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A Leaven In The World… Merry Christmas

December 18, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

The language of men is the first thing we learn, after the taking in of that which is necessary for the nourishment of the flesh, upon issuing forth from our mother’s womb. What are at first unrecognizable sounds begin to point beyond themselves. Symbolism gradually takes over our thinking processes as we learn to assign various sounds to describe, and enable us to exist and operate among the people, places, and things around us. This column you are reading is possible because we were initiated into a common symbolic structure that, with minor variations from place to place, enables us to bridge the distance between us and to enter into a dialog that unites us into a shared world of ideas.
Behind this system of sounds and assigned arrangements of letters that make language possible, enabling the communication of concepts between persons, however, there is nothing more than the arbitrary. The world and all that is in it, which these sounds and assigned words describe, are what we are attempting to possess by our language; the concepts and the sounds or written symbols which they convey point to something which preceded us. We enter into a reality not of our own making out of which we must attempt to make sense.
Our search for meaning ever takes us beyond only what we can see. We long for unity with something which is more than merely transitory as are we. That which passes makes us think of things which endure. Created things spur us to imagine the uncreated.
Language can also leave us unsettled, becoming a symbol of the disorder it leaves behind after our minds take it in, rather than leading us into harmony with everything around us. This seems to be a deep theme of our age as words remain the same but their meanings are changed.
When marriage, life, love, and even human nature itself all seem to be under attack through the concerted vandalism of our common symbols we are left with an enduring sense of being adrift. Young people, made for relationships as are we all, can experience deep anxiety, loneliness, and depression, we are told, if they spend more than two hours per week substituting a computer or phone screen for relationships with other human beings like themselves. This is an example of the potential damage to the human person when the virtual is used to substitute for the real, when words and images which seem to bring us close to others instead leave us frustratingly disconnected.
Language changes and sometimes disappears entirely from the face of the Earth. Sometimes new words are coined to describe new realities. Words are not real.
Controversies spawned by the rash and ill-considered words available on the Internet can cause us to fear that other words upon which we depend may be stolen from us. Remarks by the Pope recently reported seemed to threaten the taking away of our venerable English translation of the prayer of the Our Father, sparking a flurry of distressed and rash words in turn. When the helpful words describing what really took place were finally spoken, we learned that he was in fact only commenting on the new French translation and asking us to recognize that the Devil, not God, leads us into temptation as the English version might seem to some to suggest.
In all my years of pastoral work, in which all manner of people have approached me with all manner of questions and dilemmas in regard to the faith, no one has yet confessed themselves distraught upon consideration of the current English version of the “Our Father.” The whole affair seemed a bit of an unnecessary distraction when all was said and done.
What we need are the words which bring us certainty in these times of uncertainty, the light of faith amidst the gloom of merely human affairs which will not last. Lack of leadership when it comes to faith and morals or too much and overweening theological experimentation can leave us discouraged and dissatisfied. Too much entanglement in the affairs of the mundane and the seeking of political power will never feed our deepest longings.
Talk of dictators in the city of God hint at sacrilege in His temple, where words akin to the thrice-holy incantation of the angels themselves should only be uttered.
The all-consuming fires in the west, natural disasters in the south, and the violence of terrorism and social fratricide in our city streets often begin with wars of words which take up useless and destructive arms rather than seeking agreement to lay them down in forgiveness and compassion.
Words which call for the sacredness of the womb and the life it brings forth are not yet spoken by all, inviting violence into the very moment life is breathed into matter, the greatest miracle we can witness with our natural powers.
Cultural turmoil, attacks on marriage and family and a dangerous and troubled world speak of the need for their opposites: the balm of concord, the affirmation of the good and true which continues to unfold before us every day in the sacrificing service and selfless love of so many. When much seems to be changing and not for the better, one must reaffirm what does not change.
We need once again to speak the words which tell the story of God’s goodness and love born for us, all His glory and majesty present though hidden in the humanity of a poor and vulnerable newborn Child. To speak of this is to affirm the divine goodness and love hidden today and every day in the humble Eucharist appearing among us as we celebrate the Masses of Christmas once again.
The miracle in a rude stable at Bethlehem 2,017 years ago comes to us sacramentally in our churches everywhere on the anniversary of the birth of the Child born that cold and starry night. Many beautiful words have been spoken by our brother Luke, and can also be uttered by each one of us again, to spread the goodness of this gift.
The word of knowledge in the “miracle” of medicine cannot take us beyond the flesh first brought into being through the marital embrace of our parents, wonderful as the achievements of organ and blood transplants might be which restore lifeless flesh. Even the raising of Lazarus restored him only to the vulnerability of flesh which he enjoyed before his untimely demise.
This above all is what the world needs now: not words which, spoken today, might be all too readily forgotten or discarded tomorrow. Not words which describe only what is passing as the way of all flesh. Not words of war or hatred, or which can change their meaning like empty and interchangeable vessels. We need an uncreated word, a word beyond the taint of sin or death or human power to alter or destroy. We need a saving and eternal word.

“… and the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.”

Merry Christmas!

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