On this vespers of Christmas, a consideration that comes to my mind is the description that St. Paul made of the time that characterized the coming of the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle qualified the time of Our Lord's coming as the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10).
When I had time to study, two of my preferred subject matters were the philosophy and the theology of History, considered in the general grand lines and plans of God for mankind and for historical eras. Often, analyzing some epochs of the Old or New Testament, I asked myself what would have been the plan of God for this or that people or civilization. And in my hypotheses, I imagined that if men and nations had been faithful, the normal thing would have been for the greatest potentates of the world at that time - the Roman Emperor, the Pharaoh of Egypt, notables from various City-States of Greece, the Emperor of China, the King of Syria, etc. - to have accepted and paid homage to the birth of Christ.
With this, the Incarnation of the Divine Word would have taken place in the fullness of time, because all the nations of this earth would have been ripe to receive Him, glorify Him and be wholly faithful to Him. This was my first interpretation of what the fullness of time would be.
However, when I hear the teaching of the Holy Church based on the Epistles of St. Paul, duly inspired by the Holy Ghost, the fullness of time has a different meaning. None, or almost none, of what I had imagined took place. The Roman Empire was indifferent to the true God, and while it was in the fullness of its political power, it was already manifesting symptoms of the moral decadence that would lead to its destruction. Caligula and Nero were already burgeoning under Tiberius. Only bits and pieces remained of the old human glory of the Pharaoh of Egypt, and as for the religion of that country, the most crass idolatry reigned. Greece, another former great power, had been transformed into a Roman colony. The Empire of China walked on roads far removed from the true religion. The Kingdom of Syria, still powerful only 100 years before, had also been subjugated by the Romans. The Jewish country itself - a Roman protectorate - was held by King Herod, a descendent of Esau. A poignant paradox: when the Word became flesh, a son of Esau reigned in the land of Jacob and the city of David.
Thus, my picture of the fullness of time had to be corrected. Everything that I had imagined about the temporal potentates triumphantly receiving the coming of God on earth was reduced to the presence of the three Magi Kings of the East: persons full of charm and poesy, like the offerings that they brought, but representing a quite small temporal power.
Instead of receiving an enthused welcome on the part of the Hebrew people, St. Joseph and Our Lady had to travel to Bethlehem where they found no support. The Child-God was born in a manger for animals, because no one would give His Mother a bed so that she might bring to light the One Who is the Light of the world.
As for the Jewish religion, instead of a preparation being made to receive Our Lord, we find an apostate and corrupt Synagogue immersed, on one hand, in the cross-eyed rigors, malevolent intrigues and hypocrisies of the Pharisees and, on the other, in the accommodation to the world and materialism of the Sadducees.
Fidelity still was present in a small remnant. The Prophet Simeon and St. Zacharias, father of St. John the Baptist, still represented the good clergy. The Prophetess Anna stood for the religious women who served in the Temple. The faithful were represented by St. Joachim, St. Anne, St. Elizabeth and others whose names have not reached us, but who most certainly existed. Fidelity was reduced to a small remnant.
Therefore, in a certain sense the fullness of times to which St. Paul refers, was in fact almost the opposite of what I had imagined. Instead of the apogee of religious and temporal institutions, what existed was apostasy, decadence or total indifference to God. In place of the enthused acceptance of the people, we see their rejection.
So how can one explain that, without being a contradiction, the Apostle used the expression the fullness of time to refer to this epoch? I know of two applications for this expression: one in the order of the theology of History, and another in the moral order.
As for the theology of History, it seems that the expression signifies that God gave to men, peoples and nations all the grace that He had planned when He created them. Now if the nations had been faithful to those graces, something of what I had imaged would probably have taken place. But the nations in almost their totality had been unfaithful. Nonetheless, that time of grace was complete: the fullness of graces had been given and in this sense the fullness of the plans of God was achieved.
In the moral order, the presence of St. Joseph, the greatest of saints, and principally of the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin and Queen of all the saints, constituted an apex of holiness that most appropriately can be qualified as the fullness of time. If it is true that they were created with the vocation of being the parents of Our Lord, it is also true that the sanctity of the two propitiated God the Father so that He might send His Only Begotten Son to earth.
One has, then, a qualitative concept of the expression fullness of time that refers to the time of Our Lord. Although almost everything spoke of apostasy, decadence and indifference, the existence of some few very faithful persons would save the human race and would merit the greatest eulogy: they themselves almost alone would constitute the fullness of time.
Now if this principle was true at the epoch of the coming of Our Lord, why wouldn't it be true for other times?
This thought gave me encouragement this Advent and made me better understand the message of Christmas for our days. In effect, we are witnessing a profound crisis in the Holy Catholic Church, a great indifference to God on the part of temporal powers, a complete moral corruption in a world faithful in times past to Our Lord. Why shouldn't we turn to Our Lady and St. Joseph and ask them to be present today also in the remnant that is still trying to be faithful. Then, through the merit of them and the other saints that preceded us, and not by our own merits, it seems that we are living in a fullness of time. One era of graces is ending for man and nations, and another era is beginning.
A new era of graces for the Church and humanity will come to fulfill the prophetic words that Holy Virgin pronounced at Fatima: "In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph!" Without any doubt, this triumph will be the Reign of Mary, which I await and pray for so that we might have the realization of the two types of fullness of time I analyzed here: the qualitative fullness of time, in which some few represent the genre; and the other, the quantitative, where all the nations and potentates of the earth will come to the feet of the Child-God in order to glorify Him.
This Christmas, I pray that you and your families will meditate on this in order to reap the blessings and graces He bestows on "men of good will" who seek only the will of God.