Friday, December 23, 2011

Who Passes Away and Who Remains

          Once upon a time there was a King, a strong, tyrannical King who, at the head of the Mongol hordes, left the borders of his Kingdom and entered into the neighbouring countries, putting villages and towns to fire and the sword, and making slaves of those inhabitants that his barbarity had not managed to massacre: before him even the wild beasts fled: behind him he left nothing but blood, slaughter and death!

He had his deeds carved on the rocks of the mountains, so that his name and his fame should bring terror even to future generations.  When he felt his end approaching, he had a big mausoleum built, destined to be his eternal tomb; the stones were colossal, real blocks of the hardest sandstone, quarried from the centre of gigantic mountains.  He wanted his body to be embalmed with precious essences, so that death would not affect it; the centuries would see him pass on unchanged, untouched, even by death.  He then ordered his dagger to be placed in his hand and his shield on his arm, and his visor to be lowered over his proud, grim brow - terrible and frightening even in death!
But nowadays among us his name only lives on in a few dictionaries, in old dusty history books, useless notebooks for our hard working students.
Whoever reads or encounters that name by chance, wonders just as Don Abbondio del Manzoni asked about Carneade: Who was that man? His name no longer lives among us: Genghis Khan!

We give no sign of recognition and our hearts do not beat faster, even when we hear talk of him, one of the greatest conquerors of the world.
Rain and bad weather have already destroyed the last stone of his monument, and even the most dogged archaeologists sought in vain among the ruins for the tomb of the terrible Mongol who is no longer here.
The sand of the desert has rubbed out even the traces, and the avenging wing of time has destroyed his name, although it was carved into the living stone of those worlds that saw him pass triumphant, that heard the valleys echo with the cries of the savage attacks, and the earth tremble and groan under the feet of his elephant. (...)
 There was, however, another King, a mild King and, even more than King and Lord, a gentle father of his people.  He did not have soldiers, neither did he ever want them. He did not spill the blood of anyone, he did not burn the house of anyone. He did not want his name on the rocks of the mountains, but in the hearts of men!  This King never did anyone any harm, he did good to everyone, even as the sun's light shines on the good and the wicked.  He held his hand out to the sinners, He went out to meet them, even sitting and eating with them, to inspire trust, to release them from their passions, their vices and, having rehabilitated them, direct them towards an honest life, to good, to virtue.
He gently placed His hand on the feverish brows of the sick, and healed them from every weakness.  He touched the eyes of those born blind and they saw, and saw the Lord in Him!
He touched the lips of the dumb, and they spoke and blessed the Lord in Him! To those stricken with deafness He said: "Hear!" and they heard; to the lepers and outcasts He said: "I want to cleanse you," and the scales fell from their lips, and they were cleansed.  He brought the light of comfort into the slums, and evangelised the poor, living in the poorest region of Palestine.

He did not seek a following among the great.  He did not exalt those strong in intelligence, in muscle, in pocket, but rather the humble and the poor, being extremely poor Himself.  "Foxes have holes, and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," He said.  He lived frugally, getting his followers accustomed to the discipline of mortification, of prayer, of work, so as to fortify them in the life of the Spirit.  He was the first to mortify Himself, to pray, to work hard, thus sanctifying work by His own hands and His own life.
Of simple appearance, He loved purity, free of any trimmings; the sanctity of life and doctrine He possessed in such abundance as to show that He was the One sent by God.  His eyes and face were illuminated with such heavenly bliss that no honest person could feel unhappy after seeing such a face.
To those who asked Him how they should live, He replied: "Love God above everything and your neighbour as yourself; strip yourself of all that is unnecessary to give it to the poor, and then, if you want to be perfect, renounce yourself, take up your cross and come, follow Me...!"
To the crowd that surrounded Him, in order to listen to Him, or because a wonderful healing power came from Him, He spoke words of superhuman gentleness and eternal life: "A new commandment I give you: Love each other in the Lord and do good to those who do you harm."

About children He said that their Angels can always see the face of God and that happy is the person who remains always a child at heart and as pure as children. He blessed innocence, and out of the greatest Divine love He loved the little ones, to the extent that - although He never raised His voice - he cried: "Woe to those who give scandal to the innocent..."
He multiplied the bread, but not for Himself, for the crowds.  He never made anyone cry, He cried for everyone, and He cried blood!  Instead He dried the tears of so many people and so many lost souls.
To the dead He said: "Rise up!" and, with that all-powerful voice, death was conquered, and the dead rose to a new life. He had a word of pardon and peace for everyone:  He blew a breath of refreshing charity on everyone, a life-giving ray of light, lofty, divine!
Wickedly persecuted and betrayed, He loudly invoked His Heavenly Father even on the Cross, to forgive the barbarians who had crucified Him.  He, who had returned Peter's sword to the scabbard, who had never spilled the blood of anyone, willingly gave all His Divine Blood and His life for men without distinction between Hebrew, Greek, Roman or Barbarian: a true King of peace: God, Father, Redeemer of all!
         He willingly died with His arms stretched out, between heaven and earth, while inviting all - both angels and men - to His open, torn Heart: yearning to embrace and save everyone, everyone, everyone in that Divine Heart: God, Father, Redeemer of everything and everyone!

         No, Jesus did not have a mausoleum built for Himself like Genghis Khan, like the ancient kings; and yet we see everywhere raised up to Heaven, in the big cities and the little villages, a house consecrated to His memory; even where there are no human dwellings, among the eternal snows, a chapel is built - a poor hut perhaps very similar to the grotto in Bethlehem - and above it, on its own, is a Cross, which recalls the work of love and immolation of Jesus Christ Our Lord; that Cross speaks to people's hearts about the Gospel, about peace, about the mercy of God for men...! 
It is not His miracles, nor His Resurrection that won me, but His love:  that love that has conquered the world! (...)

And today, throughout the world, "Christmas" is celebrated, the "Holy Night" of the "Birth of Jesus".  And it is a serene joy for all, a great, universal joy!
It is the gentleness of God that is felt, it is the holy power of the goodness of the Lord that is greater, oh yes, much greater and longer lasting than the noise of all the battles of this world, of all the conquerors of this poor earth!
The goodness of the Lord draws us closer amid the arid and painful wrong turnings of life; the celestial light of this mystical night of Holy Christmas attracts even the souls furthest away - travellers who are misled or lost - just as the light of the paternal home attracts in the dark forest!  Oh Divine Light of the Baby Jesus!  Oh sweet and holy goodness of God and of the Church of God!

Brothers, let us be good in the goodness of the Lord, and then never fear that your efforts will be in vain.  Every good word is a breath of God.  Every holy and great love of God and of men is immortal! 
Goodness wins always: It has a special veneration even in the coldest, most solitary, most distant of hearts.  Love conquers hatred; good conquers evil; light conquers darkness!  All the hatred, all the evil, all the darkness of this world, what are they before the light of this night of Christmas?  Nothing!  Before Jesus, Baby Jesus, they are really nothing!
Let us comfort ourselves and exult in the Lord!  The effusion of the Heart of God will not be lost through the evils of the world, and the final conqueror will be Him, it will be the Lord!  And the Lord conquers always in mercy! 
Whoever conquers in another way passes on, and is no longer talked about!  Kings pass on; the conquerors of the earth pass on; cities fall, kingdoms fall: sand and grass cover over the pomp and grandeur of men, and the wind and the rain scatter the monuments of their civilisation.  "...The ox - in the urns of the heroes - quenches the thirst," sang Zanella.
Everything passes away: only Christ remains!  He is God, and He remains.  He remains to enlighten us, He remains to console us, He remains to give us, in His life, His mercy!  Jesus remains and conquers, but in mercy!
May Your name be Blessed for ever, Oh Jesus!

Father Luigi Orione

Christmas letter written in 1920

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