Traces N.11, December 2001

A New Fact in the World

Everyone who knows about the events of those times from my works or the works of others, may be sure that every time the Prince ordered exiles or slaughters, thanks were rendered to the gods, and that the ceremonies which once characterized happy events were now the sign of public calamities. I shall not be silent, however, even about those deliberations that sink to the depths of the most unheard-of adulation or the lowest, most tolerant servility” (Annals, XIV, 64).

With these words, Tacitus, the greatest historian of ancient Rome, indignant at the abuses of power, summed up the climate of his time. More or less like today: pax romana problems then, pax americana problems today. In any case, a great and bloody confusion.

But Jesus came. He did not present Himself as a great magician who puts everything in order, despite man. He did not come to resolve every problem by magic, but to put men in the best conditions for facing them, asking those who encountered Him for their freedom. Out of the mystery of that night welled forth a new way of looking at life, no longer viewed as an arena for overpowering or as hostile fatality, but as a journey to accomplish our destiny, to serve and honor others as our brothers. This was something unimaginable for everyone, including the religious and political leaders of the time. A new factor entered in, which in the course of the centuries has generated the most important acquisitions in the life of the individual and of civilizations, in the fields of thought, art, law, and science.

However, it is as though most people did not realize it, because God chose a unique method for making Himself known: the life of an ordinary man, who could escape the notice of most people. As Fr Giussani writes in an exemplary instance of the Christian method, “The Mystery chose to enter the history of man through a life story identical to that of any other man. Thus, it made its entrance imperceptibly. No one was there to observe or record it. At a certain point, the mystery presented itself. And this event marked the greatest moment in the lives of those who encountered it, the greatest moment in all of history” (At the Origin of the Christian Claim).

God enters history as a man, He communicates Himself through the human. Herein lies the unforeseeable originality of the Christian claim. The birth of that Child offers itself to man’s heart and freedom as a carnal companionship–one that can be “heard, seen, touched” said John Paul II one day–which calls us back to the meaning of existence and invites us to rediscover in the mishaps of history the ineradicable dignity of being children and not slaves.

In the eyes of those who saw that Child, the world was no longer what it was before. And in the history and life of each of them was ignited the challenge of the freedom to recognize Him and follow Him. Then and now, in the midst of the great confusion of the world.