“…we cannot fix our eyes and hearts upon any part of the Incarnation [including the Sacred Infancy at Bethlehem], without the royal spirit of mortification and self-sacrifice passing into us. Jesus, in every shape and under every view, is the doctor of penance and mortification. Whatever else he teaches, that goes along with every lesson. Every lesson presupposes it, and reacts back upon it. Except a man take up his cross daily, and so follow Jesus, he cannot follow Him at all.” (From:The Blessed Sacrament, p.167, by F.W. Faber, comparing the Sacred Infancy of Jesus to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament).
From the very beginning at Bethlehem, Jesus “chose a lifestyle” of simplicity, detachment and self-denial. We can thus learn a lot about who Jesus is by looking at the circumstances of his lowly birth, and the following list highlights some of those circumstances (and here I am drawing directly or indirectly from Father Faber’s book, Bethlehem: The Sacred Infancy of our Most Dear and Blessed Redeemer):
1. Holy Poverty…..The Lord was born in extremely low circumstances
2. Detachment from things…..The Lord was born in a stable
3. Humility…..The Lord let others use the Inn
4. Mortification…..The Lord exposed himself to the elements/weather/straw bed
5. Simplicity…..Extreme simplicity/animals/shepherds
6. Contempt of World…..Jesus born outside of the city of Bethlehem in a stable
7. Abandonment…..Jesus has placed himself totally in the Father’s care
8. Silence…..An interior spirit/solitude
Bethlehem is like a microcosm of the Christian life. It is there in Bethlehem, in the simplicity of a spirit which rejects the values of the world, that adoration of the King of Kings can take place (so “far removed” from the false worship the world gives to the passing things of this world). What a lesson in theology Bethlehem provides!
Father Faber says:
LOOK TO GOD (in a manger of straw!)
LOVE HIS GLORY (“Oh Come Let us Adore Him”)
MORTIFY YOUR SELFISH SELF (which is antithetical to the spirit of the Lord’s nativity)
LIVE SIMPLY (imitating the Holy Family, according to your station in life)
Faber says: “The secrecy of the saints is akin to their simplicity [and that] simplicity clothes us from head to foot in Christian gracefulness. It gives an unworldly air to all we do…. ” The effect of simplicity is to narrow “the sphere of self-love.” Paraphrasing Faber (and also Saint Louis De Montfort), simplicity is sort of like a hidden key that gently and imperceptibly begins to unlock the chain of self-love as self-love finds it hard to breathe in such an unworldly atmosphere.
What a lesson our Lord’s infancy at Bethlehem provides for living the spiritual life! No wonder why we meditate on the mysteries of our Lord’s life, including his birth at Bethlehem.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Reference: F.W. Faber, Bethlehem: The Sacred Infancy of our Most Dear and Blessed Redeemer This is a fantastic book for Advent meditations.
Photo Attribution (Used with permission):
From Wikipedia: ” Detail from the distinguished Nativity scene, painted on paper sheets glued on wood paneles, was made by Francesco Londonio (1723-1783) around 1750. It is on display in the Cappella del Presepe in san Marco church at Milan. This kind of presepe was rather common in the past, but only few such specimens survived to us. This one is remarkably well preserved, and it was carefully restored a few years ago. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, April 14 2007.”
I’ve been looking at this beautiful image of our Lord’s nativity, and I am reminded of how important it is to have Christian art in our homes. Kids today are so often influenced by harmful images that constantly flood their senses that it seems to me that one remedy for this difficulty is to expose them to beautiful Christian images. When we look at the image in this post are we not inspired to love Jesus and to adore him, along with Mary and Joseph? This is an epistemology of love – that is of sense knowledge informing our intellect and moving our hearts to love God.