Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his Christmas Day homily, which boils down to a laundry list of the world's ills during what he terms the age of "unbridled consumerism."
Pundita cannot think of a time in history when humans have not engaged in unbridled consumerism if given half a chance. What's new about this era is unbridled politics -- an inevitable byproduct of greater freedom in many countries.
Those who ponder deeply on the matter know that humanity cannot expect a world of perfect peace, for that would ring down the curtain on a realm where joy is followed by sorrow. And we cannot expect every heart to be large, for the execution of many matters in the world requires a heart undistracted by a strong impulse for charity.
Yet who among us wants to be on the crying end, if we claim there must always be suffering in the world? When our back is against a wall, we want everyone near to overflow with the milk of kindness.
Is that the message to take from the birth of Jesus and the endurance of his teachings? Well, Pundita is not Christian -- I do not belong to any one religion. But in honor of the day, I will tell sort of a Christian story to illustrate a message I take from the teachings of Jesus:
One day I was writing an essay for this blog when Pope John Paul II appeared in my living room, standing no more than two yards from me. He wasn't there in the flesh; it was just a very strong impression of his form, and there was a bright golden-white light around him.
Through my surprise I noted that he looked hale and hearty yet I'd heard that he had been ill. He also looked sharp as a tack and he was standing straight, not bent over as I had remembered him from more recent news photographs.
The Pope did not say a word, but he smiled at me with such cheer and fondness that I was rendered speechless with confusion. I found myself returning his smile. A sense of calm joy came over me. The Pope's silent visit lasted for some minutes then ended as suddenly as it had manifested.
Then I asked the empty room, "What was that about?"
After I returned to work on the essay I went on the Internet, which is how I learned that the Pope had just died. I was stunned at the profound significance of the visitation. But why should he appear to me, of all people, at the time of his death? I thought and thought. Then I remembered.
I heard on the radio that Pope John Paul II had just been shot and rushed to the hospital for surgery. I had never met the Pope and strongly disagreed with several of his stands. Yet I was outraged that a nonviolent religious leader who gave hope to so many millions was cut down in such manner.
To my mind, the shooting was as much an act of war against civilization as against a particular person and religion. With that thought I fell on my knees and cried that I would stay on my knees praying for the Pope's recovery until I heard word that he would survive.
Here's a tip: make sure to go stand on a rug before swearing to fall on your knees for hours on end. Yet despite my discomfort at kneeling on a bare floor, I determined to stick it out. I can't remember how long I kneeled except that it was quite a long time. I also recall that I prayed with great fervor, even though I am not a praying sort and was even less that sort in those days.
At some point a news bulletin announced that the Pope had survived the operation and that there was hope for his recovery. Then I got off my knees but kept up my prayers until I learned he had passed the danger point.
The incident quickly faded from my conscious memory. Through the intervening decades I remained a sharp critic of Vatican policy in Latin America and Africa. My prayers for Pope John Paul's recovery did not soften my personal opinion of him; indeed, when I realized the significance of his visitation I blurted, "I guess this means the old buzzard is beatified, after all."
Yet I believe that Pope John Paul's appearance to me at the time of his death was to assure me that God notices and remembers even the smallest sincere act to help innocent victims.
I note the current Pope spoke of the plight of innocent victims in his Christmas homily, but we have 364 days of the year to hear speeches about suffering. This is a day to make a joyful noise and consider the many triumphs of the Christian teachings on compassion and faith.
No firing automatic weapons in the air, but grab a tambourine or a couple blocks of wood and make a huge clatter if you are not a singing sort. If there are no musical instruments around grab a pot and spoon and make a racket! The Son of Man is born -- or is it the Son of God? Or was it the Holy Ghost who appeared among us? Pundita can never get Christian theology straight but no matter; today is the day we honor the birthday of someone who loves humanity a lot and represents the Divine's boundless compassion for sinners. That's reason enough for celebration.
Merry Christmas to one and all!