Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation to all of you! What Christmas makes manifest, begins in hiddenness on this very day. It begins with the central Fact of all time and space: et Verbum caro factum est—and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
The Son of God becomes zygote Jesus today for one reason: to save each human person and to save us together as His extended Body. The Annunciation and the Triduum are strictly correlative. The Son of God comes to die. His self-emptying goes all the way to the Cross so that billions of humans might be filled with the fullness of God, in a Kingdom of perpetual joy and love and wisdom, a Kingdom of infinite delight.
The Creator assumes a creature (His sacred humanity) into His divine identity, so that never again will the Son of God, the eternal Word of the Father, be other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified!
The Word becomes flesh today, so that prayer might become the meaning of history. The transvaluation of all worldly values happens through our unilateral, preemptive, and asymmetrical love for our enemies.
In yesterday’s second matins reading, from Pope Saint Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on “Job,” we read: “His prayer to God was pure, His alone out of all mankind, for in the midst of His suffering He prayed for His persecutors: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
“Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one’s torturers by making intercession for them? It was thanks to this kind of prayer that the frenzied persecutors who shed the blood of our Redeemer drank it afterward in faith and proclaimed Him to be the Son of God.”
When we are being tormented, our first thought might understandably be to pray that our suffering end. (This is something I have struggled with greatly.) But if we follow the crucified Lord, our first impulse must rather become a burning desire for the good of our tormentors. This would include for us, yes, a desire that they stop tormenting us, as it is far more damaging to inflict pain unjustly than to suffer pain unjustly (as Plato insists in the Gorgias), but whether they stop or not, our prayer must be, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Tough stuff. But it’s pure Christianity. A Christian can make no excuse for failing to live this way, because, of course, Jesus is pleading for each of us to His Father. WE strike Him; He pleads for us. If we have received the mercy of becoming Christian before others have, it is for one reason only: to serve as instruments of the crucified Lord in extending that mercy to the others.
The Word becomes flesh today, so that He can bleed for us, so that prayer might become blood:
“The text [in Job] goes on fittingly to speak of Christ’s blood: ‘Earth, do not cover over my blood; do not let my cry find a hiding place in you.’ …The blood that is drunk, the blood of redemption, is itself the cry of our Redeemer. Paul speaks of ‘the sprinkled blood that calls out more eloquently than Abel’s.’ Of Abel’s blood, Scripture had written: ‘The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth.’ The blood of Jesus calls out more eloquently than Abel’s, for the blood of Abel asked for the death of Cain the fratricide, while the blood of the Lord has asked for, and obtained, life for His persecutors.”
The blood of the Victim, Who suffers in every victim from the beginning of human history to its end, conquers malice, conquers the victimizers, by loving more. I wrote yesterday that Jesus is prayer in Himself. Well, prayer as the analogy of being is not just the Word. It is the Word made flesh so as to bleed through all the interstices of creation and history. I think of the end of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: “See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament.”
(A note: this is no counsel for remaining in abusive relationships. It is counsel that we must always forgive our abusers. There is no limit to Christian mercy. None. At. All.)
This is all summed up in the communion antiphon from yesterday’s Mass: Diligere Deum ex toto corde, et proximum tamquam seipsum, maius est omnibus sacrificiis (To love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself, is greater than any sacrifice).
The point of the Christian religion is the point of the Annunciation: to bestow unmerited mercy (unilateral, preemptive, and asymmetrical love) upon every human, so that we may all join in one Body of praise to the good Father, Who wants only endless good for each one of us and for all of us together.