Jan 23, 2015
One of the gems that Kierkegaard has left us is to remind us that the Bible should be read on our knees - thereby condemning secular Biblical scholars who approach it “critically,” aiming at “debunking myths." They pride themselves that they are “scientifically minded” and that science alone can give us valid knowledge.
Christmas is one of the most joyous days of the year. The overwhelming news given to Mary by Gabriel at Nazareth, now finds its fulfillment in a humble cave at Bethlehem. What is most striking in this face to face holy dialogue between the Angel and the young virgin is its sparseness of words. His greeting, however, is eloquent: he calls her “full of grace,” and shares with her the divine message. She is deeply troubled by his words, and raises a question: “how can this be?” He puts her mind at peace, and then, the Blessed one utters words that should resound in our hearts every day of our lives: “I am the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to Thy words.” He then departs.
For the next nine months, the Son of the most High will grow, hidden in the sacred temple of Mary's womb. This unfathomable mystery will, however, be revealed in a dream to her holy spouse (Matt 1- 20). Joseph is never granted a face to face dialogue. Finally on the 25th of December, in the cave of a small village, the Blessed One among women, gives birth to the Savior of the world.
Whereas we are deigned to know the words spoken by Gabriel and Mary’s reply, here there is only deafening silence. Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and put Him in a manger.
How tempting for modern man, infected by the poison of an unhealthy curiosity triggered by television, to assume that some concrete detail about this divine birth will make it more savory, more “convincing,” more likely to be accepted by “modern man.” This is why it has been suggested that, following Jesus’ birth, the blessed one among women, like all mothers, ejected a placenta. I recall touching upon this theme with Cardinal Arinze. His Eminence’s comment was: God has revealed what we need to know for our redemption, but He said nothing to satisfy our curiosity. Such suggestions, however well meant, must make the angels cry: for the supernatural is inevitably desecrated by being dragged down on a purely natural level.
This is the temptation menacing many “biblical scholars” – with the tragic consequences that faith is inevitably undermined.
In fact, what are we entitled to know? Our blessed faith tells us that Mary was a virgin prius ac posterius, that is both when she conceived our Savior and when she gave him birth: To be a mother and remain a virgin, to give birth and remain a virgin, never entered a man’s head: the supernatural must be received on our knees, in fear and trembling. How inspired G.K Chesterton was when he wrote that man should not forget "how tall he is on his knees." The birth of Christ, like his conception, is an unfathomable mystery.
St. Joseph alone was present. This most privileged human male, several times mentioned in the Gospel, is one of the most mysterious in the New Testament. He never utters a single word, and moreover, all the messages he received are given to him in dreams. It was by means of a dream that he was informed that his holy wife - visibly pregnant - had been fecundated by the Holy Spirit. He believed. It is also in a dream that he is ordered to take the child and his mother to Egypt to escape from the murderous intentions of Herod (Matt. 2- 13). He does not question or object: he obeys. Once again it is this mysterious means of communication which tells him to take the Mother and her Child to Nazareth where they settled; he obeys (Matt. 2- 19). We also know that he was a carpenter, providing by means of his trade the needs of the Holy Family. He never says a word, but his deafening silence teaches us a most precious lesson - namely, that trembling reverence and reverent trembling are the only adequate responses when facing a mystery. Joseph listens and obeys. What a lesson for us: this most silent of all saints is in some way the most eloquent precisely because – to those who have ears to hear – the willingness to listen in silence grants us insights into the "Mysteries of the great King," compared with which long perorations are only a mere flatus vocis. Many are those who do not hear because they do not want to. To purposely close our ears explains “the hardness of the human heart” mentioned by Christ – a hardness that can only be softened by humility. The condition sine qua non for hearing a divine message is the willingness to obey it once perceived. Deafness goes hand in hand with the unwillingness to obey. A deaf person knowing that he is deaf will desperately try to perceive others’ voices, often has recourse to a hearing aid to be receptive to its information or command. The very opposite takes place in this case. Many are those, alas, who willingly blocks their ears, and then can “honestly”say : “I did not hear.”
One of the many dangers menacing us today is noise: we are deafened by it wherever we go; moreover we are bombarded by a deluge of visual sensations. One wonders whether it does not damage the human brain, incapable of registering such a torrent of images. To place a small child in front of television, so that mammy “can have peace” is, I fear, a very risky solution. Psychologists will tell you how many children are restless and already at an early age, manifest psychological problems. Common sense tells us that stability and quiet are crucial for infants, and not only for them. I know young children age one or two who have already traveled thousands and thousands of miles. Their parents are so restless that any excuse is good to go away from home. It is not by accident that in his holy rule, St. Benedict underlines the crucial importance of stability and silence in spiritual life. As a matter of fact, a monk is not permitted to speak until questioned, and is told never open his mouth except to relay necessary information or share words of loving wisdom. (Holy Rule: Chapter VI)
The Gospel tells us that when we shall face our Creator, we shall be held responsible for every unnecessary word we have uttered. How many of us, when making our examination of conscience at night, ask ourselves: how often in the course of the day "have I disobeyed this wise advice, nay this command?" It is, however, related that once the greatest King of France, St.Louis IX invited St. Thomas Aquinas to dinner. Apparently the Silent Ox never opened his mouth. The King gently hinted at the fact that when sharing a meal, it is lovingly charitable to exchange ideas.
May I suggest that there is still another reason for veiling what happened in the course of the Christmas night. The Bible informs us that the King has secrets, and in this vale of tears, very few are granted to have insights into some of them. We should realize that “we are not worthy” to know them. In eternity, when everything “will be made new,” we shall grow new organs, that will enable us to have some insight into divine mysteries. The degree of ‘intimacy’ with these divine secrets will depend upon the degree of holiness that, with God’s grace, we have attained. It was St. Teresa who wrote that not two persons in heaven will have exactly the same degree of closeness to God. But whether small or great, all the blessed ones will all joyfully join the choir of angels singing 'Holy Holy Holy.'
Indeed we should read the Gospels on our knees.