The Rector writes …
In our own journey of faith – and most particularly in that of our children and young people – there is no substitute for a Catholic culture. Living as we do in a society which is essentially secular and materialist, there is pressing need for us to make our homes places where the Gospel values are loved and practised – John Paul 11 used often to speak of the importance of the “domestic church”. Pope Francis has chosen to begin this Advent season by addressing an apostolic letter highlighting the significance of the Christmas crib as “an authentic means of portraying the beauty of our faith”. The Pope made a clear statement in choosing the name of Francis at the beginning of his pontificate and it was on a visit to the to the Italian town of Greccio last Sunday that he released his letter. It was in a cave above Greccio that the Poor Man of Assisi set up the first Christmas crib to help the people of his own day ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. “The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture”. Contemplating the Christmas scene we are “drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman”.,
In writing to the whole Christian people, the Pope expresses the hope that cribs will be set up “in workplaces, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares” but most importantly in our own homes.. He has in mind the Italian custom of the parents of newly-weds buying them a stable and the basic figures for their own crib and encouraging them to add figures to them in future years from the Christmas markets that are found in many places. “From the shepherd to the blacksmith, from the baker to the musicians, from the women carrying jugs of water to the children at play: all this speaks of everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way”.. The presence of the poor and humble, continues Pope Francis, is a reminder that “God became man for the sake of those who feel most in need of his love and who ask him to draw near to them”.
Central to the Christmas creche have to be the figures of Mary and Joseph. “Mary is a Mother who contemplates her child and shows him to every visitor”. Saint Joseph stands by her side “protecting the Child and His Mother”. Joseph is the guardian, the just man, who “entrusted himself always to God’s will”. But it is when we place the statue of the infant Jesus in the manger that the nativity scene comes alive. “It seems impossible, yet it is true, in Jesus, God was a child and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all”. The creche allows us to see and touch this unique and unparalleled event that changed the course of history.
Bethlehem translates literally as “the house of bread” and the Pope wants us to reflect on the necessary connection between the Christmas scene and the Eucharist. “Coming into this world the Son of God was laid in the place where animals feed. Hay became the first bed of the One who would reveal himself as the bread come down from heaven”. When Saint Francis created his crib for Christmas Eve in 1223, the people from the area streamed to see what had been prepared for them: “when they arrived they found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey and a priest celebrating the Mass over the manger showing the bond between the incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist”.
Part of the role and responsibility of a Pope is to teach, and it is good that the Holy Father has chosen to underline a form of devotion which is as simple as it is profound. The memories of looking into the Christmas creche when we were children should remind us “of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged, what matters is that it speaks to our lives”. Let us hope and pray that Pope Francis’ words encourage us to be imaginative in setting up our own nativity scenes in our own homes: “beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, the crib teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with Him”.