A weekly column by Father George Rutler.
The four weeks of Advent are a test of how profoundly or superficially we understand the meaning of life. In these weeks, the Church reveals the deepest mysteries: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Christ saves us from the banality of skimming life on the surface: eating, working, shopping, sleeping, waking up and doing it all over again. He created us for great glory, and that is why people become frustrated when they ignore these great mysteries. “Angst” is a kind of neurosis, stemming from an unwillingness to listen to the voice of Christ. He may be drowned out temporarily by idle chatter and amusements, but as St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.”
Rushing Christmas, and not thinking about what Christ wants us to be, are signs of a culture absorbed in itself, so that it becomes no greater than itself. That old maxim is poignant no matter how many times we repeat it: “A man wrapped up in himself becomes a very small package.” More important than wrapping gifts in this season, is the obligation to unwrap ourselves: to confess to Christ our failings and our desire to live life as He wants it, so that we might rejoice with Him forever and never be separated from Him.
Our culture is enduring a severe test of itself. If Christ does not rule our minds and hearts, mere humans will try to do it, and they will do it badly. When the Judges of Israel wanted a merely human king, Samuel warned them: “He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become slaves” (1 Samuel 8:14, 17).
Our Lord promises that the truth will set us free. His word is truth. That is what He told Pontius Pilate, whose life was a dreary routine mired in cynicism. But even Pilate was amazed that Christ's own people had “handed Him over” to the government. By their own declaration, the crowd wanted “no king but Caesar.” Had they obeyed Christ’s truth, things would have been different for them. Each generation is tempted to hand Christ over to cynics. We do it when we barter our conscience for comfort and our freedom for frivolity.
If Catholics behaved as Catholics, our culture would not be satisfied with getting little things from elected officials in exchange for our moral dignity. If we only want things, we shall only be things. Christ looks at us, as He looked at the crowds when He walked on this earth. And amid the passing fashions of mindless men, He says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).