Well, I wrote 80% of this blog yesterday, but for some reason dashboard decided to delete most of it. On the bright side, I think this might be an even better post than the original, so here goes!
I’ve been inspired to read P.E. Benedict XVI’s set Jesus of Nazareth, by none other than Dr. Scott Hahn. For whatever reason I decided to do it out of the intended order by starting chronologically. (I don’t always do things by the book.) Today, I was particularly struck by the chorus of angels in Luke 2 for a number of reasons. Hopefully I can work some of those out.
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!‘” Luke 2:9-14 (emphasis mine)
Of course, we have heard this before or read it ourselves, likely both. This however, was a different reading because of a tidbit from P.E.B. XVI.
“What was it, though, according to St Luke’s account, that the angels sang? They link God’s glory ‘in the highest’ with peace among men ‘on earth.‘” (p 74, emphasis mine)
On any other day a few years ago, this would not have jumped out at me; but having had it beaten into my head, by Dr. Hahn, that the “glory of God” is a euphemism for the Holy Spirit, this was an altogether different reading. The first thing that I recognized is that the Holy Spirit accompanies the angel, in giving his message; not only the angel, in fact, but He “shown around” the shepherds who were the recipients of the message. This could mean any number of things: the Holy Spirit was there to present the fullness of the Trinity (Gen 1:1-2), the shepherds who were listening were accepting of the grace of the Holy Spirit to hear the angel’s message (John 16:12-13), the palpable presence of God as understood in the OT was bearing witness to the message of the angel, etc…
The second thing I realized was that Luke link’s the Holy Spirit to “peace among men with whom he is pleased.” P.E.B. XVI goes into lengthy discussion about the necessity for careful translation of this phrase in particular because there are two ways to understand it that could cause confusion. One: God gives grace to who he wants and man is little more than a pawn, having no choice in the matter. (Translation option: “men that he loves”) Two: that people, by their will alone, bring about peace, love and joy. (Translation option: “men of good will.”) On the one hand God only loves some people, on the other hand God is powerless to the will of man. While those interpretations make for fun discussions on sola fide vs works righteousness, neither allow God to be God, therefore, neither can be right. Here is where he makes his case for the best possible translation (and why.)
“In the account of Jesus’ baptism, Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and a voice came from heaven, saying: ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased. [= I have good pleasure]’ The man, ‘with whom he is pleased’ is Jesus. And the reason for this is that Jesus lives completely oriented toward the Father, focused on him and in communion of will with him. So men ‘with whom he is pleased’ are those who share the attitude of the Son – those who are conformed to Christ.” (p 75)
This, of course, brought me directly to the high priestly prayer of John 17. In this prayer is the most brilliant: explanation of the Trinity, example of what it means to have a personal Trinitarian reality, guide to the mission of the Church, argument for the Real Presence, really everything.
“‘The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, an will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee […] I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world […] for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all me be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” (John 16:32-33; 17:1, 6, 19-21)
The truth is, I should have just typed in the entire thing instead of doing such a cut-and-paste job, but here we are. In this selection we run into the Father, the Son and the ever present theme of glory and unity, or the Holy Spirit. The unique relationship of Father to Son and Son to Father, which is the life-giving, unifying Holy Spirit, is the basis for an orientation, like Christ’s, to the Father, that P.E.B. XVI wrote about regarding “men with whom he is pleased.”
At the outset of Luke 2:9 the Holy Spirit manifests himself around the shepherds whose faith is shown through the action of being open to the message of the angel. Then in Luke 2:14, the angel connects the Holy Spirit to the peace of Christ, which is now available for all men who actively orient themselves toward the Father. And John teaches us that to orient ourselves toward the Father is to be one, as the Father and Son, with the Spirit, are one. This is not a peace of the world, this is a peace of the Spirit, a manifestation of perfect Love. Love “does not insist on its own way. […] It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13; 5,7) This is a peace that, by its very nature, brings unity; in marriage, in family, at work, home and in the Church.
A little late for the week of Christian Unity, but always an important thing to remember. And perhaps, a little bit of illumination into the great importance of “dying to self” as Lent comes around the corner.