Once, when I was four years old, I was helping my parents prepare for Christmas. We had already prepared the tree and the nativity scene. The only missing piece was the Baby Jesus, which we would place in the manger Christmas Eve. I remember sitting down on the counch in between my parents, satisfied with my work. They too seemed content with the work we had done, and we sat together looking at the spectacular scene we had set up. At a certain point, my mother asked me a strange question: “Son, do you know how much I love your father?” I responded, “Of course I do.” My father asked me the same question, and I gave him the same answer. Then my mother added, “No matter how much mommy and daddy love each other, mommy couldn’t tell you what daddy is thinking, and daddy can’t tell you what mommy is thinking.” I remained silent. My mother continued: “But there’s someone who knows all of our thoughts, and knows exactly who we are. This person is coming to visit us this Christmas: this person is Jesus. Remember, my son, that Jesus knows you, he loves you and he comes into the world to keep you company. Remember that this is the real story of Christmas, that Jesus loves you.” As the years have gone by, the words of my parents have accompanied me in everything that I’ve done. Every so often, I think back on those words, especially during Christmas time.
When I arrived at the parish of the Magliana, one of the things I liked doing the most was the living nativity. A group of us decided to do it every year as a way to celebrate Christmas. For myself, it was fundamental that the Baby Jesus not be a statue, but that he be one of the babies of the parish, the last one to be born before Christmas. In this way, every year, the last baby to arrive plays the part of Jesus in the nativity. Every time the children of the parish would pass in front of the manger, they would exclaim, “Oh! He’s alive, he’s alive!” And every time this would happen, the surprise of the children would strike me: “He’s alive!” It moved me to see that they were expecting a statue, and instead, found a real baby, a baby recently born, that was waiting for them there. One year, after the parents had lined uo to see the baby up close, I took the baby from the nativity and gave the solemn blessing with the little one in my hands, as if he were Jesus. As I was raising the baby for the benediction, I saw that an elderly man in the back of the Church was moved and had begun to cry. When the living nativity had finished, this man came to me and said, “Father, you moved me greatly. I was expecting a statue and instead, I saw a real baby, as if Jesus himself had come to find me. Do you have a minute? I need to talk to you.”
As the celebration had just finished, we were the only ones remaining in the Church. I sat down next to him. “I need to go to confession,” he said to me. “After having seen the baby Jesus this evening, I don’t want this Christmas to pass without having made peace with God. Father, it’s been forty years that I haven’t gone to confession or recieved the Eucharist. But this evening, I saw that Jesus came to find me and I want to prepare myself well for Christmas.” This episode reminded me of the words of my parents: “Remember, son, that every Christmas Jesus comes to stay with you, to tell you that he loves you, to keep you company.”
This is the mercy of God, that, through the centuries and at all times, never fails to recall us to Himself. He makes us understand that it isn’t so much we who believe that He comes; it is rather He who believes in us, who thinks that it is worth it to come to us every Christmas, to give a new beginning to our story, to give us again the hope to change and to move forward, to assure us that we can remain always in the depth of His love.
In the image, a detail of the front of the altar, of the Church of Saint Mary of Avia, (National Musuem of Art of Cataluna, Barcelona) 1175 AD.