Saturday, January 5, 2013

Meditation on the Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity of Jesus

Today, January 5, is the First Saturday of the Month. The First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima on July 13, 1917. After showing the three children a vision of hell she said, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace... I shall come to ask for... the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays..." The First Saturday devotion is as follows:
It consists in going to Confession, receiving Communion, reciting five decades of the Rosary and meditating for a quarter of an hour on the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The Confession may be made during the eight days preceding or following the first Saturday of each month, provided that Holy Communion be received in the state of grace. Should one forget to form the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it may be formed at the next Confession, occasion to go to confession being taken at the first opportunity.
As far as the world is concerned, Christmas the holiday season is over.  The parties are done, no more frantic buying, the lights and decorations have come down, the trees have been thrown out.  But Holy Mother Church did not start celebrating Christmas until December 25, and she will continue to celebrate it for 40 days, until Candlemas, February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord at the temple, and often called the Feast of Candles, candles representing the light of Christ come into the world.

So in honor of the fact that we are in the liturgical season of Christmas, I have decided to do a meditation on the third Joyful Mystery, the birth of our Lord.

There is nothing in the world as helpless as a newborn child
Christmas has many different themes, but I feel that one of the main themes of Christmas is humility.  The only larger display of humility than God coming to earth as a man is when God died on the cross, crucified as a common criminal.  In the Christmas Story, we see the great Creator God come to earth and take on the nature of His creation.  This is the same God who created all that is and who cannot be contained by the universe itself,  the One who gives us every breath we breathe and upon whom we are completely dependent for our existence.  We saw Him humble himself and enter the womb of a virgin, all the while retaining His Divinity.  He was born as all men are, a small helpless baby, unable to even turn himself.  The Great God of the universe made Himself completely dependent upon human beings to feed him, change his diapers, wash him and provide for his every need.  We have no way of knowing for sure, but I don't think it's likely that Baby Jesus cried as other babies do; however, he certainly couldn't communicate by using words, either.  He had to entirely rely on his mother and her husband Joseph to supply his needs and not allow anything to happen to him.

Not only did our Lord come to earth as a tiny, helpless baby, but he was born away from his family's home in a dark and dingy manger, a place where animals were kept.  It is safe to say that the manger was not in exactly a clean, pristine condition.  It was likely that it was filled not just with animals who ate and slept there, but no doubt it was crawling with vermin of all types.  On top of that, if you have ever been in a barn you know that the air was filled with a pungent odor from the animals' waste.

All of heaven was rejoicing at the birth of our Lord, but it was far different among earth's inhabitants.  The world was in complete ignorance of the fact that its Creator and Savior had been born.  The only ones who came to rejoice at the birth of the baby in the manger were the lowliest members of society:  shepherds, men who lived in the fields with their sheep, rarely bathing, no social skills at all, shunned by the rest of society.  But because they were apart from society and not preoccupied with the cares of this world, the angel was able to appear to them and announce Our Savior's birth.  They were the only ones, outside of Joseph and Mary, to welcome Jesus into the world.  The wise men, the Gentile kings who were considered unclean by Jewish society, arrived later to give their presents to Jesus and worship Him.

[Just as an aside, all of the people passing by the little manger where our Lord was born were completely unaware of the fact that their Lord and Savior was inside, and thus gave no acknowledgement to His Presence.   Yet how often do we Catholics, who say we believe that Christ is truly present in the tabernacle, pass by these same tabernacles in our own churches and not only do we not genuflect, we barely bow our heads in recognition of Who is there.   How often do we stand there having trivial conversations with each other while completely ignoring our Lord in the tabernacle?]

We are told that Mary and Joseph did not even have any clothes to put on the newborn Christ Child.  They wrapped him in swaddling clothes, which are strips of cloth that are wrapped around a newborn baby to restrict his movements and keep him quiet, very much resembling the cloths used to wrap our Lord's body when he was laid in the sepulcher 33 years later.

This was not the only foreshadowing of the Cross when Jesus was born.  The shadow of the cross actually hung heavy over the tiny stable in Bethlehem.  Our Lord's birth very much mirrored his death.  Just as he was born in a lowly stable away from civilization and "decent society," so he died, crucified outside of the city.  It is a traditional belief that Golgotha, the place of our Lord's crucifixion, was built on a garbage dump.  Like the stable he was born in, this was a place of vermin and refuse.   From
Jesus was taken to Golgotha, the place of the skull, for execution. The Romans used Golgotha for several purposes. The Romans used Golgotha for a garbage dump and took refuse there for disposal. The second purpose of Golgotha was an open grave. The Romans disposed of the bodies of homeless or executed criminals. There would have been a large number of skulls lying in the open, one of the main reasons the place was called Golgotha. The third purpose of Golgotha was a place of execution.
Just as he was born completely helpless and dependent upon others to take care of him, thus he was when he died.  We know that Jesus fell at least three times and most likely had to be picked up by others so He could continue His journey to Golgotha.  He had been so weakened by the beatings and whippings that he could not even carry his own cross, and Simon of Cyrene was made to help him.  Jesus was unable to even wipe the blood pouring into his eyes, and the brave Veronica, forcing her way through the crowd and Roman soliders, wiped his face for him.
Simon helping the weakened Jesus to carry His Cross
Of course, at the center of our Lord's humble birth and ignominious death and all events in between was our Blessed Mother, walking every step with her Son, carrying His pain in her heart.  How difficult it must have been for her from the very beginning.  What woman would want to have her baby in a dirty little stable surrounded by mangy animals?  The pain of watching her Son be crucified by the very ones He had come to save is beyond my ability to comprehend.  But like her Son, Mary always subordinated her will to the Will of God.  That is a key component of humility, saying no to ourselves and yes to God.

The lesson I receive from the humble circumstances of our Lord's birth is that Jesus will never be found with the high and mighty of this world.  His place has been and will always be with those whom the world considers lowly and basically expendable.  This is the message of St. Therese of Liseux in her prayer:
"O Jesus! Why can't I tell all little souls how unspeakable is Your condescension? I feel that if You found a soul weaker and littler than mine, You would be pleased to grant it still greater favors, provided it abandoned itself with total confidence to Your infinite Mercy. I beg You to cast Your Divine Glance upon a great number of little souls. I beg You to choose a legion of little Victims worthy of Your LOVE!"
As Romans 12:16 tells us:
Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Jesus is not found in palaces with kings of this world.  He is among the lowly shepherds, those whom the world despises and for whom they have no time.  This is how the prophet Isaiah described our Lord as recorded in Chapter 53 of his book:
[2] And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: [3]   Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.
The world holds up the physically beautiful and powerful as role models, as the ones who command our respect.  But the One who is truly all powerful and who owns everything tells us this in Isaiah 66:
[1] Thus saith the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool: what is this house that you will build to me? and what is this place of my rest? [2] My hand made all these things, and all these things were made, saith the Lord. But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?
As the Little Flower taught us, make yourself as small as you can, crucify your own will and give it to our Lord.  Come to the stable, learn of him who is lowly, as he tells us in Matthew 11:
[29] Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. [30] For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.


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