Monday, December 14, 2009

Pope on the Crib: Tradition "Is Not Enough"

Keeping up a long-standing tradition, at yesterday's Angelus the Pope blessed the Bambinelli, the figures of the Baby Jesus brought by the children of Rome, which'll be placed in the Presipi (creches) of their homes on Christmas... and along the way, used the moment as a reminder of the scene's import beyond the symbolic sense:
[T]he dramatic representation of the birth of Jesus is not just a repetition of a traditional gesture, but "a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy," which "does not consist in having many things": this was Benedict XVI’s message to the thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus the third Sunday of Advent. Among the faithful there were at least 2 thousand children who had brought their statues of the Infant Jesus to be blessed by the Pope, before they place them in the manager this Christmas Eve.

The pontiff spoke to them directly: "I see here in St. Peter's Square so many children and teenagers, along with parents, teachers and catechists. Dear friends, I greet you all with great affection and I thank you for coming. It gives me great joy to know that in your family the tradition of the Nativity Scene is still kept. But it is not enough to repeat a traditional gesture, however important. Try to live in the reality of every day what the crib is, the love of Christ, his humility, his poverty. This is what St. Francis did in Greccio: he created a living Nativity scene, to be able to contemplate and adore it, but above all to know how best to put into practice the message of the Son of God who for our sakes was stripped of everything and became a little child”.

For several years the crib has been the centre of much controversy in Italy, similar to recent polemics surrounding the public exposure of the crucifix. In the past it was set up in public places: schools, stations, shops. But different secularist personalities claim that the Nativity Scene is an attack on the religious freedom of others and for this, especially in schools, they prefer not to display it.

The pope did not mention this controversy; instead he emphasized the value of this simple tradition: "The crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having so many things, but in feeling loved by the Lord, in becoming a gift for others and loving one another. Let us look at the Nativity Scene: the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph do not seem like a very lucky family, they had their first child in the midst of great hardship, and yet are filled with deep joy, because they love each other, help each other and, above all, are certain that in their history God is at work, present in the Infant Jesus. And the shepherds? What reason would they have to rejoice? That baby will not change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helps them to recognize in the 'infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger', the 'sign' of the fulfillment of the promises of God for all men 'whom he loves' (Luke 2,12.14), even for them!” .

"This, dear friends - concluded Benedict XVI - is what true joy is; the feeling that our personal and community lives are visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love. We need more than things to rejoice, we need love and truth: we need a God close at hand, who warms our hearts, and responds to our deepest yearnings. This God was manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. So that Child, that we put in the manger or cave, is the centre of everything, He is the heart of the world. We pray that every man, like the Virgin Mary, may accept as a centre of their lives the God who became a Child, the source of true joy".
As if the central thread wasn't enough, that "the Pope did not mention this controversy" stands as a teaching moment all its own.

On another note, for whatever reason, B16 didn't continue last year's practice of blessing the Bambi separately from his general benediction for the crowd at the noontime prayer's close.

Lest anyone might find it useful, here's a re-run of the pontiff's especially composed blessing for the Bambinelli, used at his window a year ago today:
God our Father,
you loved man so much
to send us your only Son, Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that, with your blessing
these images of Jesus, soon to come among us,
might be, in our homes,
a sign of your presence and love.

Good Father,
give your blessing to us, too,
to our parents, our families and friends.

Open our hearts,
that we might know to receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks of us
and see him in all those
who need our love.

We ask this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son, who came to give peace to the world.

You who live and reign forever and ever.
PHOTOS: Reuters