“…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 virtues (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 lowly 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, slightly paraphrased:

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.

Image: According to Wikipedia, Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490, after a composition by Hugo van der Goes of c. 1470, influenced by the visions of Saint Bridget of Sweeden. Sources of light are the infant Jesus, the shepherds’ fire on the hill behind, and the angel who appears to them.” Public Domain, U.S.A.

Reference: F.W. Faber, Bethlehem: The Sacred Infancy of our Most Dear and Blessed Redeemer This is a fantastic book for Advent meditations.

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