Feast of the Holy Innocents

December 28, 2016 / By: Robert K. Vischer

For Christians, this season is a powerful reminder that we do not face the challenges of this fallen world alone.  Immanuel – God with us – is an infinite and eternal source of hope, demonstrating that the Almighty Creator of the Universe cares enough about each one of us to become a baby born in a manger. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, the Incarnation reveals that “God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in . . . . He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

God’s radical love for human beings revealed through the Incarnation provides a compelling and countercultural reason to love others as we love ourselves.  Increasingly, it seems, our world defines us by our differences and implores us to care for others only to the extent that they look like, think like, or act like we do.  Or at the opposite extreme, the world urges us to ignore difference and push everyone into the same consumer-driven framework, as though culture, religion, and worldview can be glossed over by maximizing economic self-interest.  Both extremes contribute to what Pope Francis refers to as “the globalization of indifference.”

The Incarnation offers a better way: Christ came because of His love for human beings, and that love was not diminished by the particularity or messiness of the human condition.  Christ’s love does not ignore or negate difference – it transcends difference through a radical embrace of “the other.”

The division and discord of the present day have been painfully on display in settings ranging from an encampment of protestors outside the Fourth Police Precinct in Minneapolis to an encampment of refugees desperately trying to escape Aleppo.  We are grappling with serious concerns about the well-being of religious and racial minorities, with diminished trust in social institutions (including the Church), and with anguished questions about the continued viability of a shared vision of the common good. 

Under these circumstances, we need the Incarnation more than ever.  The hope of Christmas provides the foundation for a conception of solidarity as robust as the vision cast by the Church as it recommitted itself to engaging the modern era during the Second Vatican Council:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.

Solidarity is not contingent on our ability to identify similarities between us and the other, but rather, in the words of Pope Paul VI at the time of the Council, “binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path.”

So what does this have to do with the day-to-day life of a Catholic university?  Everything.  In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II charged Catholic universities with the task of forming “an authentic human community animated by the spirit of Christ.”  That is a daunting task, to be sure, but it is, with God’s help, attainable.  It will flow more from an orientation of the heart than a tactical decision of the mind.  Are we ready to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception?  And what would our campuses look like if we did?

As we approach a new year, there is plenty in the world about which to be anxious.  But there is great confidence to be found in the Gospel’s reminder that God is with us.  If we take that to heart, there is neither reason for despair nor time for indifference.

Robert K. Vischer, Dean and Menglar Chair in Law, School of Law