December 31, 2013
The end of 2013 is now upon us. Two thousand nine years have elapsed since our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary in a stable cave in Bethlehem, in the land of Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:16). The entrance of the eternal and all-powerful Son of God into our sinful world in the form of a tiny little baby was such a profoundly transformative historical event that it split in two the way we reckon time: All the years leading up to Christ’s birth are denominated B. C. (Before Christ), while the years following His birth are designated A. D. (Anno Domini, the Year of our Lord). From the time of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the people of Israel waited four thousand years for the coming of the Messiah who would save them from their sins and reconcile them with God. All the righteous people who lived and died in those millennia preceding Christ couldn’t go to Heaven but had to wait in Sheol, “the abode of the dead,” until Christ by His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension liberated the captives and opened the gates of Heaven. Christ’s coming to earth some two thousand years ago changed the world forever, bringing light to those in darkness and hope to those in despair. Through His Church, Christ offers all men and women forgiveness of their sins and restoration of the greatest gift any human being could ever possess: the gift of sanctifying grace, the gift Adam and Eve lost by sin, which gives us a share in God’s own Trinitarian life, makes us His sons and daughters, and entitles us to share in the unimaginable happiness of Heaven for all eternity after our death. Wow! That is something to rejoice about. That is the Good News of the Gospel that we as Christians are called to share with everyone on this earth. God indeed loves us more than we can ever imagine in our little finite human minds. We believe in His love, and we hope in His love. Faith, hope and love go together. But “the greatest of these is love.”
Now, the fact that we acknowledge and believe all this to be true does not allow us to ignore or gloss over the realities of sin, suffering, evil, and death that continue to afflict our world. Christ’s descent to earth two thousand years ago did not magically dispel these tragic realities that have marked and continue to mark human history. Rather, his Incarnation was just the beginning of God’s definitive triumph over sin and death that will be completed at the end of the world, when Christ will return in glory to judge all mankind and when God will create new heavens and a new earth. The continuing and even worsening presence of sin and evil, suffering and death in our world is a mysterious part of God’s master plan for human history. Not that God originally willed or made any of these negative realities, but in the unfathomable designs of his Providence, God is allowing them for His own reasons that we human beings, constrained by our finite minds and short lifetimes, cannot fully understand or appreciate. Our faith tells us that God holds all of His creation in His hands at every moment and that He governs it through His Providence, so we have to trust that He knows what He is about. Our faith also tells us that God brings good out of evil, and that this is the reason why He allows evil in the first place. The worst evil He ever permitted—the murder of His own Son on a cross—led to the greatest good possible, our salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. If God allowed his own perfectly holy and innocent Son to suffer such a cruel fate, can we sinners who follow Him reasonably expect to have a carefree and easy life? No. On the contrary, Jesus said that if anyone wishes to come after Him, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. Being a Christian is not easy; it’s not a joyride. Not as long as we live on this earth. But as Saint Paul reminds us, the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come. Even a life full of pain and suffering for more than 100 years would be a small price to pay for the eternal happiness of Heaven. Christ the Son of God did not come to earth to free us from suffering; rather, he came to share in our humanity, in our human experiences and sufferings and miseries, to show us how to suffer well, and to illuminate our sufferings with the comfort of His loving presence in our lives. Through his heroic self-sacrifice for our sins out of love for us, Christ has given us the opportunity to freely and spiritually unite our own sufferings with his, thus giving them a redemptive value and Christian meaning for our own greater good and that of our fellow brothers and sisters. In some mysterious way, it is precisely when God seems to be at His weakest by permitting terrible evils that His almighty power is most gloriously manifest. So while sin and all its accompanying dark realities remain present in our world, God is with us. He has entered into our history and profoundly and irrevocably altered its course. Troubled and threatened as it is, our world today is a brighter and happier place than it would otherwise have been because the quiet and peaceful light of the Son of God made Man has entered it and continued to illuminate it ever since that first Christmas more than twenty centuries ago.
Through the joys and surprises, successes and failures, sorrows and vicissitudes of this past year, God’s mysterious wisdom and Providence were remarkably evident. The historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the unforeseen election of Pope Francis were two of the most surprising and joyful events of the year, respectively. I was sad to see Pope Benedict go and unsure at first about Pope Francis, but now I see God’s hand in these events. God inspired Pope Benedict, who served His Church humbly and well, to resign a very demanding position because of his ailing health, in order to allow for the election of a new and different kind of Pope from Latin America who would reacquaint a Church in need of reform and a world in need of God with the joy and simplicity of the Gospel message. If Benedict had not resigned, Pope Francis could not have brought together three million young people for World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero. Nor could he have inspired Pope Francis to summon the whole Church and the world to pray and fast for peace, thus averting what could have been a disastrous U.S. war with Syria. Nor could God have used him to wake up the Church and the world to that terrible evil that has come to plague our modern globalized society, namely, the globalization of indifference, our callousness and lack of concern for our suffering brothers and sisters all around the world, symbolized by the repeated tragedy of impoverished African migrants shipwrecked and drowned at Lampedusa. Although it did not anticipate his election, the world has come to love Pope Francis. God is obviously using him in a big way, as we never could have expected back in February when Pope Benedict made his stunning announcement. And, to top it all off, Benedict XVI continues to serve the Church, including his successor Pope Francis, through his prayers, writings, and friendship. The ways of God are marvelous indeed!
Of course, we cannot overlook the fact that many bad things happened this year also. Several more states and additional foreign countries legalized homosexual “marriage,” which is against nature and nature’s God. Abortion, hunger, violence, and war claimed millions of innocent lives. Violence destroyed lives and valuable property in Egypt, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere, while millions of people in the Middle East and Africa are living in refugee camps, largely forgotten by most of us. The tiny Christian community in the Holy Land dwindled further as Christians continued their steady exodus, while continued injustice and terrorist violence driven by religious fundamentalism (both Jewish and Muslim) kept the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling hotter than ever. Droughts, floods, storms, mudslides and famines affected many parts of the globe. Poverty, disease, and corruption continued to affect most nations of Africa, while the global gap between rich and poor is wider than ever before.
And here in the United States, despite strong leadership from our Catholic bishops and the prayers and action of millions of Americans, our predominantly immoral and corrupt federal government has stubbornly refused to significantly amend or withdraw its immoral, unjust and unconstitutional anti-life mandate, which is set to begin being enforced tomorrow. I have a feeling that, once our government attempts to enforce this illegitimate law, our country may never be the same. But regardless of the terrible consequences such enforcement will bring, we must not give up the fight for the natural law, for our religious liberties, or for our moral conscience rights. We must continue fighting until this unconscionable law is repealed and our God-given human rights are once again officially recognized and respected in law.
As followers of Christ, we are a people of hope. However, Christian hope is not simply blind optimism in the face of difficult situations. Nor is Christian hope dependent upon changing circumstances and temporal realities. Rather, our hope is in God. God is with us. He, the same God who became man out of love for us, who accompanies us in our earthly lives, is the all-powerful and wise God who directs the course of history toward its ultimate end, which is His glory. God’s Kingdom will ultimately be triumphant over the powers of darkness, and we who serve Him faithfully on earth will reign with Him forever in Heaven.
In conclusion, the following lines from an old song ring even truer today than when they were first penned:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old familiar carols play, And mild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then in despair I bowed my head, “There is no peace on earth,” I said; For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong will fail, The right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Wishing you a blessed New Year.
Copyright © 2013 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.