This is Advent. This is the eschatology of “already” – “not yet.” Christ seems absent but He is already here in us as His images, baptized into Him, but not yet fully achieved by self-giving in work and family life.
“I have told you that one day while looking at a map of the world, a man who was not a bad-hearted fellow but who had no faith said to me, ‘Look, from north to south, and from east to west. Do you see?’ ‘What is there to see?’ ‘The failure of Christ,’ he said. ‘For so many years he has been trying to open men’s hearts to his teaching, and you see the results. There are no Christians.’
“At first I felt very sad. But that sentiment soon gave way to love and gratitude. For God our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has left men completely free. And moreover the Son himself has become man: semetipsum exinanivit formam servi accipiens he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant). He took on our own wretched flesh: sinless, but flesh like ours. Let us look at Christ on the Cross, and his victory over death, his rising again. And the wonderful seed he sowed in the hearts of that group of holy men and women who worked alongside the first disciples.
“But let us return to my unhappy friend’s assertion: the failure of Christ. You have heart me say so often that Christ has not failed, because the teaching of Christ enriches the world today. Nevertheless God has willed that men should be free. It is we men who are unwilling. The Redemption is taking place at this very moment. And you and I are co-redeemers.”
“What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us. And if, after all our labor and efforts to live on the basis of what is Christian, we draw up the final balance sheet, then often enough the feeling comes over us that the reality has been taken away from us, dissolved, and all that remains in the end is just an appeal to the feeble light of our goodwill. And then in moments of discouragement like that , when we look back on the path we have traveled, the question forces its way into our minds: What is all this array of dogma and worship and Church, if at the end of it all we are still thrown back onto our own poor resources? That in turn brings us back again, in the end, to the question about the gospel of the Lord: What did he actually proclaim and bring among men? (...) Christ’s message can be summed up in one saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel’ (Mk. 1, 15).”
The answer of Benedict XVI is faith and the understanding that God cannot be seen as we see neon signs and dollar bills. Christ said so. When He received the messengers from John the Baptist asking if He was the one that was to come or should they look for another, He responded that miracles attesting to His presence: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them, and blessed is he who is not scandalized in Him… these miracles point to His presence here and now. But to see Him and not be scandalized, we have to keep going through conversion so that we can become “like Him” and therefore know Him.
But St. Josemaria has something more concrete but no less mysterious: not only to become “like Him” but to become Him. The way is the same. It is faith, but faith with the deeds of small things in the ordinary life of work and family life.
Most recently, Benedict XVI said the same at the end of his Schulerkreis on September 2, 2012: “Dear friends, let us ask the Lord to give us this gift. St James tells us today in the Reading: you must not limit yourselves to hearing the Word, you must put it into practice. This is a warning about the intellectualization of the faith and of theology. It is one of my fears at this time, when I read so many intellectual things: they become an intellectual game in which “we pass each other the ball”, in which everything is an intellectual sphere that does not penetrate and form our lives, and, thus, does not lead us to the truth. I think that these words of St James are directed to us theologians: do not just listen, do not just intellectualize — be doers, let yourself be formed by the truth, let yourself be led by it! Let us pray to the Lord that this may happen, and that like this the truth may have power over us, and acquire power in the world through us.”