Friday, December 24, 2004

The Fullness of Time and Other Strangers

Every miracle can be explained -- after the event. Not because the miracle is no miracle, but because explanation is explanation. -- Franz Rosenzweig

A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be a fool. -- G.K. Chesterton

Some years ago, not long after I returned to the Catholic Church, a random thought struck me about the notion of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If Christ is truly present in every tabernacle of every Catholic church (perhaps some churches in the Los Angeles, Richmond, Albany, and St. Paul dioceses excluded) in the world, as the Catholic Church maintains, then that fact has some fascinating implications.

For example, if true, and if believed by Catholics, why would such Catholics ever want to be anywhere else? Why not simply hang around church all the time? Shouldn’t you try to be with that Presence around the clock? Why drop in for just an hour or so once a week?

I never really came up with a very good answer, other than that such spiritual stalking -- I won’t call it worship -- doesn’t seem very practical, whatever its transcendent mercies. We get hungry and sleepy. We have things to do. We have to work and live and die. We cannot just hang around church all day.

These things that we all have to do -- these things that keep us out of church, that keep us from doing, if what the Church teaches is true, what everyone should really want to do -- are necessities. They come with the turf of human existence.

The God that gave us the Real Presence -- an amazing thought in itself -- also created us. He knew we needed to do the very things that keep us away from the eternal Presence. He must have intended us to do these other things, then, even if they keep us away from the Real Presence for a week at a time, because we are living in the real world, and God put us here. And yet, the Real Presence is still there, in every Catholic church in the world.

I would not have created things this way. I would not have created a sacrament that way. God’s way is too internally inconsistent. And yet somehow, his way is better and seems more real, more improbable but still completely true, even if it does not appear to make sense.

This idea of a Genuine Plan, of a Design, that seems internally inconsistent, but is true, came back to me as I considered Christmas.

Christmas is hard for our age to grasp. Increasingly, it has become simply a commercial buildup to one bacchanalian day that fits into a smear of celebrations -- stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day -- that most people call “The Holidays,” presumably to blunt its Eurocentric poison and give them an excuse to eat Kwanza chicken.

However, because most of ostensibly Christian society has become completely divorced from the idea of a Church year, with its seasons and feasts, Christmas is just one day in the string. It is like a rose garden in the middle of the desert -- we come across it, maybe enjoy the looks of it, smell the roses a little, and slip back into the desert, taking with us a few good memories, but likely as alienated as ever.

Christ’s birth was a long time ago. It came at a rough time in human history. It came to a scratched out part of the world, and happened to those who, looked upon objectively, were not the consequential people of their day. It was an improbable start for what became a very big idea. Like the demand for constant worship implied by the Real Presence, the Christmas story seems unlikely, even crazy.

As we face Christmas morning, we are left considering something that -- like Christ in the tabernacle -- makes little sense and seems to imply impossible devotion. And like the notion of the power of the Real Presence, believers are left with many questions.

But at bottom, rests a rock-hard, stark proposition: that at one particular moment in time, and no other, at a time chosen for reasons that make no sense to me nor, as near as I can tell, to anyone else, God chose to enter human history to embark on a mission to save every soul, from the beginning of the world to the end of time.

Like so much else about God, it is just crazy enough to be true.


Blogger Harry said...

Permit me a misquote from Walker Percy.

"He loves those who knows the worst of us and don't turn their faces away."

12/24/2004 05:36:00 PM  
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