Rorate Caeli

Ignorance of Christ

In Advent, time of expectation, it is interesting to read an almost unknown homily of Pope Paul VI, found only in Italian on the Vatican website. It was preached at a Roman parish on Passion Sunday, April 4, 1965. Excerpts follow:

 “. ... It is a heavy and sad page [of the Gospel]. For it recounts the clash between Jesus and the Jewish people. That people predestined to receive the Messiah, awaiting Him for thousands of years and completely absorbed in this hope and this certitude, at the right moment, that is when Christ comes, speaks and manifests Himself, not only does not recognize Him, but combats Him, calumniates and insults Him; and, finally, kills Him. . . . . Why was Jesus fixed to a cross? What wrong had He done? The Gospel, through the very lips of Jesus, repeats the same question: ‘Which of you can convict me of sin?’ It is because you do not listen to the word of truth. . . . . The Church wishes the faithful to meditate on these beginnings of the Passion of the Lord: she wants them know the causes, the roots, the psychological origin, interior to souls. From there begins the aversion to Christ and the movement which goes so far as to crucify the Lord. This thinking it over is salutary, for it disposes us to better understand the drama of Calvary. And thus, today, what shall we say? We shall observe that this fact . . . repeats itself, prolongs itself: it is an historical reality which continues: even down to us. . . . . Among the many excuses, we will indicate only one: we hear it from the lips of Jesus in the hours of the agony on the cross. . . . Does he perhaps condemn those who have nailed him to the gibbet? Does he desire their ruin? Jesus speaks with the heavenly Father and prays thus: Lord, pardon them, for they do not know what they do! They do not know . . . The same thing repeats itself. We glimpse in the drama of Christianity, in the very same drama of Christ who found enmity, opposition and hostility in the world, a phenomenon of ignorance, of not knowing. Those who do not wish to accept Christ or who rebel against him do not know what they are doing. My dear sons, as a remembrance of our meeting, of this visit of mine to your parish, I wish to leave you a recommendation: seek to know the Lord better; seek to have honest and precise information about the Message of Christ; about this our Religion, in the face of which are so often found such contrary and downright horrendous attitudes. For what reason? Because deep down there is rooted a sin of ignorance, there is lack of awareness, forgetfulness, superficiality, a blinded state of souls. Let us beware of these evils. . . . Would that all of you take note of the great responsibility to listen to the word of the Lord. . . . . My dear sons, do not despise this humble voice which speaks to you, and accept it truly as the echo not of my thought and my soul, but rather as the very voice of Christ, because I am his Vicar, because I have been sent by him, because I am the messenger of his words. It is necessary to believe in Christ, to have faith in Christ. ...”

A sermon more timeless than many a passage in and about Vatican II. In 1965, Paul VI was apparently aware that even Italy was beginning to lose the true knowledge of Christ. Without necessarily meaning to, this homily sums up the whole history of the Church: the rejection of Christ by his people, his acceptance by many Gentiles, and final rejection by the world, including nations which had once accepted him.