The following is taken from a meditation given by Fr. Bruce Wren L.C. at Catholic Professionals of Illinois Advent Retreat 2015 (Part 2)
To try to understand this Christmas light, we must also understand the dark, in other words, what a world without Christ must mean. What would “a world without Christ” be like? I see two answers: the world without Christ before Christ, and the world without Christ after Christ.
A) Before Christ, good examples are the classics, especially the Greeks. A culture that was human, beautiful, refined. How did they live before Christ? Two examples:
- Greek sculpture of Phidias: they are all touched by beauty, but a beauty that is always touched by sadness, a kind of nostalgia, for they knew that it was all fleeting;
- Achilles, on the planes of Troy (Book 9, 223-230, for example):
When they reached the ships and tents of the Myrmidons, they found Achilles playing on a lyre, fair, of cunning workmanship, and its cross-bar was of silver. It was part of the spoils which he had taken when he sacked the city of Eetion, and he was now diverting himself with it and singing the feats of heroes.
And later Achilles complains:
He that fights fares no better than he that does not; coward and hero are held in equal honour, and death deals like measure to him who works and him who is idle… “My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.
Thus was the life of the Greeks, a very keen consciousness of the injustice of the world, of life’s brevity.
B) After Christ? Here, it is no longer the innocence of a world that has never known Christ, but one that has rejected The modern world’s experience is that of having rejected Christ, of having looked for other saviors, and little by little they find that they are insufficient: pleasure, power, progress.
A great “prophet of modern times is the French poet Baudelaire. In his preface poem to Les Fleurs de Mal [the Flowers of Evil], he writes:
If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life —
It is because we are not bold enough!
Amongst the jackals, leopards, mongrels, apes,
Snakes, scorpions, vultures, that with hellish din,
Squeal, roar, writhe, gambol, crawl, with monstrous shapes,
In each man’s foul menagerie of sin —
There’s one more damned than all. He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn…
Many of his other poems are the same: le Gout de Néant, Le Mort Joyeux
A world with Christmas
But with Christmas, with Christ? Another possibility (and not only–history!) flashes into our world like lightening: Luke 1:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus-that the whole world should be enrolled. Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Here there is something substantially different from the world without Christ: realism, and a realism that is comforting, because there is life, purity, yes the difficulty of responsibility, but joy and peace, which the angels sang. Real “joy” enters into the world: the angels evangelize first… with joy! This is a paradox for our modern world: what seems unpleasant: poverty, purity, responsibility, faith… becomes joy and peace, and truth.
As we said, St. John says: light came into the world, and it was the light of men.
Our spiritual lives as Christians is to try to grow in love, love which is light for us and for all men. If we accept Christ, we can become “children of God”. If not, we risk to become like the Greeks, or worse…