February 2: Presentation of the Lord – Purification of Our Lady
“Sign of Contradiction”
“Behold, he is set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction; and for your part a sword will pierce your soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” (Lk. 2, 34 -35).
John Paul II: “The times in which we are living provide particularly strong confirmation of the truth of what Simeon said: Jesus is both the light that shines for man kind and at the same time a sign of contradiction. If not – on the threshold of the last quarter-century before the second millennium, after the second Vatican Council, and in the face of the terrible experiences the human family has undergone and is still undergoing – Jesus Christ is once again revealing himself to men as the light of the world, has he not also become at tone and the same time that sign which, more than eer, men are resolved to oppose?”
“In men of today there undoubtedly is one form of contradiction which one may illustrate with the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Cf. Lk. 16, 19-31). Jesus is on the side of Lazarus. His kingdom will come in this world in accordance with the program of the beatitudes (cf. Mt. 5, 3-10), and we know that the poor are the blessed ones (Lk. 6, 20), the poor in spirit (Mt. 5, 3), the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice and those who weep. Those who take pity, too, are blessed. The great poverty of many peoples, first and foremost the poverty of the peoples of the Third World, hunger, economic exploitation, colonialism – which is not confined to the Third World – all this is a form of opposition to Christ on the part of the powerful, irrespective of political regimes and cultural traditions. This form of contradiction of Christ often goes hand-in-hand with a partial acceptance of religion, of Christianity and the Church, an acceptance of Christ as the element present in culture, morality and even education. Dives appealed to Abraham and turned to him as Father (Lk. 16, 24).
“Certainly there s in this world a powerful reserve of faith, and also a considerable margin of freedom for the Church’s mission. But often it iis no more than a margin. One need only take not of the principal tendencies governing the means of social communication, one need only pay heed to what is passed over in silence and what is shouted aloud, one need only lend an ear to what encounters most opposition, to perceive that even where Christ is accepted there is at the same time opposition to the full truth of his Person, his mission and his Gospel. There is a desire to ‘re-shape’ him, to adapt him to suit mankind in this era of progress and make him fit in with the programme of modern civilization – which is a program of consumerism and not of transcendental ends. There is opposition to him from those standpoints, and the truth proclaimed and recorded in his name is not tolerated (cf. Acts 4, 10, 12, 18) This opposition to Christ which goes hand-in-hand with paying him lip-service – and it is to be found also among those who call themselves his disciples – is particularly symptomatic of our own times.
“Yet that is not the only form of contradiction of Christ. Alongside what can be called ‘indirect contradiction’ – an incidentally there are many variations on it, many shades and blends – alongside that there is another form of contradiction probably arising out of the same historical basis as the first one – and therefore more or less a result of that first one. It is a form of direct opposition to Christ, an undisguised rejection of the Gospel, a flat denial of the truth about God, man and the world as proclaimed by the Gospel. This denial sometimes takes on a brutal character. We know that there are still some countries where churches of all denominations are closed, where priests are sentenced to death for having administered baptism. Perhaps in those areas of persecution there are still traces of the ancient Christian catacombs, of the circuses where witnesses to Christ were thrown to the lions. But present-day persecution, the kind typical of these last years of the 20th century, occurs in a context quite different from that of ancient times, and it therefore has a quite different significance.
“We are living in an age in which the whole world proclaims freedom of conscience and religious freedom, and also in an age in which the battle against religion – defined as ‘the opium of the people’ – is being fought in such a way as to avoid, as far as possible, making any new martyrs. And so the program for today is one of face-saving persecution: persecution is declared non-existent and full religious freedom is declared assured. What is more, this program has succeeded in giving many people the impression that it is on the side of Lazarus against therich man that it is therefore on the same side as Christ, whereas in fact it is above all against Christ. Can we really say: ‘above all’? We would so much like to be able to affirm the opposite. But unfortunately the facts demonstrate clearly that the battle against religion is being fought, and that this battle stil constitutes an untouchable point of dogma in the program. It also seems as if, for the attainment of the ‘heaven upon earth,’ it is most of all necessary to deprive man of the strength he draws on in Christ (cf. Rom. 1, 16; 1 Cor. 1, 18; 2 Cor. 13, 4; Phil. 4, 16): this ‘strength’ has indeed been condemned as weakness, unworthy of man. Unworthy … worrisome, rather. The man who is strong with the strength given him by the faith does not easily allow himself be thrust into the anonymity of the collective (cf. 2 Cor. 12, 9).