The exodus from Egypt was in a sense the high point and the defining moment in the history of Israel, the act of God which solidified their identity as God’s chosen people and led them into the fullness of covenantal relation that he desired to have with them. And yet this looked forward, not only to their full “settlement” in the promised land, and the building of the temple, which was achieved in king David and his son, Solomon, but ultimately in their expectation of the coming of the Messiah, the new Moses, the definitive Redeemer. All the events of salvation history incline in this direction, foreshadowing or preparing hearts for the coming of the Messiah. We glimpsed this when we spoke of typology earlier, glimpsed it even in the Garden of Eden, and in the salvation of Noah’s family on the ark during the flood, and in the faith and sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith; we glimpsed it in the kingship of David. And in this specific context in which we find ourselves now, we see it also in the life of Moses, which recapitulates, too, the life of his people.
For just as Moses was saved from the fearful wrath of a king jealous of his power—by being hidden in a basket released on the river—so too Jesus is saved from the wrath of king Herod by being taken by his parents into Egypt. And just as Moses encountered God in the desert—at the burning bush—and from there became the messenger and representative of God’s compassion for his people, so Jesus’ public life is immediately preceded by his forty days in the desert. Just as Moses led Israel across the Red Sea and to the edge of the promised land—and then Joshua definitively introduced them, across the Jordan, into the land—so too Jesus, the true Joshua (Jehoshua, God’s Salvation), begins his journey with his baptism in the Jordan, reliving the final stages of the exodus. And Jesus explicitly presents himself, too, as the new Moses; for as he begins to teach the people, he “goes up on a mountain,” just as Moses received the law on Mount Sinai and mediated it to the people, and sits down to teach: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the “new torah” of the everlasting Covenant, and fulfills all the hopes and promises of the first Torah, traditionally penned by Moses’ own hand and recounting the marvelous works of God at the beginning of Israel’s history.
These are the broad strokes. But let us make one more point and then “hone in” on the specifics of the event that stands before us, to try to sink our hearts into the concrete path that the Holy Family walked. For our deepest desire is not merely to look at prophecies or to make general statements about these events, but to draw near, with receptive and reverent hearts, to the beautiful persons who love us so deeply, and whom we desire to love in response, and to see and feel with them the hand of God in their lives. The final point to make before this is as follows. The coming of the Son of God in the flesh has brought to completion, raised to an infinitely higher level, a dimension of human existence that marks the life of all of us since the beginning of time, and which becomes particularly visible in God’s relationship with his chosen people. This is what has been termed, theologically, “corporate personality” or “communal personality.” It means that a single individual can stand before God on behalf of an entire people, as their representative, bearing in himself or herself their own sufferings, desires, and joys, and mediating to them God’s activity while bearing before God their own prayers. In this process, the person becomes a meeting-place of God and humanity, bearing many hearts within itself before God and bearing God, in and through itself, into many hearts. Thus Moses represented all of Israel, and Abraham bore in his loins all people of faith to come, and Adam and Eve represented, and bore responsibility for, all of humanity that was to come. So too, Mary is the model and archetype of faith for every believer, and in her we find our own faith sheltered (so much so that she is the Church in person before the Church itself is fully born, as a visible society, on Pentecost).
This is all true, but we desire to simplify this and to make it much more concrete, since the abstract theological term bears in itself a certain danger of abstraction which leads to neglect of the unique and unrepeatable dignity of each individual person and makes of them only a “part” of, or a “representative” of, the whole. The truth in fact goes in the opposite direction, and that is the danger of abstraction, that it gives primacy to the generalized or universal concept over the singularity of the concrete person. But God’s way of operating is the opposite, since for him everything is singular and concrete. He never loves in the abstract, never approaches his children or cherishes them or acts within their lives as a mere “whole,” never saves them as a mere mass, as a mere community. Rather, the truth expressed by this “communal personality” is not a submersion of the individual in the whole, but a profound affirmation of the depth of love and expansiveness of heart possible to the individual; it is also, on the other side, a profound affirmation of the deep bonds of mutual belonging, indeed co-experience, that unite us as a single human family, and, even more deeply, as a single mystical Body in the redeeming space of Christ’s Risen Flesh.
Indeed, here we stand at the heart of evangelical reality, and of what it means to be human, for here we stand at the place where we come to experience the truth of being fashioned “in the image and likeness of God.” For here, in this rich interrelationship of person and communion, of my own unique and unrepeatable solitude before God—my precious “I” which he loves for its own sake—and also my radical openness both to the “Thou” of God as well as to the whole world of created “you’s” of my brothers and sisters, we touch upon our vocation to share in the very manner of life and love proper to the Trinity. For in the bosom of the Trinity, person and communion are not opposed but perfectly united: each of the divine Persons exists in a ceaseless vulnerable relationship of love with each of the other Persons, as “I” and “You” are sheltered and fulfilled in the “We” of mutual belonging. Indeed, before the “We,” and giving it meaning, there is the joy expressed by Jesus repeatedly in John’s Gospel: “I in you, and you in me” (Jn 15-17). The Father in the Son and the Son in the Father, the Spirit in the Son and the Father, and the Father and Son both in the Spirit.
This is mutual indwelling, the shelter of my own heart, of all that concerns me, in the orbit of the love of another. It is also the making of my own being, my own heart, a home for the beloved, a welcoming-space in which they may rest, rejoice, and play. The meeting of two irreplaceable solitudes, in other words, when they reciprocate one another’s love in the true vulnerability of mutual surrender, come together in authentic communion, becoming-one through an intimacy that truly allows them to live in one another, vivified by the other’s life and ultimately coming to live a single life that both cherishes and affirms their uniqueness (rather than destroying or belittling it) while also bringing this uniqueness to full blossom in the expansive embrace of shared love and intimacy.
With all of this said, we can return to the theme of communal personality with more specificity, and avoid the danger of impersonalism or anonymity towards which it tends. The main point in all of this, perhaps, is that our hearts are much deeper and wider than we realize. We have been created in relationship, from relationship, and for relationship—born of Love, through Love, for Love, and destined to share eternally in the Intimacy of Love. And this effects not only our ethical choices, our co-responsibility for one another, or even our eternal destiny of intimacy with the Trinity and of communion with all of humanity in the new creation. It also effects the very fabric of our daily experience in the here and now, such that the subtleties of our subjective experience, as private as they seem, are never merely our own, but also reverberate in the living-space of communion—in the solidarity of the single family of natural humanity and even more deeply in the vibrant communion of grace brought about in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Every one of our experiences, choices, and actions, and every touch of God’s love and grace upon our hearts, also sends ripples out—for good or ill—into the hearts of others, just as we, too, receive ripples cast from them and are affected by them. Indeed, many of the experiences that we have in life may be caused, at least in part, by forces of which we are unaware, by ripples cast from the heart of another person and entrusted to us to carry in love and compassion, in a spirit of redeeming solidarity that shares in the atoning love of Christ on the Cross. So too the inflow of grace into our heart, the experience of God’s touch and his gentless, the breaking down of the barriers of our sin and selfishness and fear, may be in part mediated by the faith and love of others throughout the world. We are truly all one family, not only naturally, but above all supernaturally. And here we come to the decisive point.
In Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, this mystery of an individual carrying the community and making them one within himself reaches its final conclusion and full blossoming. Indeed, in this lies precisely the awesome mystery of Redemption and the reality of atonement (“making-one” what was before divided by sin). Because he is God himself, when the Son came to us and wed himself to our humanity in the womb of the Virgin, assuming this humanity as his own, he did not take a merely individual humanity, but also the humanity of each one of us, the humanity of all of us. Thus he permeated the whole human race and every single human life with the radiant light of his own redeeming presence, yes, with the presence of the entire Trinity. And he lifted us up in himself to carry us back to the Father (like the shepherd lifting his lost sheep on his shoulders to carry it home), co-living with us and for us all of our own experiences, both joyful and painful. He carried us in his loving Heart, in his very incarnate Body, even through the agony and death on the Cross, in which he suffered all the pain caused by our sins and isolation, and into the joy of the Resurrection, in which the whole of humanity, in him, was introduced into a new dimension of existence, the dimension of boundless Love and perfect Intimacy. This dimension is that which shall be fully realized in all of us—as has been realized already in him, and in which we share already through grace—at the end of time, when our bodies will rise and be re-made, transparent not only to our spirit, our inner heart, but to the very love and communion of the Trinity. And here the universe itself will be utterly saturated by the beauty of God and of the world-wide communion that pervades all things, sheltering and cherishing each human heart as God’s singularly beloved, and yet fulfilled in the embrace of intimacy that makes all of us one as the Trinity is one.