Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas homily

I am trying to put down the homily for tonight, the homily which the Rector Major was supposed to give, but which he passed on to me because he had to go to the dentist to get some work done on his teeth. So perhaps it is the expectation, perhaps it is the self-love that is blocking, but things do not seem to flow. So what is it that I would like to say? I asked for a word, and the word that came was: Jesus is the Word. He is the Word of God, the Word uttered by the Father, the word of love spoken to us.

This Advent has been particularly wonderful, not only because Vannoli led the Christmas novena so well, but because the prophecies sounded simply marvellous. Balaam prophesying against his will, uttering words that utterly escaped his intentions, talking about the Star of Jacob, the Sceptre of Israel. Isaiah and Malachi and Zephaniah talking about Wisdom, and the Shoot of David, the Key and the King. And then the longing: the utter longing with which all this is shot through. The longing that is still the central characteristic of the liturgy of Israel. The longing that is implanted deep in the human heart, the longing for peace and good and trust and love. "The lighting up of the text is at once the lighting up of the self." The light shines upon the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

So against this longing, this yearning, this waiting, the Birth is all the more wonderful. I am struck especially by the second readings of the Christmas masses, two of them from the letter to Titus, where Paul speaks of the grace of God that has appeared, the goodness and the loving kindness of God that has appeared among us, literally EPIPHANY. And I think of Jesus, the Face of the Mercy of God. Revelation of the misericordia of the Father. This mercy that is the sum and substance of revelation. And I think of us, called to be epiphany, revelation of God, signs and bearers of his love. But called also to see. So we ask: that we might have eyes to see. Immersed in the cares of the pastoral life and in the world, the Salesian learns to see God in those to whom he has been sent.

But I think also of the three humilities of Ignatius, and of Jesus, messia fallito. This Jesus, born so humbly, in the time of Caesar Augustus and of Quirinius, governor of Syria, Jesus is born in an obscure village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

And I think: the liturgy of the church is not so different after all from the liturgy of Israel. We who are witnesses to his coming, we also wait for his coming again. We wait in blessed hope for the manifestation of his glory. And while we wait, he teaches us to renounce impiety and worldly desires, and to live sober lives full of justice and piety, a pure people full of zeal for good works.

So we contemplate the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger, watched over by Mary and Joseph, ox and ass, and the odd young shepherd, all marvelling, all wondering, with little understanding, but certainly full of joy. And I can't help recalling Scaria's classes: the swaddling clothes are a sign of the king's son; the manger is where the animals eat, and the ox and the ass - they know who their master is and where their food is, unlike the people of God who do not. Not understanding, then, but knowing. Knowing who the master is, and where the food lies. That much is enough. If I cannot be Mary and Joseph, if I cannot be a shepherd, let me be at least ox and ass.

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