A particular history is the keystone of the Christian conception of man, of his morality, in his relationship with God, with life, and with the world. Our hope is in Christ, in that Presence that, however distracted and forgetful we be, we can no longer (not completely, anyway) remove from the earth of our heart because of the tradition through which He has reached us.
– Luigi Giussani
I read the text of the Christmas poster when it was released and, I must confess, did not think much of it at the time.
Having been exposed to this text again via an email from a friend I have spent some more time reflecting on it. For me, this particularity that Giussani mentions is the great scandal or stumbling block of the Christian faith.
Why then, why there?
Why not here, and now?
Giussani draws our attention to this tradition through which He (Jesus) has reached us, the Church. Giussani shakes us from falling back into that common conception of the Church as merely an institution or structure of purely human making, because if that is true then we really have no need for it. The Church then is not life giving, but rather a museum, interesting perhaps, but not essential. In fact, it is a particular history that in many respects, one would want to distance oneself from.
If however we see or experience the Church for what it truly is, an unbroken communion of persons united in the living person of Christ, and the Communion of the Trinity, we see and experience it as a living and breathing body. As a memory, not only of something that happened long ago, but a memory of something that continues to happen in my life, and in the world, despite, as Giussani says, my distractedness and forgetfulness (of which there is much!). The living tradition exists as a real and tangible reminder of Him whom we follow. It is the ongoing presence of Him whom we follow.
This particularity is, as previously mentioned, scandalous in many respects but it is also Christianity’s greatest strength – it is it’s only point of truth. Without the concrete particularity of His coming amongst us as a clump of blood in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth; as a helpless child born in a stable; as a walking, talking, tortured and crucified man; without all this Jesus is merely abstract, merely an idea. Without him passing by, on the shore where John was Baptising; without Him being singled out by the Baptist as the ‘Lamb of God’; without John and Andrew following after him, and Him asking them what it is that they want – without this encounter there is no living tradition, no Church, no ongoing presence of Him who Is.
So yes, He was really and truly present then and there, in a particular way, but He really is present to us now in and through the Communion of Believers, the Church.