byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola
Christmas – The Smallness of God
At Christmas, the scene of the crèche is the center of our attention. We see the scene of the Nativity before us at church, in our home, on Christmas cards and in so many beautiful works of art throughout the centuries. A few weeks ago, Pope Francis blessed the Nativity scene at Saint Peter’s Square, remarking how it helps us to rediscover the true richness of Christmas, which is so different from the consumerist and commercial Christmas. Many times, overwhelmed with the frenzy of the season, the crèche helps us through moments of silence and prayer to become intimate with God in a fragile simplicity of a tiny newborn and with His meekness.
On the occasion of the blessing, Pope Francis reflected, “And if we truly want to celebrate Christmas, let us rediscover through the Nativity scene the surprise and amazement of smallness, the smallness of God, who makes Himself small, who is not born in the splendor of appearances but in the poverty of a stable.” It is in encountering the small, helpless child in Jesus Christ that we encounter the power of the love of God, who comes to us at every moment because He became one of us and reminds us that, by being small, we find Him and we find ourselves.
As we stand in awe before the Nativity, we also stand in awe before what we celebrate at the altar, the Mass. Christ has chosen to be present among us in the Eucharist in the smallness of the appearance of bread and wine, which become His Body and Blood, and mirrors the smallness of His birth of Bethlehem. The Son of God became flesh through Mary, and He truly becomes present among us in the Mass. While the ritual of the Mass is rightly filled with appropriate splendor and majesty, it is all to recognize and adore the Real Presence of Christ in the surprise and amazement of the smallness of the appearance of bread and wine. Like the recognition of God in the newborn child of Bethlehem, it is only faith that recognizes the same God in the Eucharist.
The word Christmas literally means “Christ’s Mass,” the Mass of Christ. The name actually came into existence in the 11th century in middle English to describe the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity. It is a specific reference to the celebration of the Eucharist. The word Mass comes from the Latin “to be sent,” and mark the concluding words of the Eucharist, “Ite missa est / Go forth, the Mass is ended.” The word is associated with mission. Jesus is sent to the Father and sent to us, and we go forth from the Eucharist in His name and with Him among us.
Christ was born for us on the first Christmas, and every time we celebrate Mass, He is born upon the altar. He became flesh of the Virgin Mary and becomes flesh in the Eucharist. Christ continues to dwell among us in the Eucharist so that we might know God’s glory revealed on that first Christmas in His everlasting love. God’s love is most fully experienced in the Eucharist when God, again, gives His Son, who gives His life that we might have life. Indeed, Christmas is Christ’s Mass in which God does not hesitate to become small for us in our humanity through an infant and ultimately in the appearance of bread and wine of the Eucharist.
As Pope Francis spoke to the crowd on the occasion of the blessing of the Saint Peter’s crèche, he reminded us that the Nativity scene invites us to prayer and contemplation. An important part of the first Christmas is its silence and the silence that we have in gazing upon it. And so it is with the Eucharist. We stand in silence before the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist as we gaze upon the appearance of bread and wine, so small and simple.
Standing before the smallness of Christ in the stable and in the Eucharist, we must meet Him there where He truly is. As Pope Francis expressed, “One must lower oneself, one must make oneself small, leave all vanity behind, to arrive where He is. And prayer is the best way to say thank you before this gift of free love, to say thank you to Jesus who wishes to enter our homes and our hearts. Yes, God loves us so much that He shares our humanity and our lives. He never leaves us by ourselves, he is at our side in all circumstances, in joy as in sorrow. Even in the worst moments, He is there, because He is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey.”
We must never hesitate to accept our smallness because our smallness is the smallness of God. So many times, during the Christmas season there is a false grandeur of the perfect celebration of Christmas which never arrives. Much stress and anxiety go into capturing not what God wants but what we want. Let us never be afraid to be small, especially at Christmas, because it is there that God meets us and raises us to a grandeur which is His.
It is a joy to wish each of you and your families a Blessed Christmas as we stand before the smallness of God in the crèche and recognize that He continues to be with us in the smallness of the Eucharist where the true meaning of life is found in prayer and silence. God bless all of you!