Pope Francis explains the symbolism of each figure in the Nativity scene.
Starry Night: "We can think of all those times in our lives when we have experienced the darkness of night. Yet even then, God does not abandon us ... His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadow of suffering."
Ancient Ruins: "The ruins are the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays and disappoints. This scenic setting tells us that Jesus is newness in the midst of an aging world, that he has come to heal and rebuild."
Animals: "With what emotion should we arrange the mountains, streams, sheep and shepherds in the Nativity scene! As we do so, we are reminded that, as the prophets had foretold, all creation rejoices in the coming of the Messiah."
Angels and Guiding Star: "The angels and the guiding star are a sign that we too are called to set out for the cave and to worship the Lord."
Shepherds: "Unlike so many other people, busy about many things, the shepherds become the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation."
Beggars and Poor People: "There are the beggars and the others who know only the wealth of the heart. They too have every right to draw near to the Infant Jesus; no one can evict them or send them away from a crib so makeshift that the poor seem entirely at home."
Ordinary People: "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 the everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way."
Mary: "In her, we see the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only to herself, but invites everyone to obey his word and to put it into practice."
Joseph: "Joseph treasured in his heart the great mystery surrounding Jesus and Mary his spouse; as a just man, he entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice."
Baby Jesus: "When, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the Nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things."
The Magi: "The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route. Men of wealth, sages from afar, athirst for the infinite, they set out on the long and perilous journey that would lead them to Bethlehem ... They are not scandalized by the poor surroundings, but immediately fall to their knees to worship him."
The following meditation, in the form of a poem, was written by Fr. Javier Leoz, a priest in the Spanish town of Pamplona. Pope Francis personally phoned the priest to convey his appreciation of the message.
Will there be Christmas?
More silent and with more depth.
More like unto the first one, when Jesus was born in solitude.
Without many lights on earth
but with the star of Bethlehem
shining on paths of life in its immensity.
Without colossal royal processions
but with the humility of feeling as if we are
shepherds, young and old, seeking the Truth.
Without big tables and with bitter absences
but with the presence of a God who will fill everything.
Will there be Christmas?
Without streets overflowing with people
with our hearts burning
for the One who is about to arrive.
Without noise or festivals,
complaints or stampedes …
but living the Mystery without fear
of the “COVID-Herod” that tries to
rob us even of the dream of waiting.
There will be Christmas because GOD is on our side
and He shares, as Christ did in a manger,
our poverty, trials, tears, anguish and orphanhood.
There will be Christmas because we need
a divine light in the midst of such darkness.
COVID-19 will never be able to reach the heart or soul
of those who put their hope and their high ideal in heaven.
THERE WILL BE CHRISTMAS!
WE WILL SING CHRISTMAS CAROLS!
GOD WILL BE BORN AND WILL BRING US FREEDOM!
Do you feel as though we're in some pretty turbulent times right now? It's like the country, and the world, are spinning in a downward spiral. A walk in the park helped to put a lot of what's going on into perspective.
The sign pointed to a "steep grade ahead", and yet it feels as though we're already sliding down a big hill. Between the pandemic, the election, losing a job, educating the kids, and visiting family, could the grade really get steeper? As it says in Mark 5:13, "... and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned." Are we going to drown in this misery?
But yet, we've been here before. The sign said "prehistoric earthwork", and it was hard not to chuckle. While it seems like these are bad times, other generations have suffered through many, if not worse, pandemics, elections, social changes, and even wars. We can look back at history and know that we are here today because others survived it before. We can also look at our faith and see "... we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are God's "earthwork"; we've been around since prehistoric times, and God has always prevailed.
Further along, the sign questioned whether this was a "fort or sacred site?". Are we singularly building up a defense or a plan of attack so we can plow through these tough times? "Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?" - Luke 14:31. Perhaps instead of erecting a fort on our own so we can conquer these enemies, we should instead choose to be a "sacred site", relying on our good God to make all things right, for it says: "The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'” - Revelation 21:5.
Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.
"When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God ..." - 1 Corinthians 2:1
The GPS led us to a used car lot. It was not the building, nor the business, we were looking for. Yet the address of the used car lot, and the surrounding buildings, were in line with where we wanted to be. We drove around the area and around the area again. The business we wanted was nowhere to be found.
One more time around the area. "There it is! We found it!" A nice little building in this dingy little town with a brilliant neon sign welcoming us in. It wasn't there before, but now it was there. Once inside, the workers were so helpful and friendly. They seemed like a band of angels.
We've been to that area a number of times since then. We've driven up and down that road on various occasions. We can't find that building or that business again. It was there before, but now it isn't there. What happened to that nice little building in this dingy little town?
It's a mystery. It's unexplainable. It was a miracle. It was a band of angels.
"Lord, You are in control of my life, my sufferings, and my death. May I never forget that." - reflection from the Padre Pio Prayer Group of Cleveland prayer calendar, 10/1/2020
Wow. What a game-changer. Obvious, but way too often forgotten.
How many times (a day!) do I want to be in control of myself, of situations, of others? I know it's too many to count.
When times get tough, when challenges pile up, when pandemic fatigue sets in, when I am too ill to lift my head, when I am not able to do what I want to do when I want to do it, when my plans and dreams cannot be fulfilled, when my neighbors irritate me ... I will remember these words and repeat them often: "Lord, You are in control of my life, my sufferings, and my death."
And may I never forget that. Amen.
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:6
We are connected. We are plugged in. Our electricity runs through us to Him and Him to us. It is a two-way connection. If the connection is broken, the energy stops flowing.
Fortify your connection. Tighten your fittings. Stay grounded.
Guiding Spirit, charge me with the surge of your Love. Amen.
"Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me." - John 15:4
The survey asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic weakened my faith or strengthened my faith.. It was definitely food for thought.
It's easy to get lax in your faith. As restrictions increase and fear persists, we find other ways to spend our regular Mass time. Watching live-streamed Mass at our convenience instead of gathering as a community can become a new norm for many.
On the other hand, as the pandemic continues and staying at home is common, many have lengthened their regular Mass time by adding spiritual reading or uplifting religious programming to their weekly or daily routine.
Psychologists and theorists can cite many examples of scientific behavior modification in people. Here's two theories for consideration: (1) Classical (or Pavlovian) Conditioning, which refers to a learning procedure in which two conditions linked together produce a new learned response in a person. (2) The 21/90 Rule, which states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change.
We've all had months to change our behavior due to new learned procedures and habits Have you remained on the vine or separated from it?
Now it's your turn. Take the survey.
This is not intended to be a debate about whether the team logo should be changed or not, or whether the baseball team should be renamed or not, or whether the logo/name is a sign of racism or not.
What it is intended to be is seen in the picture above: love of country over tension in our country.
In a similar way, the Holy Cross can be seen as an instrument of torture for hardened criminals, or an instrument of salvation for triumphant souls. As Catholics, we rejoice in the glory of the Lord as we face the crucifix and all of the good that it beholds.
As you reflect on the picture above, and the striking contrasts on display, remember the Holy Cross. Just as there was victory in the Holy Cross, we have trust and confidence that our country will prevail over injustices and the violence that grasps it.
"In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." - John 16:33
"Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter." - Psalm 24:7
This sign is all too familiar lately as services shut down and businesses close due to the pandemic.
Have you shut down? Have you closed your heart and mind to God's love and mercy?
King of Glory, my doors are open for business in Your kingdom. Enter the store of my heart, and fill my waiting shelves with Your grace. Amen.
" 'Do not be afraid; just have faith.' " - Mark 5:36
What's hiding under this cloth? Our imagination goes into overdrive as we conjure up all of the possibilities that we think the cloth could be hiding.
What are you hiding? We all hide something, whether it is big or small. Maybe we don't want others to see our true personality, a trial we are going through at home, or a birthday party we are planning for a friend.
But God sees all. He sees through and under our "cloth". All of our secrets are laid bare. Go to Him. Do not be afraid. There is nothing you can hide from Him.
Merciful Father, you know me inside and out. Give me the courage and the strength to share with you all that is hidden within me. Amen.
"Looking at little life moments with a spiritual eye."