!–I cannot love myself now and I cannot love you now.”
But it does happen; we see it happening and no fact of the past can generate something like this. Only a man living now can do this.
Merry Christmas.