It is always difficult and delicate choosing a gift, not only because it requires knowledge of the desires, expectations, and sometimes even the bizarre tastes of the person to whom it is offered, but, above all, because, at least on a subconscious level, it is felt that with the gift, a part of ourselves is delivered.
The most appreciated gifts are not expensive. Those that show the greatest involvement of the giver are precious. For the birthday of his wife, Clara, virtuoso pianist, Robert Schumann composed the famous Dream and accompanied it with a dedication: “The song is not suited to your skills, but expresses all my love.” It was the heart that, through music, Robert handed over to the bride.
To the loved one we are willing to deliver what we hold most dear. Abraham loved the Lord to the point of thinking to give him his only begotten son, the son he loved more than his life.
Christmas is the feast of gift. We exchange gifts because we understand that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16) and invites us to respond to his love by becoming, in turn, a gift for the brothers. “This is how we have known what love is; he gave his life for us. We, too, ought to give our life for our brothers and sisters” (1 Jn 3:16).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “The Lord expects of me a gift: the gift of my life to the brothers.”
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week…” (Mt 28:1). This is how the story of the manifestations of the Risen One on the day of Easter starts. That is why the Christians chose to celebrate their weekly feast, not on Saturday like the Jews, but on the following day which the Romans called “the day of the sun.” It was soon changed to the day of the Lord. They gathered “to break bread” (Acts 20:6-12) and to offer to the needy brethren what they were able to save throughout the week (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:9).
The early Church did not celebrate Christmas day or feasts in honor of our Lady, or any other for that matter. There was only the weekly celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.
This went on for the first few decades of the Church. The Christians felt the need to celebrate the central event of their faith in a special way. So the first of the feasts, Easter, considered the Sunday of the Sundays, the Feast of Feasts, was born. It was like the queen of all feasts, of all Sundays, of all the days of the year.
By the start of the second century it was celebrated by all Christian communities. The celebration culminated in the night assembly of prayer which concluded with the Eucharistic celebration. The Christians attached importance to attendance at this feast. A famous Christian writer of the time, Tertullian, speaking of the difficulties that a Christian girl would encounter if she were to marry a pagan boy, says: “Will her husband allow her out the night of the Easter Vigil?
How did Lent begin?
To reap the spiritual fruits of Easter depends on how well this feast was prepared by Christians. They introduced the custom of observing two days of prayer, reflection and fast to express their sorrow for the death of Christ. They gradually prolonged the period of preparation: in the third century it became a week, then three weeks until on the fourth century it extended to forty days: Lent thus began. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D) speaks of the forty days as an institution known to all and spread everywhere.
The Easter feast must not only be prepared; there was a need to prolong its joy and spiritual wealth. The seven weeks, the 50 days of Pentecost were instituted and must be celebrated with great joy because—as Irenaeus put it, “they are like a single feast day and are as important as a Sunday.” During the Pentecost they prayed standing up. Fasting was forbidden and baptisms were performed. They would like the day of Easter to last…fifty days.
In the mythological stories of ancient peoples, deity wielding the bow, ready to shoot arrows at their enemies, often appear. Israel, too, when struck by misfortune, believed that the Lord, outraged because of the sins of his people, had turned his bow against her (Lm 2:4).
An archaic image, legacy of a pagan mentality destined to dissolve with the gradual revelation of the true face of God, who not only holds no weapon to punish, but has vowed to reduce to smithereens any arch of war (Zech 9:10).
Only his bow is deployed in heaven. It is not a threat, but it combines, in a single, affectionate hug, the sky with the earth, and on the earth, all peoples.
“Look at the rainbow—urged Sirach—and praise the one who made it” (Sir 43:11).
It is the serene image of God’s response to people’s sin: not the frowning face, but a light, sweet as a caress; not a menacing voice, but a welcoming smile, aimed at those who, forsaking the Lord, have done themselves too bad.
The ambivalence of the arch expresses a paradox: the wrath of God is nothing but his smile and his severity coincides with tenderness. His justice is mercy, and from his arch, he does not shoot arrows other than those of love.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “From my sinful state I look up and I see the rainbow in the sky.”
During the crossing of the desert, Moses had given to the people of this provision: “The Lord your God walks in the midst of the camp to protect you and give your enemy into your hands; your camp must be sacred that the Lord may not see anything indecent in it; otherwise, he will turn away from you” (Dt 23:15). He put this order in the Lord’s mouth: “Put out of the camp all lepers, and all who suffer from an infection or who have become unclean by touching a corpse. You must not allow the camp where I dwell among them to become unclean in this way” (Nm 5:1-3).
To the ancient the world seemed to be divided into two opposing spheres: one occupied by the forces of life, the other in the hands of the powers of death. To the first God and the pure people belonged, to the second all pagan gods and all that recalled sin. The lepers, who carried in their bodies the hideous marks of the death, were the symbol of impurity and rejection by the Lord.
The Israelites thought so; their spiritual leaders have categorized people into clean and unclean, just and sinners. But does God accept this discrimination? And when it is done, on which side is God?
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounters with the lepers go far beyond the biographical chronicle. They are a message in place of God’s choices: he approaches the impure and caresses them, because none of his creatures is impure, much less his children. Jesus chose the marginalized, those who were rejected by all; for this reason, he became impure himself, was expelled from the camp and put to death out of the holy city, in an unclean place.
Now we know on which side God is.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I disgust sin, but if I refuse the sinner, I walk away from God.”