Traces N.11, December 2003

Christmas, “the Blessing for all the Forms of Creation”

In a conversation published in this edition of Traces, Pietro Citati, the well-known literary critic and leading intellectual, among the most secularist newspapers in the Italian daily press, says he feels a strong new attraction for Catholicism. Now that he has just published a book on the great religions, he says he finds something unique in popular Italian expressions, like the Christmas manger scene: “The blessing for all the forms of creation.” This sense of positivity regarding everything is the core of the Christian event, a positivity that entered into history with Christ’s birth. Citati is not a poor shepherd, nor a devout old lady. He is a cultured intellectual. Yet his way of looking at the fact represented in the Nativity scene is the same as that of the first simple men who rushed to Bethlehem.
Something unique happened, something that changes the meaning of the world. Thanks to that birth, life no longer appears as a series of events that lead “the toilsome effort,” as Leopardi agonized, to a “horrid, immense abyss, wherein all plunges, to be forgotten forever” (from The Night Song of a Nomadic Shepherd in Asia). The horizon of life, with its loves and pains, is no longer dominated by the nothingness into which every destiny seems to plunge. From the shore of that unknown sea, from the powerful, tremendous Mystery that looms over every event, a point, a ship has moved toward us. Something unique has happened.
The Italian people’s rediscovery of itself, in the experience of the murder of their soldiers at Nassiriya and its aftermath, amidst the signs and gestures of faith, bore witness to the fact that many, albeit confusedly, have the perception that without Christian hope life has no meaning at all. Man doesn’t find in himself or on his own the strength and the reason to look at life as it is, so frail and contradictory, without being dominated by nothingness. We need, continually, every day, something to deliver us from evil, from the prime evil, which is to consider life a difficult and useless course. No civil construction, no effort for improvement can last if it is based on a consciousness that is resigned to the vanity of existence. So Christmas is the event that makes possible a society marked by constructiveness and hospitality.
The child who is born of Mary is the point in which human life is ransomed from nothingness. It is a human point, a presence, which still lives today in the mystery of the Church and in the witness of many. It is not a philosophical conquest nor an ethical horizon for people who feel they are alright. Again it is Citati who points it out with lucid intelligence: “The reduction of religion to ethics is a real catastrophe. At the origin of Christianity we have thieves, a crime, anything but ethics! Christianity is a religious event, but hardly anyone says so these days.”
Christianity is a young woman “in whose warmth” a child is born: that something so simple bears the meaning of the world is a fact that can be recognized only by simple hearts, those who truly hunger and thirst for life.