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 By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

 

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory,
the glory as it were of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

 

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Thus does Saint John's Gospel (1:14) announce the ineffably grand moment when the Son of God "dwelt among us" in order to manifest His glory.

Yet, how discreet, how humble, how hidden was this first step taken by the King of the universe along His path of suffering, struggle, and triumph!

Let us meditate on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ with the Gospel of Saint Luke (2:1-7).

And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.

And all went to be enrolled, everyone into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child.

And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Let us picture a poor wedded couple, dressed with simplicity and bound for Bethlehem, crossing the arid countryside of the Holy Land, aridity alleviated only by a few streams and olive groves. Mary travels seated on a young donkey, while Joseph proceeds on foot, pondering the words of the angel who revealed to him the miraculous character of his virgin spouse's pregnancy.

As they reach Bethlehem, the winter night falls. But no one receives them, "because there was no room for them in the inn."

Is it for them that there is no room, since they have no prestige? Prestige commonly comes, especially in decadent times, from money and concessions to the vices of the times and the spirit of the "world" (this spirit being understood in the sense the Gospels give it). But this holy couple is poor and gifted with a highly religious spirit -- virtues the "worldly" find particularly detestable.

Nevertheless, Saint Joseph and Our Lady descend from the highest lineage of Bethlehem of Judea. Saint Joseph is a prince of the House of David, and Our Lady likewise descends from the kings of Judea.

However, so decadent are the Chosen People that in their eyes Saint Joseph is nothing but a poor carpenter, while Our Lady, his relatively well-off cousin, has chosen to share his poverty.

 

What are they doing in Bethlehem?

They are obeying the decree of the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who, certainly for vanity's sake, had ordered a census to ascertain how many were subject to his power.

The Prince of the House of David, in travelling to the city of his birth, manifests the glory of the foreign emperor. Saint Joseph is conquered, Caesar Augustus is the conqueror. And Bethlehem fails to recognize her illustrious children.

"He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:11). Mary and Joseph, bearing the very Son of God, are rejected by their own people and are thus obliged to seek shelter in a cave inhabited by animals. So it is in the intimacy and isolation of that dwelling place for beasts that history's most important event up till that time unfolds: the Word of God, made flesh in the most pure womb of Mary, comes into the world.

 

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Thus does one understand the kind of joy proper to the Nativity: great solitude and deprivation, but at the same time great elevation. For over such misery descended riches without name, riches unlike any others on the face of the earth: the Child-God, wrapped in swathes of cloth and lying in a manger where animals feed.

None save that couple witness or know how to appreciate this scene of indescribable grandeur.

The highest glory is there present in a tender child who, crying, hungry, and cold, extends his little arms towards his mother, requesting a little milk or cloths for a covering. And Our Lady knows that it is the Creator who opens his arms unto her! The Sovereign of the universe cries, beseeching a bit of milk and warm clothing!

We can imagine the contrast between the supernatural ambience and the poverty of the grotto. There the Child Jesus is adored by all the angels in a magnificent choir, the celestial court celebrating the greatest feast up to then.

Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, with extraordinary brilliance, give glory to God through the Nativity.

That glory permeates the grotto discreetly, for it is necessary that those outside not take note, that only souls of faith perceive it, and only in intimacy.

There, reclining, praying, is Our Lady, the most perfect soul in all the history of mankind, save only the divine Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Our Lady alone is worth more than all the souls before her, during her time, and thereafter; more than all who existed, exist, and will exist until the end of the world. She alone is worth more than all the angels.

A short distance away, praying to the Child-God and to Our Lady, is the humble cabinetmaker, the deposed prince, obscured by history and by the misfortunes that befell his ancestors. That man received an honor proper to no one else: He was chosen to be the spouse of the mother of the Word Incarnate, the adoptive father of the very Son of God!

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This takes place at midnight, when little moved in the ancient world. We can imagine the silence, the abandonment. The inhabitants of the nearby city of Bethlehem comfortably rest in their beds. Outside, even the livestock sleep, while the Divine Infant is born. Everything is empty and alone; darkness reigns. Only within that grotto does a small light flicker. Only that couple is there, they and the Child Jesus, the King of ages, the God-Man Himself.

This divine event takes place before few. The greatest of honors is born and resides entirely in a frail infant. The most important historical event up to that time comes to pass in secret, in such a way that the sole witnesses to that august scene desire to meditate, to remain silent, with more appetite to feel the Nativity within themselves than to proclaim it in a loud and clear voice. It is the affectionate reverence of those who know not how to render gratitude for the extraordinary honor of touching, in such an intimate way, so high a mystery, coupled with pity and compassion for a God who consented to make Himself so small. How to express respect so great that it approaches fear, and tenderness so profound that it seems almost to liquefy the soul? Lofty veneration, then, lofty adoration, and lofty tenderness.

This also seems to explain the nocturnal aspect of the Nativity. We cannot conceive of it taking place save at night, for darkness is necessary for radiating so discreet a light. Therein we find the joy characteristic of Christmas, which hesitates to expand itself for fear of losing its delicacy and intimacy.

 

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Thus does one understand why such Christmas carols as "Stille Nacht" are customarily sung in a low voice, almost as if to oneself. They are sung as if not to awaken the Child Jesus.

This is one aspect of the genius of "Stille Nacht," composed by a simple German schoolmaster in the last century, yet now the preeminent Christmas carol of all ages.

Hearing it, we have the impression that the choir is in a corner of the cave of Bethlehem. The choir sings with such emotion, for it almost cannot help it, yet in a very low voice, so as not to disturb the Divine Infant, nor the ineffable and almost internal song with which Our Lady is lulling her Son.

In this way one understands the thousand delicacies that sound in "Silent Night," and the tenderness of the Nativity. It is a song expressive of a kind of compassion for Him who is being celebrated: How little this infinite God; how infinite this little God!

Centuries of Christian civilization were necessary that the most celebrated of Christmas songs might blossom like a flower in the Catholic Church.

 


Taken from Crusade Magazine, Nov-Dec 1996

 

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for May 18, 2021

Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly; and if He does no...

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May 18

 

Our Lord loves you
and loves you tenderly; and
if He does not let you feel the sweetness of His love,
it is to make you more humble and abject in your own eyes.

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Eric IX of Sweden

The king’s zeal for the faith was far from pleasing to his...

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St. Eric IX of Sweden

Eric the Holy or Erik the Saint was acknowledged king in most provinces of Sweden in 1150, and his family line subsisted for a hundred years. He did much to establish Christianity in Upper Sweden and built or completed at Old Uppsala the first large church to be erected in the country. It is said that all the ancient laws and constitutions of the kingdom were, by his orders, collected into one volume, which came to be known as King Eric’s Law or The Code of Uppland.

The king soon had to take up arms against the heathen Finns. He vanquished them in battle, and at his desire, St. Henry, Bishop of Uppsala, who had accompanied him on the expedition, remained in Finland to evangelize the people.

The king’s zeal for the Catholic Faith was far from pleasing to his nobles, and we are told that they entered into a conspiracy against him with Magnus, the son of the king of Denmark. King Eric was hearing Mass on the day after the feast of the Ascension when news was brought that a Danish army, swollen with Swedish rebels, was marching against him and was close at hand. With unwavering calm he answered, “Let us at least finish the sacrifice; the rest of the feast I shall keep elsewhere”. After Mass was over, he recommended his soul to God, and marched forth in advance of his guards. The conspirators rushed upon him, beat him down from his horse, and beheaded him. His death occurred on May 18 in 1161.

The relics of St. Eric IX of Sweden are preserved in the Cathedral of Uppsala, and the saintly king's effigy appears on the coat of arms of the city of Stockholm.

Pope St. John I

The king had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna and thrown into...

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Pope St. John I

St. John I was a native of Siena in Tuscany and was one of the seven deacons of Rome when he was elected to the papacy at the death of Pope Hormisdas in the year 523.

At the time, Theodoric the Great ruled over the Ostrogoths in Italy and Justin I was the Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople. King Theodoric supported the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

Justin I, the first Catholic on the throne of Constantinople in fifty years, published a severe edict against the Arians, requiring them to return to orthodox Catholics the churches they had taken from them. The said edict caused a commotion among eastern Arians, and spurred Theodoric to threaten war.

Ultimately, he opted for a diplomatic solution and named Pope John, much against his wishes, to head a delegation of five bishops and four senators to Justin.

Pope John, refused to comply with Theodoric’s wishes to influence Justin to reverse his policies. The only thing he did obtain from Justin was for him to mitigate his treatment of Arians, thus avoiding reprisals against Catholics in Italy.

After the delegation returned, Theodoric, disappointed with the result of the mission, and growing daily more suspicious at reports of the friendly relations between the Pope and Justin I, had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna.

Pope John I died in prison a short time later as a result of ill treatment.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Cathe...

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The Rosary & True Beauty

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life.

Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty. So much so, that she was known to those in Rome where she made her home as “Catherine the Beautiful.” Sadly, Catherine’s beauty went only skin deep, and she led a very sinful life.

One afternoon, strolling the streets of Rome, Catherine heard the voice of St. Dominic. This was the early 13th century and it was not unusual to cross paths with this great man of God.

On this particular day, he was preaching on the devotion to the Mother of God and the importance of praying her most holy Rosary. Caught up in the moment, Catherine had her name inscribed in the book of the confraternity and began to recite the Rosary. Though praying the Rosary gave her a sense of calmness she had not known before, Catherine did not abandon her sinful ways.

One evening, a youth, apparently a nobleman, came to her house. Catherine invited the handsome young man to stay to dine with her. When they were at supper, she saw drops of blood falling from his hands while he was breaking a piece of bread. Moments later, she observed, much to her discomfort, that all the food he took was tinged with blood.

Gathering up some courage to appease her curiosity, she asked him what that blood meant. With a firm but gentle look in his eyes, the youth replied that a Christian should take no food that was not tinged with the blood of Jesus Christ and sweetly seasoned with the memory of His passion.

Amazed at this reply, Catherine asked him who he was. "Soon," he answered, "I will show you." The rest of their meal passed uneventfully, yet always the drops of red catching Catherine’s eye, causing her to wonder about this man she supped with.

After dinner, when they had withdrawn into another room, the appearance of the youth changed. To Catherine’s stunned gaze, he showed himself crowned with thorns, his flesh torn and bleeding.

With the same firm but gentle gaze he said to her: “Do you wish to know who I am? Do you not know me? I am your Redeemer. Catherine, when will you cease to offend me? See how much I have suffered for you. You have grieved me enough, change your life."

Catherine began to weep bitterly, and Jesus, encouraging her, said: "Now begin to love me as much as you have offended me; and know that you have received this grace from me, on account of the Rosary you have been accustomed to recite in honor of my mother." And then he disappeared.

Catherine went in the morning to make her confession to St. Dominic, whose preaching on the Rosary had brought so marvelous a grace into her life. Giving to the poor all she possessed, from that day forward Catherine led so holy and joyful a life that she attained to great perfection.

It could now be said of her among the inhabitants of Rome that Catherine was indeed beautiful, but her beauty was no longer skin deep; her loveliness radiated from the depths of her soul.

The Most Holy Virgin often appeared to her; and Jesus himself revealed to St. Dominic, that this penitent had become very dear to him.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty.

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