Tag Archives: Christmas

On the Holy Family by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Virign & Child Fiesole altar Angelico.jpg

In Mary we praise that which places her above all others,
that is, fruitfulness of offspring together with virginity. For never has it
been known in this world that anyone was at the same time mother and virgin.
And see of Whom she is mother. Where does your astonishment at this so wondrous
dignity lead you? Is it not to this, that you may gaze in wonder yet never
sufficiently revere? Is she not in your veneration, no, in the esteem of Truth
itself, raised above choirs of angels? Does not Mary address the Lord and God
of all the angels as Son, saying: Son, why have you done so to us?

Who among the angels may thus presume? It is enough for
them, and for them their greatest honor, that while they are spirits by nature
they have become and are called angels, as David testifies: Who makes your
angels spirits. [Ps.103: 4] Mary, knowing herself a mother, with confidence
calls that Majesty Son Whom the angels in reverence serve
. Nor does God disdain
to be called that which He disdained not to be. For the Evangelist adds a
little later: He was subject to them.

Who was subject to whom? A God to men.
God, I repeat, to Whom are the angels subject: Whom principalities and powers
: subject to Mary; and not alone to Mary, but to Joseph also, because
of Mary. Admire and revere both the one and the other, and choose which you
admire the more: the most sweet condescension of the Son, or the sublime
dignity of the Mother
. For either am I at a loss for words: for both are
. For that God should obey a woman is humility without compare; and
that a woman should have rule over God dignity without equal. In praise of
virgins is it joyfully proclaimed: that they follow the lamb withersoever he
goes. [Rev. 14: 4] Of what praise shall you esteem her worthy who also goes
before Him?

Learn, O Man, to obey. Learn, O Earth, to be subject. Learn, O
Dust, to submit. The Evangelist in speaking of his Maker says: He was subject
to them
; that is, without doubt, to Mary and to Joseph. Be you ashamed, vain
ashes that you are. God humbles Himself, and do you exalt yourself? God becomes
subject to men, and will you, eager to lord it over men, place yourself above
your Maker? O would that God might deign to make me, thinking such thoughts at
times in my own mind, such answer as He made, reproving him, to His apostle: Get behind me, Satan: because you savor not the things that are of God. [Mark 8:

For as often as I desire to be foremost among men, so often
do I seek to take precedence of God; and so do I not truly savor the things
that are of God. For of Him was it said: And he was subject to them. If you
disdain, O Man, to follow the example of a Man, at least it will not lower thee
to imitate thy Maker. If perhaps you cannot follow Him wheresoever He goes, at
least follow in that wherein He has come down to you.

If you are unable to
follow Him on the sublime way of virginity, then follow God by that most sure
way of humility; from whose straightness should some even from among the
virgins go aside
, then must I say what is true, that neither do they follow the
Lamb to wherever he goes. He that is humble, even though he be stained, he
follows the Lamb; so too does the proud virgin; but neither of the two
whithersoever He goes: because the one cannot ascend to the purity of the Lamb
that is without stain, nor will the other deign to come down to the meekness of
the Lamb, Who stood silent, not merely before the shearer, but before the one
that put Him to death. Yet the sinner [you and me] who follows Him in humility, has
chosen a more wholesome part than the one that is proud in his virtue; since
the humble repentance of the one washes away uncleanness, but the pride of the
other contaminates his own virtue.

Holy Family ATiarini.jpg

Truly blessed was Mary who possessed both
humility and virginity. And truly wondrous the virginity of those whose fruitfulness is not stained, but adorned her; and truly singular the humility, which this
fruitful virginity has not troubled
, but rather exalted; and wholly
incomparable the fruitfulness which goes hand in hand with her humility and her
virginity. Which of these things is not wondrous? Which is not beyond all
comparison? Which that is not wholly singular? It would be strange if you did
not hesitate to decide which you regard as most worthy of praise: whether the
wonder of fruitfulness of offspring in virginity, or of virginal integrity in a
mother: sublimity of Offspring, or humility joined to such dignity: unless it
be that we place both together above each one singly: and it is truly beyond
any doubt more excellent and more joyful to have beheld these perfections
united in her, than to see but one part of them.

And can we wonder that God, of
Whom it is written that He is wonderful in his saints, [Ps. 67: 36] shows
Himself in His own Mother yet more wondrous still. Venerate then, Ye spouses,
this integrity of flesh in our corruptible flesh. Revere likewise, you virgins,
fruitfulness in virginity. Let all men imitate the humility of God’s Mother.
Honor, you angels, the Mother of your King, you who adore the Offspring of our
; Who is your King and our King, the Healer of our race, the Restorer of
our fatherland: Who among you is so sublime, yet among us was so lowly: to
Whose Majesty as well from you as from us let there be adoration and reverence:
to whose Perfection be there honor and glory and empire for ever and ever.

Thanks is due to St Francis of Assisi for the Nativity Scene

Just prior to Christmas Pope Benedict XVI reflected on
Saint Francis of Assisi’s gift to the Church in 1223 of the Nativity scene.
Then, as now we see Humility, Jesus, encountering the nihilism of the world, a
people who entranced with violence and anger now faced with the Prince of
Peace, the true king of the universe.

In homes and Churches across the world it is typical to see a Nativity scene prepared. Over the years my family has had a small nativity scene present in our home. It is not a great piece of art and it is not something we’ve done historically, but it is something that is now a regular part of our Christmas decorations. In fact, it is left out throughout the year as I move it around the house as a small reminder of the God becoming one of us.

But let’s not forget that a Nativity scene and Christmas tree is not that old of a tradition for St. Peter’s Square. John Paul II made the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square a priority in 1982 because he felt the world needed to encounter the image of God made man, Jesus, the Eternal Word of God come into our humanity history. Thinking that the crèche still had relevance for the modern person in 2004, John Paul said of the Nativity scene,

Christmas is upon us and in many places people are setting up a crèche, like here in St Peter’s. Whether big or small, fancy or simple, the crèche is a familiar and expressive representation of Christmas. It is part of our culture and art but a sign of faith in God who, in Bethlehem, ‘made his dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). As I do every year, I shall bless the “Bambinelli,” the statues of Baby Jesus. which will be placed in the crèche on Holy Night, joining Joseph and Mary, who are silent witnesses of a sublime Mystery. With loving eyes, they tell us to wait and pray in order to welcome the Divine Savior who is coming to bring the world the joy of Christmas.

Pope Benedict speaks about Saint Francis’ gift of the Crib

St Francis & crib Giotto.jpg

With St. Francis and his
nativity, the defenseless love of God was shown, his humility and goodness,
which in the incarnation of the Word is manifested to man so as to teach a new
way to live and to love. He saw a little child lying still in a manger; the
child woke up because Francis approached… ‘This vision was not different than
real life, since through the work of his grace acting by way of his holy
servant Francis, the Child Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of many. Thanks
to St. Francis, the Christian people have been able to perceive that at
Christmas, God truly has become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier or
distance can separate us. In this Child, God has come so near to each one of
us, so close, that we can address him with confidence and maintain with him a
trusting relationship of deep affection, as we do with a newborn. In this
Child, in fact, God-Love is manifested: God comes without weapons, without
strength, because he does not aim to conquer, we could say, from without, but
rather wants to be welcomed by man in liberty. God becomes a defenseless Child to
conquer man’s pride, violence and desire to possess. In Jesus, God took up this
poor and defenseless condition to conquer with love and lead us to our true
identity … so that he concedes to our hearts this simplicity that recognizes
the Lord in this Child, precisely as Francis did in Greccio. Then, we too can
experience what […] happened to those present […] ‘Each one returned to his
house filled with an ineffable joy. 

Benedict’s 2009 Christmas message to the world

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus.
(A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us.)

(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon “us”, the same “us” for whom the Child of Bethlehem “is born”. This “us” is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Savior, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

B16 Urbi.jpgAt first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that “us” was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light “that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the “sign” of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the “us” of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an “us” which welcomes God’s love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep him for herself: she offers him to all those who seek him with a sincere heart, to the earth’s lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: “Let us go to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The “us” of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The “us” of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the “little flock” of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one’s neighbour. The “us” of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the “us” of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the “us” of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, “God with us”, came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light! Happy Christmas to all!

Benedictus PP XVI, Christmas 2009

A Merry and Blessed Christmas 2009




Christmas hath a darkness;
Brighter than the blazing noon;
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Christina Rosetti


That Nostalgia for the Infinite

There is a phrase of Dostoevsky that accompanies me these
days, when I have to speak of Christianity to all kinds of people in Italy and
abroad: “Can an educated man, a European of our time, believe–truly believe–in
the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ?” This question rings like a
challenge for all of us. It is precisely on the answer to this question that
the success of the faith depends today. In an address given in 1996, the then
cardinal Ratzinger answered that faith can have this hope “because it finds a
correspondence in human nature. In man there is a nostalgic hope for the
infinite that cannot be extinguished
.” In this phrase he indicated the
condition necessary: that Christianity needs to find the humanity that pulsates
in each of us in order to show all the greatness of its claim.

Yet how many
times are we tempted to look at the concrete humanity in which we find
ourselves–for example the unease, the dissatisfaction, the sadness, the
boredom–as an obstacle, a complication, an impediment to the realization of
what we desire. Thus we get angry with ourselves and with reality, succumbing
to the weight of circumstances, in the illusion of going ahead by cutting away
a piece of ourselves
. But unease, dissatisfaction, sadness, and boredom are not
symptoms of a illness to treat with medicines; this happens more and more often
in a society that mistakes disquiet of the heart for panic and anxiety
. They
are rather signs of what the nature of the “I” is. Our desire is greater than
the whole universe
. The perception of emptiness in us and around us of which
Leopardi speaks (“want and emptiness”), and the boredom of which Heidegger
speaks, are the proof of the inexorable nature of our heart, of the boundless
character of our desire–nothing is able to give us satisfaction and peace. We
can forget it, betray it, or even deceive it, but we cannot shuffle it off.

Nativity & Adoration FBartolo.jpg

the real obstacle on our journey is not our concrete humanity, but disregard
for it.
Everything in us cries out the need for something to fill the void.
Even Nietzsche perceived this; he could not but address the “unknown god” that
makes all things. “Left alone, I raise my hands/ … to the unknown god / I want
to know you, you the Unknown,/ Who penetrate deep into my soul, / Shake up my
life like a storm,/ Beyond my grasp and yet so close to me!” (1864).

is the announcement that this unknown Mystery has become a familiar presence,
without which none of us could remain a man for long, but would end up
overwhelmed by confusion, seeing his own face decompose, becauseonly the
divine can ‘save’ man
, that is to say, the true and essential dimensions of the
human figure and his destiny” (Fr. Giussani).

The most convincing sign that
Christ is God, the greatest miracle that astonished everyone–even more than the
healing of cripples and the curing of the blind–was an incomparable gaze. The
sign that Christ is not a theory or a set of rules is that look, which is found
throughout the Gospel: His way of dealing with humanity, of forming relationships
with those He met on His way
. Think of Zacchaeus and of Magdalene: He didn’t
ask them to change, but embraced them, just as He found them, in their wounded,
bleeding humanity, needful of everything. And their life, embraced, re-awoke in
that moment in all its original profundity. 
Who would not want to be reached
by such a look now? For “one cannot keep on living unless Christ is a presence
like a mother is a presence for her child, unless Christ is a presence now –
now! -I cannot love myself now and I cannot love you now
” (Fr. Giussani). This
is the only way, as men of our time, reasonably and critically, to answer
Dostoevsky’s question.

But how do we know that Christ is alive now? Because his
gaze is not a fact of the past, but is still present in the world just as it
was before
. Since the day of His resurrection, the Church exists only in order
to make God’s affection an experience, through people who are His mysterious
Body, witnesses in history today of that gaze capable of embracing all that is

Father Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion & Liberation

Corriere della Sera, 24 December 2009

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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