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“The event of the Incarnation, of God who became man, like us, shows us the daring realism of divine love. God’s action, in fact, was not limited to words. On the contrary, we might say that he was not content with speaking, but entered into our history, taking upon himself the effort and burden of human life.”

— Pope Benedict XVI, Audience, January 9, 2013 (L’Osservatore Romano, January 16, 2013)

“There is a fundamental criterion in the Christian interpretation of the Bible. The Old and New Testaments should always be read together and, starting with the New, the deepest meaning of the Old Testament is also revealed.”

— Pope Benedict XVI, Audience, January 9, 2013.

I.

This year’s general audiences of the Pope are on faith. Each one is instructive. He tells us, in the January 9th Audience, that “the great mystery of God” is that “He came down from heaven to enter our flesh.” This entering our flesh was an event, not an imagination. It is generally thought that the idea of God becoming man while remaining God is unimaginable. Looked at from another angle, Benedict calls it a “daring” realism. That is, it really happened. In so doing, God risked the possibility of being rejected by man. The drama of Christ on the Cross includes this risk. That is, Christ as man was free; otherwise His sacrifice made no sense. He did freely choose His Father's will for Him.

The fact that the Word was made “flesh,” as we read in the Prologue of John, means that in Christ everything that is human was called to be saved. This salvation “affects man in his material reality and in whatever situation he may be. God assumed the human condition to heal it from all that separates it from him.” Ultimately, it enables us also to call God “Abba, Father.” We could not do this on the basis or our own nature alone. The capacity had first to be given to us.

Yet, once it was offered to us, in each case, it had to be accepted and lived freely by the one who receives this gift. Here we are dealing with something “that utterly defeats the imagination, that God alone could bring about and into which we can only enter with faith.”

A gift, Benedict tells us, is a sign, a sign of love and affection. Whatever a material gift’s intrinsic worth, that is not the most important thing about it. The idea of giving is also “at the heart of the liturgy.” In taking flesh, God made a “gift of himself to men and women.” Christ took on our “humanity” so that He might give His “divinity” to us. “This is the great gift.” God did not give us “something,” but He gave us Himself. When we give, we intend the gift be a sign or symbol of ourselves, of our love. God literally gave Himself to us, giving His “only-begotten Son.”

Benedict next turns to the “daring realism of God.” God did not just “speak” to us or utter words. He did that too, but He spoke to express what He did. Christ was born in a definite place, in a family; we know of Joseph and Mary, of Augustus the Emperor, of Christ's friends. He formed disciples; he sent them into the world. He died on the Cross. What is the import of these facts? We are not dealing with a myth, with “a story”. We are hearing words that tell us what actually happened to a definite man who lived in this world. “The way God acted is a strong incentive for us to question ourselves on the reality of our faith, which must not be limited to the sphere of sentiment….”

Again, Benedict returns to the fact that words alone are not enough. “God did not stop at words but showed us how to live.” In a certain sense words can help. The words of Plato, for instance, wind around the effort to understand the ways of God. As Augustine said, the Platonists had the Word but not the “Word made flesh.” What we get from the longing that we find in Plato is precisely a search for a reality which is more than words.

II.

Benedict takes up this theme by referring to the Catechism of Pius X. It asks: “What must we do to live according to the will of God?” This is its answer: 1) we must believe the truths that Christ has “revealed and 2) we must “obey” the commandments” with the help of grace. In this endeavor we are helped by the sacraments and by prayer.

Finally, Benedict again refers to that passage in John’s Prologue that tells us the Word was with God “from the beginning” and that nothing was made without Him. Obviously, the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of John are related. This is why the Pope states that we cannot fully understand the Old Testament without the New.

In the Old Testament we are told that in the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. But in John we are told that there is, as it were, being before the beginning. All things in the world have an origin in the Word, who is to become flesh. “The eternal and infinite God immersed himself in human finiteness, in his creature to bring back man and the whole of creation to himself.”

Thus, the General Catechism will tell us of the new creation that was brought about in Christ. It is this new creation in which we find the full answer to our question: “Who is man?” God has a “plan” for man that is “fully manifested” in Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, we can recognize the face of God also in every man. “By opening ourselves to his grace and seeking to follow him every day do we fulfill God’s plan for us, for each one of us.”

We exist, in the end, by this very “daring realism” of the “divine love.” We do not just imagine that we exist. We do exist. We can perhaps “imagine” not existing. Indeed, it is a healthy exercise sometimes to do so. But this recognition that we might not exist, tells us of the unexpectedness of the fact that we are. We exist because God willed that we exist. But we also represent the confidence, yes, “daring” that God took in His calling us out of nothing but within His love. The fact that we can reject God is but the other side of the freedom we have in loving and choosing Him.
 
About the Author
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James V. Schall, S.J.
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, "Another Sort of Learning", for more about his writings and work.
 
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