FEAST OF GLORY AND PEACE
by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
“GLORY to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will" (Luke ). It is impossible for a Catholic to meditate on Christmas without recalling, and almost hearing, the harmonious and luminous words in which the angels proclaimed to men the great tidings of the coming of the Saviour.
It is on these words that we, in union with Mary Most Holy, shall make our Christmas meditation at the feet of the Infant Jesus in the crib.
"Glory." How well the men of old understood this word! How many brilliant and uplifting moral values they saw in it! It was in order to attain it that so many kings increased their domains, so many armies faced death, so many vise men took up arduous studies, so many pioneers ventured into the fearsome wild, so many musicians composed their masterpieces, so many poets searched their souls for the most intense inspiration and so many merchants carried out most painstaking enterprises. Indeed, in wealth they sought more than just plenty, comfort and security; they sought in it power, prestige, and, in a word, glory.
What were the elements of that notion of glory? Some were inherent in the person himself: a lofty mentality, a signal virtue and the exercise of relevant actions. Others were linked to what today is called public opinion. In this case, glory is the visible, wide and outspoken acknowledgment of someone's high qualities.
What is glory good for? How does the desire for glory augment one's soul?
This question can easily be answered by comparing a man who thirsts for glory with another who merely yearns for goods of a different nature: to sleep many long nights in a soft bed, to dine abundantly upon delicacies, to feel safe from risk and uncertainty and to live without struggle or effort amid entertainments and pleasure.
There is no doubt that material goods were created for our use, and that man may desire them in due measure and under the proper conditions. But what could be said of him if he set them up as the supreme values of life? It could be said that his mind is base, egoistic and narrow; in short, that he belongs to the category of those whom the Holy Scripture stigmatizes saying, "their god is the belly" (Phil. 3:19). Minds like this one understand only what pertains to the body, ignore all the true goods of the soul and would, if they could, make the stars fall from the sky and become potatoes, as Claudel wrote.
According to many, human society's only meaningful, tangible and authentic end is to foster a life of abundance and pleasure. All religious, philosophical, artistic and other issues have but secondary importance, or none at all. And, since the world is divided into one hemisphere that is communist and one that is not, what is relevant in this division is not ideological discrepancy, but rather conflicting economic interests. From the standpoint of material advantages, what matters most is to avoid war, even if the world had to implicitly resign itself to a gradual bolshevization.
Thus, the West should preserve above all the peaceful relations between nations. Peace must be obtained at any price, because the cost of the damages of war is incalculable.
It matters little if this brings us a life of ignominy. We shall be slaves of an omnipotent state, lost in a huge mass of anonymity, disfigured by a "culture" that aims to eliminate personality and standardize men, that denies morality, the existence of the soul and of a just and merciful God — but who cares! At least, we shall have kept ourselves and our children from the devastations and privations of war. Infamy is little enough to pay to avoid so many evils. This is why we ought to cease polemics with communism.
Now, no Christian heart would refuse to give ardent
assent to employing all possible resources of diplomacy, including summit
meetings, to avoid war. But, it would be totally unacceptable, in procuring
such a result, to have everyone disregard the communist danger and thus afford
However, this is the supreme temptation to which millions of souls have become exposed as a consequence of living in a world where the word "glory" has practically lost its meaning. Though still found in dictionaries, it is, so to speak, a dead word. And with its falling into disuse, many other related words, such as honor, prestige and decorum, are also disappearing.
In contrast with this world that has exaggerated to delirium the importance of everything that leads to a comfortable, easy and safe material life, at Christmas Our Lord gives us a most opportune twofold lesson.
Let us consider the Holy Family from the standpoint of
social status. A dynasty that had lost its throne and its wealth has in
How much poverty, and yet what glory! It is true glory
because it is not His "rating" among the pharisaic and merely
utilitarian men of
It is commonly said that the poverty of the Holy
In this regard, there might be some confusion to clear up.
God created the world for His extrinsic glory. For this reason, all irrational creatures are entirely directed towards the glorification of God. And man, who is endowed with intelligence and free will, has the obligation to apply the faculties of his soul and of his whole being to the same end. His last end is not to live an enjoyable, bountiful and carefree life, but rather to give glory to God.
Now, man achieves this by always aiming his interior and exterior acts towards the recognition and proclamation of the Creator's infinite perfections and sovereign power.
Created to the image and likeness of God, man gives Him glory in striving to imitate Him to the extent his nature as a mere creature allows. And, as the likeness of God increases in us through the exercise of His love, we also become partakers of His glory.
This explains the immense respect that the saints
inspired, even in those who hated and persecuted them. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, a simple cook, impressed the passersby with her
respectability as she walked through the streets of
Now, Jesus Christ is our model. So also are the saints, who imitated Him so perfectly. Thus, every true Catholic must strive for great respectability, seriousness and firmness. He must strive for the elevation of soul that distinguishes him from the vulgar, the sordid and the extravagant that are inherent in all that falls under the dominion of Satan.
This does not refer only to the splendor that stems
from the practice of virtue. All power comes from God (cf. Rom. 13:1), whether
it be that of kings and rulers, or that of nobles, parents, employers and
teachers. Whoever holds a position of authority is, as it were, an image of God
to those in his charge. All power has an intrinsic dignity which is a
reflection of divine majesty. He who plays a relevant role in Christian society
must respect himself because of his station. He should instill this respect in
those with whom he deals. In doing so, Christian temporal society shines with
the glory of God and hails it in its own way. So also does the spiritual
society — the Holy Roman Catholic and
But, some may wonder whether this love of one's own glory is not pride.
One can easily see that this is not so, provided that this matter is considered in its true light.
There is pride in him who loves his own glory, but not that of God. There is pride in him who does not love his own glory as a reflection of the glory of God, but loves it because it is a means of being honored, of exercising his dominion over others and of steering the course of events according to his own will. However, a man shows grandeur of soul and true humility when he wishes to be respected by his neighbor with the sole intent that God be glorified.
And what about kindness? Does it not consist in "democratizing" ourselves and dropping to the level of those below in order to attract their love?
One of the most grievous errors of our times is the idea that respect and love are mutually excluding, and that the less respected a king, a father or a teacher is, the more he is loved. Now, the truth is precisely the opposite. As long as great respectability is imbued with true love of God, it can only attract the esteem and confidence of upright men; and when this does not happen, it is not because respectability is great, but because it is not founded on the love of God.
The solution is not to lower things but to consider them in the supernatural order. Dignity that is truly of the supernatural order reaches down without debasing itself.
A selfish and vain dignity neither wants nor knows how to condescend while maintaining its integrity. When it feels strong, it puts others down; when it feels weak, it debases itself out of fear.
Let us imagine, then, a temporal society permeated with
this high, majestic and sound nobility, which is a reflection of the sublimity
of God. What tenderness, what sweetness, in a word, what order there would be
in a society in which such nobility of soul was indissolubly linked to immense
kindness, so that compassion and kindness would grow in the measure that
strength and majesty grew! Yes, what order and what peace! For, what is peace
if not the tranquility of order (cf.
Stagnation in error and evil, concord with the soldiers of Satan and the apparent conciliation between light and darkness only bring disorder and generate a tranquility that is a caricature of true peace, precisely because they grant evil the right of citizenship.
True peace only exists among men of good will, who seek the glory of God with all their hearts.
And for this reason, the Christmas message links the two: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will" (Luke ).