It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The streets are decorated with lights. Radio stations are playing our favorite holiday songs and people are anxious about their shopping. In a certain sense you can say that Christmas is in the air.
As you know I didn’t grow up in the US, even though I have spent the major part of my adult life in this country. One of the traditions I remember vividly even today is what my dad would do every Christmas. Just a couple of days before the big day, he would start to prepare the nativity scene. We called it “the crib” (Young people may be thinking of some celebrity’s home instead). He would fashion a hill and a cave out of construction paper and then fill the cave with hay. He would place the statues of the various personalities from the Christmas story one by one. As children, we would watch the whole procedure keenly. From Christmas day onward, we would spend quite a bit of time in front of that crèche. In some magical way, that little cave would transport me to Bethlehem.
Over the years I have had the same experience wherever I saw the nativity scene. During my seminary days, I would spend large chunks of time looking at the elaborate nativity scene that would be set up. During the daily night prayers, the seminarians would sing Christmas carols and pray. I remember having that very experience in Rome in front of the life-size statues that adorn the nativity scene in St Peter’s Square. I had the same experience in Greccio where St Francis of Assisi created the first crèche. I receive the same inspiration as I pray before the crèche that is prepared in our sanctuary.
I encourage all our families to attempt to have a nativity scene in their home. It will arouse the curiosity of our children and offer a wonderful opportunity to tell them the Christmas story. If you do not have a crèche at home, make the time to visit one in our church or elsewhere. Let us help our children have a palpable experience of the birth of Jesus.
In this connection, I would like to encourage all of us to delve into the gospel accounts of the Savior’s birth. The details are recorded in just two gospels – Matthew and Luke. These two evangelists dedicate two short chapters each to the stories of His birth. Please take the time to meditate on them. Pray with them. Read the stories to your children. You may find it even helpful to watch the Christmas story from one of your favorite movies on the life of the Lord. I personally recommend “Jesus of Nazareth” by Franco Zeffirelli. This movie remains faithful to the gospel and yet it is fresh in its presentation of the gospel accounts.
I call on you to do whatever you can so that you can enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, to become aware of what the Lord has done for us. The sight of that helpless, little Baby should warm our hearts and make us touch the very heart of God. In your busy schedule, please set aside time for prayer and meditation so that our Christmas celebration will bring great spiritual benefit.
The Son of God was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. His historical birth will not occur again this Christmas. However, He should be born in us, in our hearts so that our celebration is meaningful. In some way, let us make our own the prayer of Caryll Houselander:
Be born in us, Incarnate Love! Be born in us!
Take our eyes and fill them with your light!
Take our lips and fill them with your words!
Take our hands and fold them in your prayer!
Take our feet and set them in your path!
Take our minds and fill them with your thoughts!
Take our hearts and fire them with your love!
Take our souls and flood them with your grace!
Take our lives and use them for your work!
Be born in us, Incarnate Love! Be born in us!
On a different note, on December 19th, I celebrated the 34th anniversary of my priestly ordination. I vividly remember lying prostrate in the sanctuary as I waited for the bishop to impose his hands on my head. I never imagined where God would ultimately lead me to serve Him. I thank God for bringing me to you. All I ask of you is to pray for me. Please pray also for vocations to the priesthood so that young men from our parish will hear God’s call to dedicate themselves fully to priestly ministry.
During this season, let us all pray that we as a parish will become more and more sensitive to the presence of the Lord among us.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...