Show us Your Countenance Father
The true countenance of God the Father and the human masks of God
To our friends, supporters and to all the People of God who live in the world,
I cordially greet you from the heart in the Lord who comes to bring joy and peace to a world full of suffering and focus of wars. Our faith believes that joy and peace are brought by the Lord, the child of Bethlehem, our only true friend in these too often transient societies.
On the other hand, the Christmas event responds to a question of life, inscribed in the deepest desire of the human being, to “see God”, “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?” (Psalm 42:3). This yearning remains unshakable in our existence, while “everything else passes”.
It is true, as Saint Paul says: “For the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Perhaps it is better to say that the present form of this world has already passed, because — thanks to the Christmas of the Lord Jesus — we are already immersed in “new heavens and new earth” (see Revelations 21:1). The time before has passed, indeed it is over, because the “heaven of the heavens” is here on the Earth with Jesus, in Jesus, through Jesus. Therefore “the sky has turned upside down” ((Fr. Don. Primo Mazzolari in the audio book “Il cielo capovolto” on stage at the Palariviera of Saint Benedict del Tronto, on the occasion of the Caritas Italiana conference.) and now we live a “new” time. This time of ours is “new” because surely time — χρόνος — chronos — which is measured by a clock, with the days of the week, with months and years — advances within the ever more incessant and swirling cultural upheavals of our historical event, but this time is “new” because the times — καιρός — kairos — that which is the providence of our life and is measured by the maturation of the heart in love — advances within the changes of our ever more friendly lives, united, just, loyal, humanly beautiful.
The coming of Jesus lets time flow — chronos, but time changes completely — kairos. Therefore, with Christmas, it is now time for faith alone, because “This is the time of fulfilment […] Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Converting and believing in the Gospel is the same thing: we believe in the Gospel by converting ourselves and convert ourselves by believing in the Gospel. It is impossible to do otherwise. The Gospel urges all to conversion. Otherwise it cannot be announced, nor can it be accepted. Conversion is a change of life and coincides exactly with listening and welcoming the Gospel: because the Gospel is Jesus Himself in person.
“Incarnation” is a somewhat difficult word within the English vocabulary with which we declare the truth of the Catholic faith: truly the Son of God became flesh, truly the second person of the Trinity assumed the body a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and actually became man. This difficult word — Incarnation — however comes from a modest story: in a grotto of Betlehem, the little infant born of Mary of Nazareth is not only the son of man, but is actually also the Son of God. Therefore, the actual man (true humanity) therefore the true God resembles Him (the true divinity, that is the true transmission of whom God really is) resembles Him. He is, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, tells us (that is, he reveals to us) who God is and who mankind is.
True man and true God means precisely this: from Jesus of Nazareth onwards, man and God walk together in the streets of today’s society with their true face.
Jesus came in fact, to burn the masks of man and God. On the masks of man, the great Pirandello gave lectures to the whole world with his novels: “in the long journey of life you will meet millions of masks and a few faces”, he said on several occasions. For his part, Marco Mengoni an Italian singer-songwriter in his “Credo negli esseri umani” (I believe in human beings) the lyrics of his song begin like this: “Today people judge you, for the image you have, you see only the masks. He doesn’t even know who you are” [my translation] This is precisely what happens between us human beings, who look at the masks that we put on ourselves or others put on us every day. The risk is that it can transform the ordinary life of so many people into a perpetual and endless carnival, where everybody simply “recites a part”, within a-now-no-longer-innocent hypocrisy.
The masks of man are of a different nature, depending on whether one has a supporting scene rather than another, that is to say an actor in a play rather than a drama. This happens in every sector of human life: within politics, as in economics, within society, as in the family.
And within religion? Most, definitely. It was no coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth — always the little infant in the grotto of Bethlehem, who later grew up and became a prophet and a teacher in Galilee — calling the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed sepulchres” because they were like institutions in the Israelite religion. Hypocrisy is not an endowment of religion, but rather of the religious of every epoch and in every experience of the sacred. It is not religion that imposes hypocrisy, rather it is the heart of man which masks itself in religious hypocrisy. In fact, religion only requires that the person “believes” and, instead, quite often to the contrary, people of religion “do not believe”: Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:6).
By not believing, people of religion transform a religion into an empty container, elaborately beautiful on the outside, vacuous and empty on the inside. The emptiness is then filled with weeds and putrefaction, whilst religious appearances are safeguarded in their external beauty, and in their aesthetically irreproachable adornments.
A non-believing religion is a mask, a religion that believes is the face. Therefore Jesus turns to Galilee and Judea, and seeks faith and he asks himself, with a question that has traversed the centuries and will remain forever: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Unsettled by this question, from this angle we ask ourselves: What then, is the Catholic and Christian faith?
It is first of all to reveal the “human face of mankind”, removing all the masks of his brutalisation. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to reveal the true human face of mankind. In the mirror of the Nazarene, so many inhuman forms of today’s human masks, in their hyper-consuming societies, appear as clearly as the “brutality of life”:
- “The waste of bread and water”, a metaphor for all the wastes of the world on the part of wellbeing, in the face of the poor who do not have food and drink and live in conditions of social hardship, new beggars and impoverished by our recent history, often forced to sell themselves (either with their bodies or with their dignity);
- “The discarding of people”, a metaphor for all the phenomena of corruption, in which power, masked by respectability, exercises the greatest of all violences, shutting down all avenues of possible futures, in the working world, school, education and access to all of the fundamental rights of the human being;
- “The anarchical exploitation of the earth’s resources”, a metaphor for every abuse that makes our “common home” — the human habitat of the earthly paradise which is our planet — no longer habitable for most human beings in continuous migration, in search of a “new beginning”;
- “Preventing human beings from having access to a new quality of life in new territories and cultures, or of those conceived in the womb of mothers, born, coming into a world which then prevents them from being able to reach their full potential, or coming to the essence of their birth, in the love of welcoming and joyful parents who awaited their coming.
Surely, the infant Jesus was a fortunate human being. He came into the world for the joy of Mary and Joseph, for the joy of the shepherds, for the joy of all humanity — “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (see Luke 2:14) — the words that we also sing at Christmas.
Now, the glory of God! Dear sisters and brothers, do you actually know what the glory of God is? It is not that sentiment of honour or magnificence that we pay to God when we pray to Him and say “glory to God”. The glory of God is the manifestation of His true face, making Himself visible, in a radiant and beautiful way, in His intimate nature. Behold, the glory of God is that He is recognised for what He is, as He is seen: God is love. The glory of God is His manifestation of love and the manifestation of this love is His glory. And now we ask ourselves: where does this love manifest itself, where can we see it? Where is it? For us to be able to recognise the glory of God, we must come to know it.
Here then is the good news of Christmas. This love/glory of God cannot be seen in “our own glories”, in our successes, in our riches, in our scientific discoveries, in which we recognise our creative greatness or in the extraordinary natural phenomena in which we register our powerlessness and we should/could contemplate the omnipotence of God!
This love/glory of God is seen and manifested in the “the infant that is born in Bethlehem”, a testimony of how smallness can be infinite and how much from the “waste” a cosmic blessing can come into the world that is valid for everyone: for the pastors, foremost, but also for The Magi: for the kings, surely, but also for all the refugees of the world: for the poor by force of circumstances, but also for the rich.
An indispensable condition and that we recognise the true face of God in Jesus of Nazareth and see in Him the glory of God. In Him, that is, in His humanity which everyone can “see”.
Faith is the sight that enables us to see this humanity and recognise the glory of God.
Religion is not enough. Better said, catholically, its the religion that believes, its a religion that lives on faith, its a religion that gives life to faith, that is, active in charity: Fides quae per caritatem operatur / faith that works through charity.
Without charity faith is dead and religion is without faith, therefore, with a dead faith, without life, therefore empty, because it works not so much with the face of God manifested in Jesus, but with a mask of God.
Religion without faith is itself a human mask, available to all Catholics (bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, lay faithful, men and women, old, young and adult people) who do not want to labour in charity, believing themselves to be satisfied only with sacred rituals and prayers, incautious of what Jesus has clearly said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). To do the will of the Father is to love each other with concrete and Eucharistic gestures of friendship, solidarity, fraternity of love.
Corporal and spiritual acts of mercy (the latter, being “spiritual” are no less corporal than the former and vice versa) are then available to any Catholics — even after the Year faith has past — continuing to give “body to the faith” with personal and community humanity renewed, so that the glory of God shines in the world and is appreciated by all, because it is lived as a blessing by the many.
In the yards of community of parishes, the same is true for our parish communities. The parishes, that have remained intact in their identity, are called to work together, as a mission, so that everyone can see the glory of God. His true face, in our mutual love and respect, and in our love for others. The parish is “the Church close to the people in a territory”, with the parish the Church is near to everyone. All our communities are therefore — as Pope Saint John Paul wanted them to be — “the home and the school of communion” [Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the bishops clergy and lay faithful at the close of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000]. And they really will be because they will become less bureaucratic and self-reporting and adopt a greater missionary endeavour.
The “communities of parishes” do not merge as parishes into one super-parish, but rather unite parishes into a single movement of love, transforming them into “explorers of mercy” on the streets of a territory, witnesses of a church that remains perched in its own territorial enclosure and in its own temple, and instead a church that goes, is an “outgoing church”. A Church which goes forth: “and for this reason it knows how to try harder in taking the first step, knows how to take the initiative without fear, to go towards it, gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelisers thus take on the “smell of sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelising community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. He lives an inexhaustible desire to offer mercy”. Jesus tells his disciples: “blessed are you if you do it” (John 13:17). A true disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed.
Thus, in this way, not only individuals, but also parishes or communities can “burn” the human masks of God and show the world His true face, an epiphany in Jesus of the love that God is from the eternal, of His glory.
For years now, my sisters and brothers, I’ve been asking everyone one of you to be able to organise this manifestation of love, with Eucharistic gestures lived on Sunday’s, because Sunday is the Lord’s day, the community is gathered as a “body of His love”. After the celebration of the Eucharist, then, we see that this body of God’s love — we who have fed on the body of God-love — decanting love on the streets of mankind, for the margins of existence, comprise of human caused and natural disasters throughout the world, but also from families destroyed by other cataclysms, from violent and senseless killings, from the sick who are nailed to the bed of pain, from the young people who have been disoriented by false-hearted role models and lifestyles, by the refugees who arrived on our shores and are in need of everything from bread to clothes, telephone cards, but above all, of human affection, relationships, friendships and welcome.
And let’s do it together and on Sunday this Sunday and every Sunday thereafter, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). Give glory, that is, they recognise the true face of God, taking away the human mask from God being imposed upon him by mankind — more or less consciously — through religion without faith, which is only satisfied with “saying the prayers with the lips” (see Matthew 6:9) and does not want to practice love nor charity in faith.
True prayer, in fact, reaches the heart of God and transports us into his heart and from his heart downwards, showing us the misfortunes and the difficulties, the pain and the suffering of so many of our brothers, as well as the waste and estrangement which men, women, young people and children are subjected to every hour of the day, from a dominion of evil within the hypermarket societies.
Of course, all this involves the conversion of each and every one of us, starting with the our Bishops, obviously, together with the priests and deacons, so that they may be “coherent” guides of the radical nature of love, to which the Father calls us: the priests work together, pray together, together they study the practical forms to give visibility to the communion of parishes in their labours of charity, in which only the identity of the parish shines, and if this requires “organisation”, we all know that the essence of the Church is not in the organisation, but in communion, the fruit of mutual forgiveness, of mutual aid when difficulties arise, of gathering together all of the “good Samaritans”, closer to the poorest (always poorer) asking the wealthy (always fewer and ever more wealthier — accruing wealth from our worlds’ resources which belong to all of us — they do not belong to the few) to change their lives, so that they can become more supportive and begin to share with all of humanity.
Jesus comes into the world so that all men can meet with Him and in in Him encounter the true face of God, beyond any possible mask that the “faithless religions” always place “in the face” of God.
- Meeting Jesus, then, the mask of a violent God who wants only wars, disputes and violence, in cooperation with some people against the others, immediately expires in his nullity. In fact, Jesus wants peace and forgiveness for all. If we are true to ourselves, we must affirm it out of our love for the truth: only in the New Testament does the believer find no pretext at all for encouraging, supporting and practicing evil, even if one were to slap his brother in the face. Jesus preaches the forgiveness of all enemies, somewhat differently from an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth of the ancient canonical scriptures. Even the God of the prayers in the Psalms, the one who “brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm, destroyer of nations and peoples so as to make room for Israel” (see Deuteronomy 5), must now deal with the Father of Jesus — the true face of God — who instead declares himself the God of all, the God-love for all. Therefore, not only in Islam, but in all religions, even the “unbelieving Catholicism” (which is a religion devoid of Christianity) must finally come to know that, in Jesus Christ, God is only a God of love, one of peace, one of justice and one of mercy.
- Meeting with Jesus, again, the God who sends earthquakes, and who punishes anyone who commits suicide with his own hands. I have been able to observe recently after the press fabricated news (today we live in the time of the post-truth – by post-truth we mean it relates to or denotes circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.): “to affirm that God sends earthquakes to punish, is equivalent to admit, almost with scientific reasoning, the non-existence of God”. It’s true. The God who exists shows his glory with forgiveness and love, therefore he would not send natural disasters, he would not kill people in accidents, above all he would not wish for the suffering of our brothers and sisters with tumours and cancers.
- Finally, when he meets Jesus, the stop-gap God disappears, the imaginary fruit of an irreligious religion that can only make God look bad in this world. This is a God who is used only in times of need and who believes himself to be bent to his will with prayers, sacrifices, and little sacrifices. Another is the true face of God m Jesus who asks for conversion into freedom, so that in the freedom of love one can regenerate one’s life by putting oneself into play in concrete gestures of sincere friendship, of broad solidarity, of generous fraternity: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (see Hebrews 10:5-7).
How vital it is then to meet God in His true face. I am glad to have read that various diocesan Youth Ministry Services around the world have in the past called upon young people to attend an Advent vigil, one of the themes used was: “shew us thy face, and we shall be saved” (Psalm 79:4). Encountering the face of God. Our beautiful and good humanity is at stake. A Catholicism that believes and which encounters Jesus testifies to the love of the Father in the concreteness of existence which is ever changing. One does not see this in ideas or in our most pious nocturnal dreams, but in the facts of the Gospel which these converted lives manage to “bring to the world” that is, they generate. Believing Catholics are generative, in every sense of the word. Certainly within marriage, but in all of their lives, they generate love in family relationships, within the community, social and working relationships, and economic environments. In the Infant of Bethlehem, they know they will find the deep and ultimate root of these generativity, first of all because we are all “children of God through the Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth”, whose generation is eternal. Through Him our being generated is also eternal— it is predestined in Christ, — for which not only have we been generated, but have always been generative. All the good deeds we are able to bring into the world tell of our fecundity. It is a generativity which is explosive and widespread, how much more the human being meets “His image and likeness”, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, the true face of God-agape.
Think then of the rich young man who ultimately does not want to change his life. Think again of the Samaritan woman who wants to worship the living God in spirit and truth, according to the proclamations of Jesus. Finally, think of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector at Jericho who changes and gives half of his possessions to the poor, and if in the past he has been dishonest financially or stolen from someone he restitutes it with a fourfold increase.
And why do Zacchaeus and the Samaritan woman convert? Because in Jesus they encountered the true face of the living God: a welcoming God, who forgives, who listens and bends over human wounds to heal them with the balm of mercy. Beyond the religious formalism, beyond the respectability of the masked hypocrites of religion, beyond every sacredness that separates pure and impure, God manifests himself as love, only love and always love in Jesus.
In Advent we walk towards Christmas. We walk towards an opening of the eyes — we mature in faith — to be able to in that grotto recognise the true face of God, to whom we resemble. It is a journey of discernment, dominated by a deep rooted question embedded in the depths of the heart: “do I really look like Jesus?” Translated for everyone: “Am I really a human being?” The human race of the twenty-first century remain human, are human, that is, do they resemble Jesus? The manger then becomes not just a moment for personal piety, but rather for social criticism, for a cultural revolution. Resembling Jesus is the imperative with which to recover love between all of humanity, peace, respect for human rights, recognition of the human dignity of all, a care for our terrestrial habitat, humanities common home, in other words our communion in parishes, faithful and indissoluble conjugal love in families, paying special attention to all bonds especially to those who are weaker or have been aggrieved.
In conclusion, I’d like to share with you, the text of a song by Italian songwriter Renato Zero, entitled ALT, and the lyrics to the song Gesù (Jesus) which encompasses the words of my Christmas message. The translation from the Italian is, ‘alas’, my own:
Jesus, Slowly / We navigate slowly. Progress has switched us off already. Away / All those enthusiasms. No one will exult. The ark has also ran aground. Dark times for all of us. Hope is no longer enough for us. Poor / Poor Men
Jesus / We no longer resemble you. Jesus / Anger is at fault. As beggars / Transmigrating by now. Across mountains seas and dangers. Jesus / No miracles today. Never again / The choir of angels. Now / Odours of war / The earth is on its knees. Alone / More alone than ever. The heart can’t take anymore.
So much life of love and poetry. A freshly baked bread and harmony. All around the fire not now. May the heavens dissolve / The Souls. Jesus / You stopped believing in us. Jesus / You are still with the last ones. Help us brother / one more time you can. As now this burden is unbearable. Jesus / The innocent implore you. Jesus / The infidels humiliate you.
It was a world inclined toward beauty, Compared to purity. Perhaps too right is he, As long as hatred did not grow, with greed founding an absurd hierarchy. Jesus / Nature has its limits. Jesus / Who poisons your pastures. Rivers now forbidden / Dumps there. What you thought a garden is now a desert that advances. Jesus / We are guilty. Jesus / If you can still do it. Forgive us / Forgive us
I take this opportunity to wish each and everyone of you a Holy and peaceful Christmas and a joyous New Year, in the rediscovery of your faith in all of its beauty, of the works of mercy to be fulfilled so that salvation bursts into our homes and bestows joy to your families and to all the families around the world.
May they accompany us on this journey of maturation in faith, to the always amazed discovery of the face of the true God, through our Holy Mother Mary, our Staircase to heaven, Saint Bruno Founder, Saint José Sánchez del Río lay Martyr and Blessed Rolando Maria Rivi Seminarian Martyr, patron saints of St. Mary’s Hermitage.
Heartily and with affection, I pray you may have grace and blessings on your path to finding the true face of God.
11 December 2019 being the 2nd week of Advent and Feast of Pope Saint Damasus I