SCALABRINI AND THE INCARNATION
Among the Christian mysteries, the Incarnation - which has its major festival in Jesus’ nativity at Christmas - holds a privileged place in Scalabrini’s spirituality. We should not forget that Scalabrini’s episcopal coat of arms, with the motto of Jacob’s ladder, refers directly to the mystery of the Incarnation as seen by John the Evangelist (Jn 1:51).
Scalabrini’s spirituality has with reason been defined as the "spirituality of the Incarnation" (Francesconi), with the Incarnation being seen in the manner of the Greek Fathers as the event which, "divinizing Christ’s humanity, divinized all humanity. No event escapes Christ... All reality is caught up in the history of salvation [wrought by Christ], it all turns around Christ, it was created by him, in him and through him, and it is all in tension and on the way toward God through Christ" (ibid.). Even devotion to the Eucharist and the Crucified One - two other features of Scalabrini’s spirituality - are also integrated into the mystery of the Incarnation, expanding on it, as it were: "The Eucharist and Golgotha are an extension of the Incarnation" (Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, 1902).
Scalabrini’s writings as Bishop of Piacenza include eighteen homilies for the Christmas Day Mass and six short lyrical-affective outpourings for the Midnight Mass.
Each homily illustrates some specific aspect of the Christmas event. The one found in the present fold-out was given in the Piacenza Cathedral over one hundred years ago, for Christmas 1894. Beautiful and linear in plan, it also contains some salient features of his preaching, particularly the prevalence of the biblical-theological aspect (what God has done) over the moral-exhortatory aspect (what we ourselves should do); hence the constant reference to the inspired books and the thought of the Fathers of the Church. Above all, however, it contains the kindliness of the burning heart of one who is father and pastor. The divisions and subtitles have been inserted by the present editors.
Here we would simply list the subjects of other beautiful Christmas homilies: Christmas as birth of the Church, our infallible teacher (1876); Christmas as mystery of peace because it is reconciliation with God (1878); Christmas and promotion of the poor (1879); Christmas and the Christian paradox (1880); Christmas and human promotion (1881); Christmas and the Kingdom of Christ (1992); Christmas, mystery of wisdom, love and faith (1883); Christmas and the nature of true peace (1885); Christmas and the benefits of redemption (1892); Nativity of Jesus the master (1895); Nativity of the Prince of peace, intelligence and heart (1896); Christmas and the teachings that come to us from the crib (1897); Christmas and the jubilee of the turning of the century (1899)
Homily for Christmas day 1894
1. After a preamble on Christmas joy, as derived from the beginning of salvation,
2. Scalabrini introduces the subject of his homily: love of a God who, at Christmas, reveals himself, gives himself and unites himself with man.
3. Before Jesus’ nativity, God dwelt in inaccessible light, jealous, so to speak, of his privacy; but now he becomes visible and tangible, not through intermediaries such as angels or prophets, but through his own Son. This is the thought expressed in the opening verses of the Letter to the Hebrews. It is interesting that Scalabrini sees in the evil of idolatry a good and natural need of man - the need to see God. And this need is answered by Christmas, which thus reveals God’s love for man.
4. He who is love not only reveals himself, but also gives himself; in other words, he is also the one who comes, and who, indeed, becomes "ours." This solidarity, which started with Christmas, will see its fulfillment and perfection in the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the cross, which were willed for love of us. Christmas - Eucharist - Calvary: three cornerstones of Scalabrinian spirituality, also highlighted here by the reference to the Sequence of the Office of Corpus Christi(Lauds, 4th strophe).
5. The aim of this love which reveals and gives itself is that of communicating his own divine life to us, or, as St. Peter says, that of making us "partakers of the divine nature." It is an "elevation" to a dignity so high as to leave us dazed, because (as Scalabrini says in his 1890 Christmas homily) Jesus has made us "consorts, relatives, concorporeal and consanguineous with God, members of the same household and family as him, with the same blood and lineage as the Divinity." The union between divine nature and human nature as taken on by the Son of God is extended "intimately" to our human nature, even if in a "less perfect" way than in the case of Jesus (because Jesus is the Son of God by nature, while we are his children only through grace), and also "all creation" sets out toward a sharing in the glory of the children of God, as expressed in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8. This is the deepest theological concept in the homily, and contains terminology dear to Scalabrini, when he speaks of the Incarnation as an "extension" of Christ, or as "sonship of Jesus Christ which broadens and spreads" to all men.
The conclusion for such a gift of grace is the liturgical exultemus et laetemur:
"Let us exult and be joyful."
6. The exhortatory part flows naturally: how could we not love the God who has loved us first - and so much that he has become a child for us? The quotation is from St.Bernard.
7. After a clear summary of the three moments, the homily naturally dissolves into a prayer which not only invokes the grace of that love of God but also urges the hearts of the faithful in the same direction.
Homily for Christmas day 1894
1. Christmas, the feast of the beginning of salvation
Dearly beloved, why is there such heartfelt joy in souls, such unusual merriness in families, such universal deep feeling in peoples on this occasion more so than at other solemnities of the Church? Ah, if nothing else, because the thought is deeply engraved in the awareness of Christian nations that our salvation had its start in the most holy nativity of Jesus Christ. This is so true that down to our own days, and until the end of time, years and ages of history have been and will always be counted from that most auspicious day.
Yes, the destiny of all humankind is linked to the birth of Jesus. On the one hand he fulfills the desires of past generations, and on the other he opens up the way to new progress. A new age - the age of freedom, civilization and progress - begins with him. After 1894 years he is still at the head of the civilized world, despite the disbelief of many; and his kingdom will have no end, because it is the kingdom of truth, the kingdom of love: "And of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33).
2. Subject of the homily
We have seen on other occasions how the sun of truth appeared to the world with Jesus Christ’s nativity. Today let us take a brief look at how love appears in this mystery. It is a subject that deserves our full attention.
Dearly beloved, God manifests his love in the mystery of Christmas in three ways, revealing himself, giving himself, and uniting himself.
3. God reveals himself
First of all, he reveals himself. Before the Incarnation - although present everywhere through the infinitude of his being - God, so far as man was concerned, seemed confined in a region immensely far off. He was in the heights of heaven, infinitely above the world that we live in, so that we had to go out, so to speak, in order to look for him and offer him the homage of our adoration. It could have been said that God was jealous of showing himself to his creatures, and ancient people believed that nobody could see him without dying.
Moreover, man’s heart had a pressing need to see God. A hidden God was not enough for him, and this need led paganism to shape idols of wood, stone and metal, and lavish incense on false and deceitful divinities. God had mercy on man’s deep wretchedness and finally allowed him to know him. Through a wonderful invention of his love, this God of goodness bridged the space separating us from him, dearly beloved, and deigned to come to us, clothing himself in our flesh and becoming man, so that our eyes could contemplate him and our hands touch him. "He has been seen on the earth," says the prophet, "and has conversed with man" (Bar 3:38).
"We have beheld his glory," adds St. John, "glory as of the only Son from the Father" (in 1:14).
In the first place, the mystery of Christmas is hence God made visible to humanity. Until then, my dear ones, he had not shown himself to our ancestors except through angels. Now, tearing aside the veils that hide him, he showed himself to us in person. Until then, if he wanted to talk to us, he had used the voice of the prophets, but now it is his own voice we hear: "In these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son" 1:1). Moses rejoiced with the Israelites over their good fortune in having the holy ark that accompanied them on their journeying and from which God promulgated his oracles. He exclaimed in amazement that there was no nation so great that it had its gods close to it as their God was close to them. But, my dear ones, what was this privilege in comparison with the one we enjoy on the basis of today’s mystery? God no longer reveals himself and speaks to us simply from a physical ark, hut in his own Word made flesh: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (in 1:14). What condescension, what truly ineffable goodness!
4. God gives himself
Behold, by becoming man, he, the Eternal One, the Immense One, the Creator and Lord of the universe, the Immortal King of the ages has become our friend, our brother, the companion of our exile. From that day, until the end of time, he would never abandon us, first living thirty years of our mortal existence and then continuing to abide with us under the Eucharistic veils: "When he was born, he became our companion."
With truly singular and exquisite love, he makes himself our food. Nothing is more intimate to us than food, which, by becoming our substance, preserves and renews our energies. And it is precisely under this form that Jesus wants to belong to us: "by being our food at his banquet."
And if this were not enough, on the Cross he will become our victim. To redeem us from sin and death, he will pour out his blood to the last drop and will sacrifice his life, making himself the price for our ransom: "dying he gave himself up as a ransom."
Finally, after giving himself for us in all these ways, he will crown his favors by giving himself to the elect as their eternal reward in the splendors and glory of heaven: "Reigning he will be their reward."
Tell me, my dear ones, has the most ardent and generous love ever gone so far? Has it ever inspired a gift of self comparable with this perfect and absolute gift, a gift without reserve, an infinitely precious gift that has God himself as object, with all the treasures, perfections, riches and graces that are inseparable from him? oh, wonder of truly divine charity!
The mystery of the crib, my dearest ones, is the announcement, the pledge of this heavenly gift. Today God makes a promise to man by being born, a promise he will fulfill throughout the course of his life. He will take no step, say no word, perform no act that is not directed toward our salvation and that does not have our salvation as the final goal: for us men and for our salvation (the Creed).
Yes, from now on, Jesus is ours, really ours, completely ours. May he be everything for us. Blessed is the soul that understands this and therefore seeks, desires and longs only for Jesus in everything!
5. God unites himself
However, the Incarnation of the Word has a still higher aim, my dear faithful. Jesus comes on earth in order to make us live with his life, in order to make us, so to speak, a single thing with himself. "I came," he says, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Now the life that Jesus comes to communicate to us, uniting himself to our souls, is his very own life.
Jesus’ union with the Christian soul is the foundation of the whole supernatural order. Through it, man is raised up to share in the divine nature; and in it, he raises up the whole of creation. "All things are yours," cries St. Paul, "whether the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s" (1 Cor 3:22-23).
These are wonderful words, which reveal to us the whole sublime economy of the Gospel. United to the Word through the Incarnation, the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ has become a single person in him. And we are united to Jesus Christ - in a union which is of course less perfect, but is still indescribably intimate - so that we are like an extension of him, belonging to him as limbs belong to a body.
This is the true basis of the very high dignity of the Christian, my dearest ones, and this is why our deeds have any merit for eternal life. Performed under the influence of Jesus who lives in us, they belong in a way to him, and therefore have a divine form or character. It is also on this basis, as St. Paul says, that we are "blessed, chosen, destined, adopted as sons in Jesus Christ, made acceptable to the Most High" (Eph 1).
This thought is also inexpressibly consoling! God loves his Son: he loves him as of his essence, nor can he not love him. But that beloved Son became man. So God loves man with an undivided satisfaction and delight. So we too are enveloped and included with him by the Father in a single act of love; and as Jesus Christ’s sonship is broadened and extended in us and through us, so too the Father’s love is broadened and extended to us too: "He freely bestowed his glorious grace on us in his beloved Son" (Eph 1:6).
Is there anyone who does not feel touched to the depths of his soul when he recalls these highest truths? As the bridegroom who loves the bride loves through her everything that belongs to her, so God loves us in his Son. The Son is loved for himself, we are loved in him and through him.
So let us rejoice in this day, my dear ones, let us exult; and let us respond with as much love to the tender, strong, initial love that Jesus has shown us by being incarnated: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 in 4:19).
6. Exhortatory part
Was Jesus not born in this way precisely in order to give rise to this noble sentiment in us? Absolute master of all things, he could certainly have taken on a glorious, unfading, immortal body; he could have appeared to the world in the fullness of the perfect age, taken as his home the greatest palace on earth, surrounded himself with the most splendid court ever seen. However, he wanted to pass through the weaknesses and ills of childhood. And why else, if not to win our hearts more effectively? For what, my dearly beloved, is more attractive than a baby? The cradle, writes an illustrious contemporary, is the most enchanting thing on earth, concentrating within it the affection and tenderness of the family, and arousing the most beautiful hopes of both Church and country. The prayers of the parents are set on the cradle which holds the newborn child, as the cup of a flower holds the dew of heaven. Everything that is dearest, richest and most beautiful in the home, be it a prince’s palace or a fisherman’s hut, surrounds this favorite gem of the domestic shrine. Here we feel a kind of air of heaven which makes it a little paradise. We see an angel, as it were, hovering over and protecting that mysterious flower, defending it with his wings in both sleeping and waking hours. Who could look at it without feeling a deep movement of tenderness toward it? Ah, we love a baby! We are forced to love it!... And God manifested himself to us precisely in the ineffable attractions of infancy: wanting to be loved, he chose to be born in this form.
In all his mysteries Jesus has the right to our homage and adoration, but in this mystery of his birth he has above all the right to our love.
As we have seen, out of love he revealed himself to us, gave himself unreservedly to us, and communicated his life to us. So is it not right that we should give ourselves unreservedly to him, live only for him, and declare ourselves openly for him?
Yes, most lovable Redeemer, this is the prayer that we gratefully place at the foot of your venerable cradle today. Let all the peoples bow down before you and adore you, love you, exalt you, bless you.
May all grasp the value of the soul for whose salvation you so humbled yourself; may all understand the sublime nature of their eternal destinies; may all know that there is no consolation, no joy, no peace, no salvation, no happiness outside you. I beg you to grant all this without distinction to all my beloved children and brethren, especially in these holy days.
0 Jesus, be born again in our souls according to the Spirit, so that we may be shaped according to your image here below on earth, and thus become worthy of sharing in your glory in heaven for ever and ever. Amen.
"The awesome God is now the God who loves and wants to be loved, not only for what he is in himself, but also for what he does not show himself to be, the God who gives us greater rights over his heart, the greater the trouble he seems to go to in order to win ours" (Homily for Christmas 1880).