Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, December 25, 2012, Christmas, Fr. Grégoire Catta, SJ


Dec 25 – 2012 / St Mary of the Angels / Luke 2:1-14

It’s Christmas! We might be happy, enjoying the beauty of the decorations, the joy of being gathered with loved ones, the peace of listening to Christmas Carols, the emotion of kids opening gifts. We might find it difficult to be truly happy, because we miss some of our loved ones who are far away, because we’re tired of the overwhelming commercial dimension that the holiday has taken, because we feel lonely or we feel bad for those who are lonely. But whatever mood we are in, it is Christmas! And what is Christmas? "This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." Today let those words resonate. What do they mean for us, in 2012, in our world in general but also here in Roxbury, in our home and in our lives?

God is coming! God is present in our midst! God is present on our side! And what is the sign of God’s presence? An infant, a little baby newly born. How fragile! How powerless! How defenseless! And this is the sign of God’s presence in our midst. Fragility, powerlessness and defenselessness, those are common features of all newborn babies and it is already incredible that God the creator of the Universe, God the almighty, chose to come to us in this form. But it was not sufficient for God. This child wrapped in swaddling clothes is lying in a manger. He does not lie in a nice well fitted cradle in the warmth of a cozy house. No, his parents have been rejected from the town. They are travelers, they are alone, with very limited means to welcome the baby. And the first ones to receive the good news will be some shepherds, certainly not the most well-considered profession in this time. God chose to come in the fragility of a new-born baby and in poverty in the middle of nowhere with a manger as a cradle. This is the sign of Christmas that is once again given us today. God’s presence in our midst in the most improbable manner!

13 years ago I had what remains until now my greatest Christmas ever. I was 24 years old and for the first time I celebrated Christmas far from home. I had just started 4 months before my work as a volunteer for the diocese of N’Djamena in Chad, in the middle of Africa, thousands of miles away from France. For the end-of-year holidays I was travelling with 3 other French volunteers and 3 Chadian friends across the country on dirt roads towards a large reservation situated 800 miles east of the Capital. On Christmas Eve, we stopped in a small village named Bitkine. In this part of the country, the majority of the population is Muslim but there is also a small Catholic community. We ended up celebrating the vigil mass of Christmas in a small mud church with a dirt floor, packed with people dressed with festive clothes, very simple clothes, because they did not have many. No Christmas lighting or extravagant decorations, simply a few electrical bulbs powered by a generator – there was no electricity in the village except from a few generators. The priest was a Jesuit missionary from Peru. The singing, the fervor of the prayers, the simple words that the priest said struck me almost to the point of breaking in tears. We were celebrating the presence of God in our midst and it was true! I could almost feel it, physically. God was present in this very poor community gathered with a deep joy. And after the mass, with my friends we simply shared a dish of pasta with tomato sauce! I would never have imagined before this day that I would one day celebrate Christmas with a dish of pasta. In my family we were rather used to an incredible abundance of delicious foie-gras, turkey, chocolate truffles and so on and so on – and trust me when it comes to food we have a serious tradition in France! But this Christmas in Bitkine remains in my memory as the best ever: the friendship and the experience of a community of believers facing so much hardships and at the same so strongly connected to the mystery they were celebrating. That was so clearly the sign of Christmas, the actualized sign for me of the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

What does the sign mean for us today? Where do we imagine God would choose to be born if God was to come today? What would this birth change? This question has been asked to several people around the world by a French Catholic daily newspaper that I read regularly online. Most of the answers simply express that God would come in those places where people are forgotten, are not respected in their dignity, and are suffering. A Congolese woman said that Jesus would be born in Eastern Congo, torn by violence because of the mining richness. An Indian priest said that God would be born a baby girl in this area where there are many selective abortions and even baby girl infanticides. A Canadian citizen stressed that Jesus’s birth would foster peace in the world and a more effective fight against economic inequalities.

We can ask for ourselves what are the places around us where God would come? Where are the places of poverty, of fragility, of blatant injustice where God would choose to be born? Newtown Connecticut, places devastated by Hurricane Sandy, a neighborhood torn by the daily violence of gangs, this housing project where two thirds of the population is without jobs, a place on the migration road across the Mexican border? And where are the areas in our own life where we desire with our whole heart God to come: family divisions, financial struggles, illness…

It’s Christmas! God is coming! God is present! We believe, we trust that God does not abandon those places I’ve just mentioned, those places of which we desire to be places of God’s birth. We believe that God is present in those places. We strongly believe this, because the sign that is given to us is this poor, fragile, new-born baby, lying in a manger and visited by shepherds.

And we believe that because God is with us, we can move forward to bring about this kingdom of peace, this kingdom of justice, this kingdom of love that is announced by Jesus’ birth. We can become God’s hands in little things of our everyday lives and why not, in bigger things as well.

This is the sign: "you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."


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