Pope Francis Is Teaching Me To See Again

by | Dec 20, 2019 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

Seeing something familiar… but for the first time

Pope Francis taught me to see the nativity scene with new eyes!

Have you ever looked at something familiar as if it was for the first time? As I read Pope Francis’ recent short letter on nativity scenes as “Enchanting Image” (Admirable Signum), I found myself looking at them as if for the first time.

How many nativity scenes have I seen during my 80 plus years of life? The nativity scene was probably my first catechism lesson. The “incarnation” was certainly too big a concept for me as a preschooler. But, with a child’s eye of wonder, I got that there was something special about Jesus.

I certainly did not know the word “evangelization.” But I did know that the baby in the manger was “good news.” Something today we call evangelization. I was being evangelized by the crib.

But I confess I lost that sense of wonder and began to take the creche for granted.

Nativity Scenes – A living story 

Then came Pope Francis with his December 1 letter about the deep meaning and significance of the tradition of nativity scenes or creches.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Christmas crèche is part of the precious yet demanding process of passing on the faith. Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives… it teaches us to believe that God is with us and that we are with him, his children, brothers and sisters all.

He then retold the story of his predecessor  St. Francis

Francis asked a local man named John to help him realize his desire “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem… Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Saint Francis, notes that this simple and moving scene was accompanied by the gift of a marvelous vision: “everyone went home with joy.”

The first creche was life-size. it must have felt as if they were there.

A call for personal growth –  a story for adults!

Pope Francis then reviews the various elements of the story and presents a deeper meaning.

  • “The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route.”
  • “The presence of the poor and the lowly in the nativity scene remind us that God became man for the sake of those who feel most in need of his love and who ask him to draw near to them”
  • As we contemplate the lowly shepherds and the angels ” we are called to reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel. Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love.”
  • Children – but adults too! – often love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts. Yet, each in its own way, these fanciful additions show that in the new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for whatever is truly human and for all God’s creatures [See Vatican display of 100 creches from around the world. Also Nativity scenes in local culture]

All this hit me at the right time. Late in life, I have come to realize the power of the scriptures when I see myself as having been at some time in my life each of the persons in the biblical stories.  I have been the Good Samaritan, the traveler hoping for someone to care for him, and the two believers who pretended they did not see him and passed him by.

All of a sudden I realized that I needed to enter into and see myself as each of the people and elements in the nativity scene. Not only have I missed the point of being

  • a nobody Jesus calls to bear witness.
  • the innkeeper who kept Jesus at a comfortable distance and even at times shutting the doors of my  heart
  • a Herod who has not recognized the body of Christ in those he allowed to be slaughtered by not advocating for them.’

I now see every aspect of the nativity scene as a challenge to see some aspect of myself and use that knowledge to grow as a Christian.

I see the nativity scene as if for the first time. 

Entering into the creche

  • Are you ready to place yourself in the nativity scene?
  • When have you been each of the persons in the creche?
  • How does each person and element in the scene call you to growth and action?
  • Who would you personally like to see represented in the nativity scene?

1 Comment

  1. Tom McK

    Very creative and evocative, John. Thanks