Pope Francis has said some penetrating and at times disarming words on the infant Jesus this week, in the days leading up to Christmas. A theme that he has returned to repeatedly is the humility of the Savior of the World at the very beginning of his earthly life. What is more humbling than knowing that the God of everything took nothing for himself and gave us everything, asking nothing in return?
Earlier this week, Kevin Ganey offered a reflection on the humble beginnings of the life of Jesus, who wrote that he trembles when he contemplates kneeling before the tiny child in the manger in a dark stable. “The Most High does not chose a noble or luxurious life for himself,” he wrote. “He does not make himself an emperor. He enters the world in the most humiliating and least fitting place for the King of Kings.”
This is an astounding promise that’s hard to comprehend, especially when we contemplate our sins or when we think about the banality of our vast, bleak world. When we take stock of the hurt we endure in our lives—discrimination, disappointment, failure, abuse, neglect, and the pain we feel when those closest to us die too soon—the notion that an infant born in a barn halfway around the world more than 2,000 years ago has healed and continues to heal all of my wounds sounds absurd. And yet those of us with faith believe—or want to believe, or struggle to believe, or at the very least hope—that he will, despite everything else.
“How can he possibly love us so much?” Kevin writes. “How can he say ‘I love you’ while ignoring the worst about us? He demonstrates that the hairs of all humanity’s heads are numbered (Luke 12:7). He chose to live and work and pray among the least of these.”
In his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia this week, Pope Francis also spoke about this astounding truth:
If we had to express the entire mystery of Christmas in a word, it strikes me that humility is the one most helpful. The Gospels portray a scene of poverty and austerity, unsuited to sheltering a woman about to give birth. Yet the King of kings enters the world not by attracting attention, but by causing a mysterious pull in the hearts of those who feel the thrilling presence of something completely new, something on the verge of changing history. Humility was its doorway and invites us to enter through it.
Francis describes humility as “the effect of a change that the Spirit himself brings about in us in our daily lives.” Our ongoing conversion of heart is necessary for a faith that is life-giving and fruitful. But conversion requires the type of humility that makes us vulnerable, forces us to admit our mistakes and weaknesses, and sometimes exposes things to the world that we’d prefer to keep hidden. Contemporary society values displays of unwavering conviction, confidence, and firmness in our leaders and role models. In the Church we see this in those presented to us as examples of “true masculinity” or “courageous priests” or “fearless shepherds,” or in expectations placed on people in certain Catholic circles regarding how they live out their vocations.
The birth of Christ and the celebration of the Nativity call us to live humility radically. As Francis said, “The mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God who enters the world by the path of humility.” That weak and helpless baby is our model of humility. Yet, the pope continued, “Our times seem either to have forgotten humility or to have relegated it to a form of moralism, emptying it of its explosive power.”
Francis, like Jesus, has a special love for the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised, and all of those at the periphery because being on the margins reveals our weakness to us. The path to humility is a lot longer for those at the “top” of the social pyramid. Humility hurts. Humility costs. But we are called to be humble, because all of us are in need of God’s healing and saving grace. “Once we strip ourselves,” Francis continued, “of our robes, prerogatives, positions, and titles, all of us are lepers in need of healing. Christmas is the living reminder of this realization.”
In his Christmas Eve homily, Pope Francis describes how this paradoxical image appears in the words of the angel announcing to the shepherds that they will find the Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger. “That is the sign: a child, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger. No more bright lights or choirs of angels. Only a child. Nothing else, even as Isaiah had foretold: ‘unto us a child is born’ (Is 9:6).”
Why does our all-powerful God work wonders so quietly? Because he is the God of the small and the humble. Francis goes on to say, “That is where God is, in littleness. This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us, and to bring us back to what really matters.” God’s words are for the sick, the depressed, the weak, and the hurting. Those of us who feel entitled or arrogant or superior to others must become little.
These words from the homily are worth reflecting upon:
Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a minuscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.
During these days of Christmas, let us remember that we are all little ones in need of God’s care and healing. May we look to the tiny, weak, and hungry Christ Child who was born centuries ago in a country far away and remember that through the suffering he endured, he saved the world. And for all who are struggling in your faith this Christmas, my prayers are with you.
On behalf of all the contributors of Where Peter Is, I would like to wish all of our readers a very safe, joyful, and blessed Christmas! You are in our prayers and we hope that you keep us in yours.
Just to fill you in on our plans for the next few days. Obviously this time of year is a bit chaotic so everything is subject to change:
- Tomorrow, we’ll have a Christmas reflection by Melinda Ribnek that you won’t want to miss.
- Fr. Alex Roche has sent me his reflection for Holy Family Sunday, so that will be posted.
- We have a couple of videos (an interview and a presentation) featuring WPI contributors that we’ll post during the week.
- I’ll try to at least post important links to the pope’s homilies and addresses, but if we miss a posting, I recommend the Vatican website (of course) as well as a newer site, EXAUDI.org, which has some great content—including English translations of many major addresses by the pope and other Church leaders, as well as news, interviews, and analysis. I’ve been very impressed with this upstart site, which I believe was started by an international group of journalists who previously worked for the website Zenit (you might have noticed that Zenit English stopped posting new content at the end of last year). Thus far, my impression of EXAUDI is that it is cleaner and easier to navigate than Zenit was. Additionally, I noticed this message on their “About” page: “EXAUDI is aligned with the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church.”
- Historically, I have written end-of-the-year “best of” posts. Last year, I may have overextended myself in a very comprehensive two-parter (part 1, part 2), but I hope to put something together between now and New Year’s Eve. If any readers want to nominate any articles that we’ve written in the last year, let us know in our SmartCatholics group or on social media. (In case you were wondering, our #1 most read article of the year — by far — was our article on the story behind the viral “church brawl” video. While I am proud of this article, as it debunked a lot of misinformation and rumors surrounding that video, it’s unfortunate that controversy and sensationalism continue to get more clicks than our work that is geared towards evangelization and more closely adheres to our mission of promoting the message of Pope Francis.)
- Also, we have a few more articles in editing responding to the latest events in the Church and on the important themes of Francis’s papacy. So stay tuned!
- One final note: regarding the audio on the website. We started adding audio a few months ago, thanks to a very generous patron. This high-quality audio is customizable, we can change AI voices, correct pronunciation, add pauses, and so on. At first, our goal was to edit the audio and then publish it once all the corrections were made. This unfortunately can be very time consuming and led to a backlog of articles that needed to be converted. Going forward, for the sake of our vision-impaired readers, most of the time we will do the audio conversion right away, and (depending on the article) may go back and make corrections and fix errors at a later time. By the way, you can subscribe to the audio articles on your favorite podcast platform by searching for “Where Peter Is – On the Go” (here’s the iTunes link).