A Charlie Brown Christmas reveals something true of all Christians in our culture. Charlie Brown seeks meaning amid all the holiday hubbub. He feels lost, and his questions only further isolate him. The world’s noise threatens to drown him. Nearing despair, he yells: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
All are silent.
Then, Linus answers. He recites the Gospel account: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field. . .unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior. . .glory to God in the highest.” This answer satisfies.
Christians share in Charlie Brown’s plight, whether in Christmas time or in our ordinary times. We ask the deep questions—“Who am I? Who is God?”—but the world’s answers fail to satisfy. We seek life’s meaning—“What is true happiness?”—but the world offers its latest distraction. Fed up, we cry out: “Isn’t there anyone who knows where I can find God?”
Again, the words of the Gospel give us the answer, or at least in part. We want more than just the mute words of a book. We want the living and incarnate Word. We want more than just being told the truth. We want to see it and feel it, to see and feel him who is Truth. The Gospel promises that Jesus will be with us always. That’s what we want. We want his presence. And so, the question remains: Where can we experience the presence of God?
Father Richard Veras takes up this question in his recent book, The Word Made Flesh: Foreshadowed, Fulfilled, Forever, published by Magnificat. Meditating on the Scriptures and his own personal stories, he mines the riches of Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, as God’s abiding and satisfying presence.
Veras structures his book according to the threefold subtitle: Foreshadowed, Fulfilled, Forever. He first looks at how the Old Testament prefigures Christ and specifically how various episodes foretell a mysterious incarnation of the divine. Next, Veras shows how Jesus fulfills these prophecies and how his presence changed the lives of those he encountered, from the first disciples, to the Samaritan woman, to Pontius Pilate. Finally, Veras reveals how Christ remains forever present to the world through his Church, not just corporately, but through unique ministers, with their foibles and all.
Veras draws upon the thought of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Communion and Liberation Movement. Those familiar with Giussani will particularly enjoy Veras’ writing and his leitmotifs of encounter, exceptionality, person, etc. All the same, those unfamiliar with Giussani will be readily able to understand Veras’ writing.
The theme of Emmanuel unites and defines the whole text. Veras shows the importance of the personal presence of Christ, not just in scriptural stories but also in our everyday lives. He shows how the Christian can find God-with-us, especially in the Church and her ministers. In finding this presence, we are then stirred to extend Christ’s presence to others. Veras ends his book with this heartfelt reflection:
If I do not recognize and welcome Jesus as he manifests himself in my daily life in the particular ways that he chooses, I am a resounding gong or clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). When I am humble enough to be open to his presence, then, as Gabriel assured Mary at the verge of the Incarnation, nothing will be impossible for God (Lk 1:37).
Overall, Veras challenges all Christians to fulfill their fundamental vocation. By our baptism, Christ fills us with his presence and commissions us to carry His Presence to others. We bring his presence to a world filled with Charlie Browns, longing for meaning, longing for someone. May Christ’s presence shine through us and satisfy every longing heart.
Image: Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus (detail).