CHRISTMAS: THE PROPHECY OF WELCOME (Message of the Casante for Christmas 2018)
“… there was no room for them in the living-space” (Lk 2: 7b)
Dearest Brothers and Sisters of the Calabrian Family,
May peace, joy and love of the Child Jesus fill our hearts and enable them more and more to welcome people as a gift, so as to give hope to the world.
We are approaching the days of Christmas. The whole liturgy of this time helps us to reflect and prepare our hearts to welcome the Word of the Lord made flesh, as a gift for our life. His Word pushes us to welcome those who are his image and his flesh on the earth: the poorest and abandoned people.
Meditating upon the evangelical passage of Jesus’ birth and considering so many situations which humanity is experiencing, I focused on this verse that contains the great mystery we are celebrating: “… Gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space” (Lk 2: 7).
The first-born Son, the Word made flesh that comes into the world, is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, is Jesus. He comes to offer us his salvation, but humanity follows its rhythm, its race, and its programs without realizing this great mystery offered to it. The indifference of that time, and today’s, causes Jesus to find no place in the living-space. With other words the Evangelist John expresses the same thought: “… He came to his own and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1: 11).
There is nothing worse than not being welcomed, feeling rejected; and being ignored with indifference and insensibility is even more terrible. It was not easy for the contemporaries of Jesus to recognize and welcome him. It is not easy for anyone even today to recognize and welcome him for what He really is. It is not easy to recognize that the person in front of me, or at my side, is the same Jesus who reveals himself in my neighbour.
Jesus is born as one of us, is born in extreme poverty. It is not just a question of the material need of the family. Jesus is born also far from his parents’ village, far from the affection of his neighbours and friends. Here we are facing the great mystery of Incarnation that touches the reality of every human being.
In the midst of this poverty of material goods and affections, the maternal figure of Mary emerges; she welcomes him, wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger, because there is no other place for them. The manger becomes the sign of welcome, it becomes arms and heart able to welcome the Word made flesh: the life of Jesus.
Brothers and Sisters, the reality presented by Luke in this passage has an extraordinary meaning and relevance, because it becomes today a concrete invitation for each one of us to become arms and heart that, as once the manager, welcome Jesus and his salvation, overcoming every indifference towards the Word made flesh.
This way of receiving causes that the acceptance itself becomes a prophecy in today’s reality, in front of so many situations of rejection which also occur in our catholic circles – and we must admit it – also in our Calabrian Family.
It seems to me appropriate and urgent, this Christmas, to reflect on the acceptance, because we risk closing ourselves more and more in our thoughts, programs, and interests, in a selfish attitude that leads to think of us, first, and then of others, and finally, to close our heart and our life to the acceptance of the gift which is given to us by the love of a God who shared our humanity with us.
May the Spirit of Christmas give us the capacity to look within, to get out of ourselves, and to imitate the attitudes of Mary who wrapped the newborn Child in swaddling clothes, and welcomed him, even though there was no room in the living-space. Without the true Spirit of Christmas we too run the risk of falling into indifference, of refusing and not accepting, in the belief that “there is no room”.
It is false that there is no room, it is false that spaces are missing, it is false that there are no possibilities… there is always a place! We of the Calabrian Family must become protagonists of an acceptance that becomes prophecy, knowing that when we welcome someone, it is the same Jesus whom we welcome. For us, the welcome, the spirit of family, and the inclusion are not optional: they are part of our charism and of our being sons and daughters of God; we do not refuse anyone because all have a space in the heart of God. In other words, we must be “the heart of God the Father”, even with our limits and fragilities, but in the mutual and loving acceptance of all.
The gesture of Mary in welcoming Jesus with tenderness and affection, making room for him in the manger, is an extraordinary gesture to be learned, because it teaches us to welcome with dignity, in a very simple way, despite the poverty of the means. Our acceptance must not be done with indifference, we have to welcome well, and with dignity, for every person has a special value. We must not be afraid to go against the current in this discarding society, where people can be rejected and marginalized because of other interests, which are not evangelical at all.
In the world in which we live, in the daily life of our families and communities and in the same mission entrusted to us, we must learn true acceptance, becoming prophetic signs of the love of God the Father, who loves us and takes care of his children.
Fr. Calabria teaches us acceptance when, in November 1897, welcomes his own Jesus in the person of that child. He makes gestures that express true acceptance: he sees, bows down, shakes gently, recognizes and welcomes, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He himself, since then, tries to welcome all people in need, offering them the warmth of a house and giving back their dignity to them. Since then, he will never keep indifferent before the situations of poverty. He himself, and then the Opera, has always tried to take care of the fundamental dimensions of people's lives.
In one of his writings he encourages us: “May next Christmas Feasts find us prepared to offer a glad welcome to Jesus, who comes back, small and poor, to teach us humility and suffering; and may the New Year find all of us ready to fulfil the will of God to the end, the only thing that matters for our peace here and for our eternal happiness” (FR. J. CALABRIA, Apostolato Infermi, December 1950)
What does it mean to welcome from the human and evangelical point of view? How am I living hospitality in my daily life? Am I available to welcome all with my heart or am I doing some preference? Today, keeping the Word of Jesus in our heart and memory, we have to reflect on the condition of those who are put on the edge of the road, and are bearing signs of suffering, poverty and marginalization in their flesh, begging for some compassion. In Jesus who is not welcome because there was no room for them in the living-space, we contemplate the situation of the poor and excluded, the distant, the last in line, the abandoned to themselves, the disturbers of our security, all those who, thrown out in the peripheries, are not treated with dignity.
Let the Lord Jesus born in Bethlehem give us a generous heart, able to really welcome. In our homes and activity no one should close to the reception, one of the most beautiful characteristics that Fr. Calabria has left and taught us. In our families, in our communities, and in our mission may we courageously reproduce the gestures of Mary who welcomes the newborn Child and wraps him in swaddling clothes, adopting an opposite attitude to that of the world that closes more and more…
May this Christmas help all of us to become more human and more Christian, making room in our heart, in us, in our life to those situations of poverty and marginalization that the whole of humanity lives. Let us pause, and make room in our hearts, to welcome Jesus who is born among us today.
I wish to you all and to your families a Holy and Happy Christmas. Pray for me; I remember you in my prayers.
God bless you.