To commemorate his first Confession, I presented my grandson with a book of bible stories written for youngsters and beautifully illustrated. Days later I received a thank you note from Max (written with penmanship my own begins to rival) in which he expresses his appreciation for the gift. He ends his letter by stating that when we’re next together he will ask me what my favorite bible story is.
I will tell him I have two: one from each of the First and Second Testaments. With the former it would be the story in Exodus about the burning bush. Moses asks God by what name he should refer to Him when addressing his fellow Israelites, and the Lord answers: “I Am Who Am”, a response which declares and confirms the reality of existence. The second story would be that of the Annunciation found in Luke’s gospel. Mary, the young Jewish woman, willingly accepts God’s request that she become the mother of His Son. This is the moment of the Incarnation.
Maybe in time this seven-year-old lad will come to appreciate these two biblical accounts. Perhaps the first will assure him that existence is real and that its Source is both personal and immutable. It may help him avoid the swamps of nihilism that more and more threaten to engulf his world. As for the second I hope the Incarnation impresses upon him the mystery and majesty of ‘verbum caro factum est’ (the Word made flesh) so that each year in spite of our world’s creeping gnosticism he will recognize more deeply the purposed goodness of creation.
But, were Max a few years older I might suggest a different biblical story – not because it is a favorite but because it unfortunately is increasingly relevant to this world in which he approaches manhood. It is the story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel. Then a unified humanity ignored its dependence on God and, much like its Edenic antecedents, aspired to divine status. Their endeavor to build a tower to reach the sky manifested this arrogance and displeased God who frustrated their attempt by scrambling their shared language into a multiplicity of mutually incoherent idioms. One wonders today if we ourselves are not exhibiting such hubris as we jettison tradition and insist that the male/female duality is false and should be replaced by a half dozen other ‘gender persuasions’. As a result of this insouciant disregard for Truth are we, the heirs of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, allowing our common language – the language of God’s natural law – to be so scrambled that mutual incoherence will bring down our own towering civilization?
St. Paul likens Christianity to a wild branch grafted on to the cultivated olive tree of Judaism. This hybrid tree is our Judaeo-Christian heritage, the bedrock of western civilization. I pray that the world Max inherits will be one where proper husbandry of this tree will enable it to withstand the heretical winds that would topple it.