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The Stages of Revelation

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI     
General Audience, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wednesday 12 December 2012 - in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
In the last catechesis I spoke of God's revelation, as a communication He makes of Himself and of his plan of kindness and love. This Revelation of God inserts itself in time and in the history of mankind: history that becomes "the arena where we see what God does for humanity. God comes to us in the things we know best and can verify most easily, the things of our everyday life, apart from which we cannot understand ourselves" (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 12).

St Mark the Evangelist reports, in clear and concise terms, the initial moments of Jesus' preaching: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1, 15). What illuminates and gives full meaning to the history of the world and of man begins to shine in the cave of Bethlehem; it is the mystery that soon we will contemplate at Christmas: the salvation which is realized in Jesus Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth, God shows his face and asks man to choose to recognize and follow him. God's revelation of himself in history to enter into a relationship of loving dialogue with man, gives a new meaning to the whole human journey. History is not just a succession of centuries, years, days, but is the time of a presence that gives it full meaning and opens it to a solid hope.

Where can we read the stages of this Revelation of God? The Holy Scripture is the best place to discover the events of this journey, and I would like - once again - to invite everyone, in this Year of Faith, to take the Bible in hand more often to read and meditate on it and to pay more attention to the Readings in Sunday Mass; all this constitutes a precious food for our faith.

Reading the Old Testament, we see how God's interventions in the history of the people that He has chosen for himself and with whom he makes a covenant are not facts that pass and fall into oblivion, but become "memory", together they constitute the "history of salvation", kept alive in the consciousness of the people of Israel through the celebration of the saving events. Thus, in the Book of Exodus, the Lord tells Moses to celebrate the great moment of liberation from slavery in Egypt, the Jewish Passover, with these words: "This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance" (12, 14). For the whole people of Israel to remember what God has done becomes a sort of constant imperative so that the passage of time may be marked by the living memory of past events, which thus, day by day, forms that history again and makes it present. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to the people, saying, "But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children" (4, 9). And to us he also says: "Be careful not to forget the things that God has done with us."Faith is nourished by the discovery and the memory of the God who is always faithful, who guides history and is the secure and stable foundation on which to build one's life. The song of the Magnificat, too, which the Virgin Mary raises to God, is a lofty example of this history of salvation, of this memory that makes and keeps present the action of God. Mary exalts the merciful action of God in the concrete journey of her people, his fidelity to the covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants; and all this is a living memory of the divine presence that never fails (cf Lk 1, 46-55 ).

For Israel, the Exodus is the central historical event in which God reveals his powerful action. God frees the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt so that they can return to the Promised Land and worship Him as the one true God. Israel does not start out on a journey in order to become a people like any other - to have its own independence as a nation - but to serve God in worship and in life, to create for God a place where man is in obedience to Him, where God is present and adored in the world; and, of course, not only for them, but to bear witness in the midst of other peoples. And to celebrate this event is to make it present and current, because God's work never diminishes. He is faithful to his plan of liberation and continues to pursue it, so that man can recognize and serve his Lord and respond with faith and love to his action.

God thus reveals Himself not only in the primordial act of creation, but entering into our history, in the history of a small nation that was neither the largest nor the strongest. And this Revelation of God that progresses in history culminates in Jesus Christ: God, the Logos, the creative Word which is the origin of the world, became incarnate in Jesus and showed the true face of God. In Jesus every promise is fulfilled, in Him the culmination of God's history with humanity takes place. When we read the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, narrated for us by St Luke, we see how it becomes clear that the person of Christ illuminates the Old Testament, the whole history of salvation and shows the great unified design of the two Testaments, shows the way of its uniqueness. In fact, Jesus explains to the two lost and disappointed wayfarers that he is the fulfillment of every promise: "And, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (24, 27). The Evangelist relates the exclamation of the two disciples after recognizing that this travelling companion was the Lord: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" (v 32).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the stages of divine Revelation, concisely showing their development (cf n 54-64): God has called man from the beginning to intimate communion with Him and even when man, for his disobedience, lost his friendship, God did not abandon him to the power of death, but many times has offered to men his covenant (cf Roman Missal, Euch. Prayer IV). The Catechism traces God's journey with man from the covenant with Noah after the flood, to the call of Abraham to leave his land to make him the father of a multitude of nations. God formed Israel as his people, through the event of the Exodus, the Sinai covenant and the gift, through Moses, of the Law, to be recognized and served as the one true and living God. With the prophets, God guides his people in the hope of salvation, We know - through Isaiah - of the "second Exodus", the return from the Babylonian exile to their own land, the re-establishment of the people; at the same time, however, many remain dispersed and so begins the universality of this faith. At the end they no longer expect just a king, David, a son of David, but a "Son of man," the salvation of all peoples. Encounters between the cultures occur, first in Babylon and Syria, and then also with the Greek multitude. Thus we see how the way of God grows, becomes more open to the mystery of Christ, the King of the universe. In Christ, Revelation is finally realized in its fullness: He himself becomes one of us.

I have paused to remember the action of God in human history, to show the stages of this great plan of love witnessed in the Old and New Testaments: a single plan of salvation addressed to all humanity, progressively revealed and realized by the power of God, where God always reacts to human responses and finds new beginnings of a covenant when man goes astray. This is crucial for the way of faith. We are in the liturgical season of Advent, which prepares us for Christmas. As we all know, the word "Advent" means "coming", "presence", and originally meant specifically the arrival of the king or emperor to a particular province. For us Christians it means a wonderful and overwhelming reality: God himself has crossed his Heavens and stooped down to man; he has forged an alliance with him entering into the history of a people; He is the king who descended into this poor province that is Earth, and has made a gift to us of his visitation by taking on our flesh, becoming man like us. Advent invites us to follow the path of this presence and reminds us again and again that God has not withdrawn from the world, he is not absent, he has not abandoned us to ourselves, but comes to us in different ways, which we need to learn to discern. And we, too, with our faith, our hope and our charity, are called every day to see and bear witness to this presence, in a world often superficial and distracted, to make shine in our lives the light that illuminated the cave of Bethlehem. Thank you."