Pope Francis has begun his visit to Burma, now officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, a nation nestled between India and Bangladesh that is predominantly Buddhist, but with significant Muslim and Christian minorities (about 4 and 6 percent respectively). The troubled nation has been much in the news recently, with apparent violent oppression, even murder and rape, what is euphemistically termed ‘ethnic cleansing’, of the Rohingya Muslim minority flooding into Bangladesh. One would not normally consider Buddhists violent, but the connection between the principles of a religion, and how it is lived out, is rather tenuous in today’s world.
The Holy Father’s main pastoral concern is for Catholics, of whom he is the head and shepherd, but he is also called to be a truly Catholic, or universal, Father to all men. Hence, his concern for Buddhist, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics and atheists, all of whom are also called to live with God forever. That the world hangs on the words of the Pope, like the crowds hung upon the words of Christ, is a testament to the true spiritual and divine foundation of the Petrine office. What the Pope will say is up in the air, but he must balance his words; as we have discovered, any misconstrued phrase can be used as a pretext for further violence in this fraught world, especially certain regions that know not Christ. Pray that all goes well, and that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he finds the right and true thing to say.
I read on the Catholic Herald that Pope John Paul II, as a young priest, used to speak with Christ and Our Lady ‘face to face’, much like Moses of old. Thomas Aquinas also conversed colloquially with Christ, come to think of it, a doctor whom John Paul quoted extensively. I think the mystical aspect of John Paul II is too underplayed, for I have always wondered how he wrote so much, so clearly, with such precision, insight and wisdom; it has the element almost of the angelic.
The same article declared that the Pope prophesied an Islamic takeover of Europe, even worse than the invasions of the twentieth century. Hmm. There are many stories told of Karol Wojtyla, and they all must be carefully discerned, but this particular prophecy seems to be unfolding before our eyes, which the world cannot, or does not want, to see.
On that note, this last week of the liturgical year has a rather apocalyptic flavour, for each Advent is, at its deepest level, a preparation for the final Advent, when Christ will return in glory with all His angels, bringing about “God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil”, an evil incarnated in the pseudo-secular-messianism of the Anti-Christ (cf., CCC, 675-677). And as Saint John the Apostle taught, we can recognize the essential spirit of Anti-Christ in a denial that Christ, God Himself, came in the flesh (1 John 4), a truth Islam denies most vociferously. For if Christ did not join heaven with earth, the divine with the human, then we are limited to the horizons of this world, this age, this ‘saecula‘ and are, as Saint Paul, greatly to be pitied.
But Christ offers us eternity, everlasting life with Him, with God, in the unimaginable new heavens and new earth. This is the good news, to put things mildly, that Advent and Christmas offer. Without that, everything else is cheap tinsel.