Circular Letter: Advent 2022
“Walking as Children of Light” (Eph 5:8)
“The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn 1:5). How true this is still today: Jesus, our Light, has come to reveal to man the truth of God’s love and man’s exalted vocation to live the divine life of love, “but the darkness did not comprehend it.” How much spiritual blindness, coldness of heart, greed, indifference to human suffering and godlessness do we experience in the world around us, despite the fact that Jesus Christ has come and “dwelt among us”? Even the simplest of truths, that man is man and woman is woman, and that together man and woman form a family, is flatly rejected. It is a rebellion against God and His order in creation, just as in the beginning the unfaithful Angels rebelled against God and His loving and wise plan to become Incarnate saying, “I will not serve!”
The origin of darkness
Through this rebellion, darkness entered creation already at the very beginning, the darkness of evil and sin. For in His wisdom, love and justice, God had allowed a spiritual shadow to come over all the Angels at the moment of their creation as a test of their fidelity, that in blind faith they might choose and freely merit an eternal union of love with Himself. But through the sin of their non serviam (I will not serve!), the fallen angels lost the light of God and became darkness in their whole being, forever. The faithful Angels, on the contrary, by their fidelity and faith merited to enter into the light of the Visio Beatifica, and became light themselves, participating in the eternal Light of God and His Divine Love. “And God separated the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:4), the faithful from the rebellious Angels.
Instigated by the cunning of the serpent, this darkness also entered human history through the sin of our first parents. In consequence, Cain became a murderer, and his descendants fell into idolatry, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. St. Augustine traces the great divide in human society by describing the marks of two cities, the earthly and the heavenly:
Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God [and] the witness of conscience. (City of God, XIII, 28)
Thus from the beginning, man, too, has been divided into those who “worship the beast”, the god of greed and self-seeking, and those who “follow the Lamb”, serving God, who is Love, and seeking to be conformed to His image by His grace, and in following right conscience. All mankind has entered inexorably into battle: to live for or against God. Indeed, man himself is the object of this battle, the prey of the demons who seek “revenge” on God by destroying His creation and turning man against Him. Knowing our weakness in the face of these mighty adversaries, however, God sends His Holy Angels to help us:
At the side of the People of God stands the luminous Angel. He protects and guards, he leads and makes way, he fights and helps us to take the victory. He throws light upon the right path and the future. At the side of the heathens, however, gather a thousand demons, goading them, tempting them to a thirst for power and malice, to pride and brutal violence, to idolatry and treachery. Their temptations (“Do not fear God! You will not suffer any harm at all if you do not obey, on the contrary…”) always have the serpent as their origin, which we know today as the god of money, the god of greed and self-seeking. (Mother Gabriele, Christmas Letter 1958)
The light of holiness
With the Incarnation of the Son of God, God cast His light, His very Self as the Light of the world into the world’s darkness of evil and sin, of hate and selfishness, of betrayal and infidelity. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). God Himself became man, the perfect man, in order to teach fallen man by example what it is to be made in the image of God and about our vocation to divine sonship (cf. GS 22). Jesus teaches us to say “Our Father”, to love and trust God as our truly good, wise and all-powerful Father who gives all, His very Self, out of love for us. And by His gruesome death on the Cross, Jesus shows us just how much God loves us! Thus, “He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning” (ibid.). Especially in this Advent season, we want to set out anew on this path of holiness of life, in imitation of the Child Jesus who became so small and poor for us in the manger.
Jesus merited for us the gift of His Spirit, giving us the power and grace to imitate Him and to walk in holiness of life. “The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son who is the firstborn of many brothers, received ‘the first-fruits of the Spirit’ (Rom 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love (cf. Rom 8:1-11). Through this Spirit, who is ‘the pledge of our inheritance’ (Eph 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of ‘the redemption of the body’ (Rom 8:23)” (GS 22). The light and grace of Christ extends not only to Christians, but to all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way (cf. LG 16).
For, since Christ died for all men (cf. Rom 8:32), and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery. (GS 22).
In the letter to the Hebrews, we see that this statement presupposes that they be given the gift of faith, for: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Thus only in Jesus are we given the light and grace to understand and to live the divine call to holiness of life which leads us to true happiness. “He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit: Abba, Father (cf. Rom 8:15)” (GS 22).
The light of the Church
Since the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, it is through the Church, and through us His members—both human and angelic—that Christ extends His light to all generations; for “Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which He communicates truth and grace to all men” (LG 8). The Church “has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus…she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other” (GS 4). Unlike the German “synodal way” which seeks to conform Church teaching to the degeneracy of modern culture and moral permissiveness, it is the hierarchy of the Church which has the duty to teach men of all nations in the light of the Gospel about the meaning and dignity of human life, and how to live in conformity with our divine sonship in order to attain true happiness.
[For] the Good News of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and evil which flow from the ever-present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches…it fortifies, completes, and restores them in Christ. (CCC 2527)
The desire for moral permissiveness, even within the Church, springs from an erroneous conception of human freedom. True freedom rests on the truth of the nature of man and his call to a blessed union with God already in this life, and then forever in heaven. This is his moral and spiritual dignity. Thus, “the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law…[an education] respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man” (CCC 2526). If God has called us to moral uprightness, then surely He gives us the grace to live it. For grace “perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by His love.… [It is] the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call” (CCC 2000).
Do we truly believe in the power of grace? In times of trial and temptation, do we trust that God wills to give us the strength to overcome, if we but ask for His grace? Truly, grace does not impede our freedom, but strengthens it, enabling us to recognize the truth, to resist sin and to live in accord with our nature, and thus to find true happiness already in this life! How much misery and ruin sin has caused in the lives of men and families! Infidelity, addictions, selfishness—we were not made for sin! That is the lie of the devil. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). “In Him we have communion with the ‘truth that makes us free’ (Jn 8:32)” (CCC 1741).
Walking as children of the Light
We pray in the Our Father, “hollowed be Thy Name”. It is our moral and upright life which glorifies the Father. This is our true worship, as St. Paul exhorts, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2). Through prayer and in the Sacraments of the Church, most especially in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus gives us the strength to follow Him, to be His light in the world. In receiving Jesus in the gift of the Holy Eucharist, we receive Love. He asks us to guard and carry this love out into the world, to let it become fruitful in us in works of love, to let His Love be the light of the world.
By teaching the truth of man’s dignity and final destiny, his call to an eternal life of love with God in heaven, the Church brings light and hope to mankind also in the midst of sorrow and suffering, the hope of a life to come where God will “wipe away every tear” (Rev 21:4). She teaches us the salvific meaning of suffering as a participation in the redemptive suffering of Jesus. “Her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart…restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. …Apart from this message, nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man” (GS 21). “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (St. Augustine, Confessions I, 1).
Thus, as Christ’s Body present in the world, we who have been justified and sanctified by the Blood of the Lamb in Baptism are to bring into the darkness of this world the light of the grace of faith, through the holiness of our lives and actions. For “grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with His work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church” (CCC 2003). We bring the light of Christ to our surroundings by bearing witness to His truth, His love and His mercy, that is, by living and active faith which serves and suffers in union with Christ for the conversion and salvation of souls. If faith has truly taken hold of us and penetrated our whole being, then it will be revealed in our lives by our deeds!
Concretely, our works of love and mercy, especially towards the poorest, reveal to the world the God who is love. As St. James says, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Our sacrifices and works of love, and especially our sufferings can be offered in expiation for the conversion of so many far from God, for so many who offend God by misleading even small children (gender ideology!), for priests and bishops who have entered on a false path. The martyrs encourage us, they who were willing to die for the truth of the Gospel with the words, “Father, forgive!” on their lips. And how many Christians are suffering even today in so many countries, offering their torments and even their lives in witness to the faith and in expiation for the sins of the world!
The battle of light over darkness within
Although faith, hope and charity have been sown as a seed in our souls at Baptism, transforming us into adoptive sons and enabling us to live as Christ’s members, we all bear the effects of original sin, and wage a battle within ourselves before any external battle with today’s society and culture.
[For] man is divided within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or social, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. (Gaudium et Spes 13).
The Lord Himself comes to our aid in this interior battle against our evil tendencies by giving us along with His grace and the Sacraments, the guidance and help of the Holy Angels. The Holy Angels, especially our Guardian Angels, teach and admonish us, leading us on the way of purification and sanctification, so that they can make use of us as instruments in the battle for souls.
In silence, the Angel stands before us, a tall figure of light which throws no shadow. [In him, there is no trace of sin!] His countenance is flooded with brightness, for God’s Name is reflected in him. He is our Guardian Angel, our signpost. He goes before us bearing the light, so that we may be able to know how to decide correctly and not lose the direction towards God. What the Angel says to us needs no sound wave for our ear; it simply envelops us like light, penetrates into our understanding and fills our heart. In our heart is to be found the fish-hook of the Divine Fisher, there where the seat of love is. For what use is all the knowledge of the world to us, if we do not have love! Where, however, the ardent love for God burns in His Church, there is also light, there is also right action. (Mother Gabriele, Christmas Letter 1958)
Becoming transparent for the Angel
The Holy Angels can work through us only in proportion as we have become pure and childlike, detached from self and self-seeking, and docile to their inspirations. In this way, we “become transparent for them – through the clarity and integrity of our character, through simplicity and pure love for God” (ibid.). When we have become thus clear and transparent for the Angel and for the Light of God in him, then “through us, [the Angels] can apply their force of radiation more effectively to the battle for the Kingdom of God. Just as the Angels are for us like telescopes through which we can see God much more closely and clearly, as more absolute and majestic, so are we for the Angels like doors through which they can better approach the interior of souls, in order to enlighten and direct their actions” (ibid.). That is to say, when we are purified of our selfishness and self-seeking, the Angels can use us by our merits from prayer and sacrifice to turn the hearts of many other persons to God, those who would otherwise never be open for grace.
Our first battle for the Kingdom of God begins thus with ourselves. We become clear and childlike, transparent, “light”, through living faith and poverty of spirit, through detachment from worldly goods and even from our talents; ultimately, by learning to forget our all-absorbing self. “The Kingdom belongs to the poor and the lowly, which means those who have accepted it with humble hearts” (CCC 544). Christ Himself is the Kingdom of God, and the Holy Angels wish to lead us to a deeper union with Him through an undivided love for God, through the imitation of His life of love and selfless sacrifice, and of service to our fellow man. With every sacrifice out of love for God, we become more selfless, more detached. Jesus goes before us on this way and calls to us from the manger. For from the manger to the Cross, the life of Christ was one act of love for God and sacrifice for souls.
The task lies before us, here and now and before the manger: We must become vigilant and be a light ourselves, if we want to divide, penetrate, conquer this darkness, and turn it into light through grace. As bitter hard as the word about darkness may be, which also means blindness (“and the world knew Him not”) and coldness of heart as well (“yet His own received Him not”), we must always stand on the side of the Word-made-man and give love anyway, irradiate kindness anyway. We must have such living hearts, that also living life full of love and strength can be raised up, in order to win over darkened, cold hearts again for Christ. That is what the Lord means when He says to us: “I want to send you to gather in the lost, the fallen away. That is your work, together with the Angels; it is the most difficult spiritual work. It demands total expiation, total love. For this, you must be free in your heart, strangers in this world, only at home in My Heart.
The call of God is clear, yet it does not force us. We know, however: it will always come to a choice for us, and with every voluntary choice we will become poorer or richer, weaker or stronger, darker or more luminous. Let us consider it well! The light which we bear must become living; our faith must be living, such that it pulls along others; our love must be living, otherwise it cannot storm Heaven! Our direction comes from the love of Jesus in the manger as on the Cross; they are one. True love must always be founded upon sacrifice. Only the love of the one who is sacrificed sees the palm of victory in suffering, sees fullness in poverty, sees the gift of love for God in renunciation. Holy renunciation is a being-allowed-to-give-to-God out of love! When we have come thus far, then we will be cheerful of heart, then we learn like the Angel to see through people and their deeds and grasp things at the root, in order to help and to heal. (Christmas Letter 1958)
In our striving for holiness, we are thus prepared for the battle which rages around us. All of us are aware of the dark and difficult times in which we live, godless. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (Jn 1:11). What sadness God must experience in His creation which was planned with such wisdom and love. Everywhere in society we see evil seemingly triumphing over good. Even in His Church, His chosen Bride, among “His own” God finds infidelity and disobedience, coldness, indifference and betrayal. (Besides all the scandals in the priesthood, just consider the Belgian Bishops, who in defiance of Rome have ratified a “rite” to bless same-sex unions, and the disobedience and loss of faith in so many other Bishops in Europe.) Yet we are not without hope, for in the all-powerful Providence of God, even the darkness serves His wise and loving plan.
Thus, we should not see the darkness without the light. Even in the Book of Revelation where St. John discloses to us so much gloom and darkness, even there is much consoling, bright, victory-promising light for us to recognize. Of course the darkness, which did not grasp and did not want to grasp the Light, Jesus Christ, is always tainted by the eternal darkness of the abyss and will remain so unto the Last Day. But even this darkness has its purpose, which lies in the free choice of will of men and Angels. It is the opposition which allows the light of God and of the good to shine even more sharply, even more brightly. It is – in the human sphere – the mysterious ground for God’s miraculous power, to raise up life even from hard, dead stones (and how many human hearts are petrified, withered, stiffened!) by the grace of Redemption. Every missionary on the other side of the world and every pastor of souls in our own nearby land of neo-paganism can tell us about this. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Once you were darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.” (Eph 5:8) (Christmas Letter 1958)
Besides the Holy Angels, this holy and quiet time of Advent is placed especially under the protection and intercession of Our Blessed Mother, Mary. She walked quietly and hiddenly in the midst of the great throng of people on the way to Bethlehem, bearing the Light of the world, which was only reflected in her silent eyes. She offered every strenuous little step with love to God, interceding for all the darkness which surrounded her. Love enveloped her, love radiated from her. Her careful and delicate silence speaks to us of God’s love, and the great gift He gives to us in the manger.
The darkness did not grasp it, but with the grace of God we can grasp the wonderful, truly Divine condescension out of love in the event of Bethlehem. There, by the manger, we want to light our lamps and rejoicing with the Angels adore the LORD of the world! (Christmas Letter 1958)
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