A Vincentian View: A Vincentian Crèche

by | Dec 7, 2022 | Formation, Reflections | 6 comments

An invitation from the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy asked me to create a reflection for their digital Advent + Christmas crèche calendar for 2022 (https://mcgrath.nd.edu/events/creche-exhibit/) .  The Center would send me the image of a nativity scene from somewhere in the world, and I would write a small (100-150 word) essay on the piece of art.  I said “yes” and they sent me the image of a crèche from Switzerland.  The publication of the crèches and their reflections started on the First Sunday of Advent and have arrived daily since then.

I have been looking at the scenes and reading the meditation.  It has offered a real education.  I know that one can envision different ways of capturing the Christmas scene, but I had not seriously tried to compare them.  This year, I have been giving a conscious attention to each one as I read the short essays.  (I love the Amish one with the quilts and with Mary and Joseph in appropriate headgear; I am attracted to the Japanese one with its cultural character and simplicity.)  Wonderful insights abound with regard to the scenes and their surroundings.

What has most drawn my attention, however, is the number of people who are in the stable.  Most (all?) of the scenes have few people at the crèche.  Yet, all of us know the line from Luke:

“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” (Lk 2:7).

I cannot imagine that Mary and Joseph are the only ones who wind up in this stable.  I envision them as surrounded by the poor who are in a similar situation.  That thought changes the image of the scene for me.  If I were to design a Vincentian crèche scene, how would I portray it?  (How would you?)

I see lots of characters in the stable—not just magi and shepherds, angels and animals—but other travelers who have been driven by the census and who have sought shelter for the night.  Perhaps, the stable overflowed with people in such circumstances!  Thus the scene takes on a new dynamic.  I see experienced women helping Mary to give birth; they would have told her how beautiful was her baby; those who had a little something might feel particularly inclined to share it with the new mother and her child; advice would flow freely.  A community would form and perhaps more tightly because of the birth—a common experience of life and hope and beauty.  Everyone would have wanted to hold Jesus to feel his tiny warmth and soft breath.  People would recognize the natural miracle in their midst, though few would realize how great a miracle.

Does this seem reasonable to you?  Can you imagine the nativity happening in this way?  Would not the poor have welcomed one of their own?  Perhaps the angels surrounding the manger came in different guises.

Yes, I think that many of our best attitudes during the Christmas season flow from the fact that we form communities:  families come together, friends go to plays and concerts, believing men and women worship as one.  For these reasons, it seems so natural to me to envision the Nativity scene as filled with people and possibilities.  In making room for others in our lives and hearts, we allow for the creation of a community.  It binds us together as family as well as with those among us who are in need.

And so, let me invite you in this Advent Season to reflect upon the importance of a community and particularly one which gathers together around Christ.  The love of him as a newborn child deepens our human connection; it heighten the image of a crèche scene for us today.

There may be no room at the inn, but there is a place for us in the stable and around a crib as a Vincentian family.


  1. Ross

    Thanks for this heart-warming reflection. Especially heart-warming, I believe, for the many little folks I know in the Philippines.

    Those in positions of power and wealth hardly hear these folks’ voice and deem them throwable. Yet they are happy, welcoming and generous with the little they have. They are like those poor peope, of whom St. Vincent said (SV.ES XII:142): “You never see them in their illnesses, troubles, and food shortages get carried away with impatience, or murmur and complain; not at all-or rarely. They usually remain at peace during trials and tribulations.”

    I suppose the grace of being in the company of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and others like themselves is enough for them.

  2. Ann Mary Dougherty

    You know, Pat, that I like everything you write, but this reflection is truly special. Thank you!

  3. Carl L Pieber

    Congratulations Pat. Sounds like a great homily for Christmas. Blessings to you.

  4. Tom M

    Very warmly imaginative. Helps me picture Christmas anew.. Thanks.

  5. Chloe Forsyth D C

    Thank you Pat, for a particularly special reflection. I see the scene with totally new eyes.

  6. Kevin F Daly

    Love the reflection, especially your thought “Everyone would have wanted to hold Jesus to feel his tiny warmth and soft breath” Brings to mind the birth of my first and only grand daughter Claire. My three grandsons then 10, 8 and 4 couldn’t stop looking at her and waited for their turn to hold her. I can picture this so vividly. They looked at her with such awe. Thank you for this wonderful image as I get ready to meet them all in Jersey just outside of Philly for Christmas.


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