Letter to the editor of the Italian Daily La Repubblica,
published December 23, 2008
I was struck by the readings that the Ambrosian Liturgy proposes for Monday if the third week of Advent. How must the members of the ancient people of Israel been disconcerted at the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “It will devour your harvests and your bread; it will devour your sons and daughters; it will devour your flocks and herds; it will devour the fortified cities in which you placed your trust” (Jer 5:17). He was telling them that another nation was going to conquer the kingdom in which they had put their trust. “Then, if they say: ‘Why has the Lord our God done these things?’, you will answer: ‘Just as you have abandoned the Lord and served foreign gods in your country, so will you serve foreigners in a country that is not yours’” (Jer 5:19).
It is as if this were said for us; today we see signs that make everyone afraid, it seems that what has supported our history is unable to withstand the test of our times: one day the economy, finance and work, the next day politics and the judiciary, then the family, the beginning of life and its natural end. So, like ancient Israel before a frightening situation, we, too, ask ourselves: “Why is all this happening?” It is because we, too, have been so presumptuous as to think that we can still get along after cutting the roots that supported the foundations of our civilization. In recent centuries, our culture has believed it could build a future for itself while abandoning God. Now we see where this presumption is leading us.
Now, what does the Lord do in the face of all we have brought upon ourselves? The prophet Zechariah tells us, speaking to his people Israel: “Look, I am going to send you my servant Branch” (Zc 3:8.). Notice the name. It is as if before the crisis of a world, our world – the prophets would describe it with an image dear to them, that of a dried-up trunk – a sign of hope were springing up. The enormity of a dried up trunk cannot prevent the sprouting of a humble, fragile branch in which lies the hope for the future.
But there is one drawback: we, too, when we see this branch appearing –like those before that child in Nazareth—can be scandalized and say: “How can something so ephemeral be the answer to our need for liberation?” Can salvation come from something so small as faith in Jesus? It seems impossible that all our hope can rest on belonging to this frail sign. The promise that only from this can everything be rebuilt seems scandalous. Yet men like St. Benedict and St. Francis started from that. They began to live while belonging to that branch that had grown through time and space—the Church, and in this way became protagonists of a people and of history.
Benedict did not face the end of the Roman Empire with anger, pointing the finger at the immorality of his contemporaries, but rather witnessed to the people of his time a fullness of life, a satisfaction and a fullness that became an attraction for many. This became the dawn of a new world, small as it was (almost a nonentity compared with the whole, a whole that was in total collapse), but a real world. That new beginning was so concrete that the work of Benedict and Francis has lasted through the centuries, has transformed Europe, and humanized it.
“He has revealed himself. He personally,” said Benedict XVI, speaking of the God-with-us. Fr. Giussani told us, “That man of two thousand years ago is hidden under the tent, under the appearance of a new humanity,” in a real sign that arouses the inkling of that life that we are all waiting for so as not to succumb to the evil in us and to the signs of the nothingness which is advancing. This is the hope that Christmas announces to us, and that makes us cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus!”