St Aloysius Bulletin 12.23 - 12.30
Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem (from The Likeness of Christ)
The cave of Bethlehem is an exact presentation of the paradox of Christianity. It is austere and forbidding. Even in the daylight and under the bright sun the cavern would look miserable and uninviting. In the dark- ness it was positively repellent. The glimmer shed by Joseph’s lantern was not strong enough to shed a cheerful light; it served but to reveal and to bring out into relief every harsh and rude feature. The sides dripped with moisture and showed bare and jagged. Through openings in them, here and there, the wind moaned dismally. The strong draughts increased the natural chilliness of the place. The floor was uneven and covered with straw that had been trampled to filth by the animals. What was in the rude manger, though clean, was coarse and prickly; it scarcely tempered the hardness of the few planks for the Infant limbs. The dripping of the water and the sounds of the animals as they stirred in their rest, falling on the ear, inten- sified the general feeling of comfortlessness. And all these things, the cold, the darkness, the roughness of the straw, the unpleasant odor, concentrated their arrows of suffering on the tender Body of the Baby that had just been born in this inhospitable place. Sensitive in the extreme, the Child-God quivered with pain, and broke into infant wails. He willed to be as an ordi- nary child. He was not yet at the age when, as our Model, He would con- trol His feelings and support His sufferings without flinching. And all who wished to be with Jesus—to come close to Him—were drawn into these miserable surroundings, first Mary and Joseph and then the shepherds. They all had, in order to get near Him, to suffer the same cold, the same misery, the same abandonment —to share in everything which provided a marked contrast to the scenes that were taking place in the village above. From it floated down the pleasant sounds of revelry and feasting. Every house was brilliantly illuminated and the lights shone on faces that were bright with laughter and excitement. The rooms glittered with vessels in which were set out delicate things to eat and drink. The cheerful music set the young people dancing, whilst the old exchanged confidences with their friends who had come from a distance. An agreeable warmth pervaded every house. Each one vied with the other in the effort to gratify every sense and to dispel in a whirlwind of gaiety and pleasure the tedium of life. How they would have shuddered at the dreariness and discomforts of the cavern in the chalk cliff! The cave and the City! What a remarkable con- trast! In the city seems to be all the “joie de vivre” on the hillside nothing but misery and discomfort. Yet which of the two groups of personages en- joyed the greater happiness? Need we ask? The revelers find dissipation but not happiness, and in the very act of enjoyment are filled with a sense of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, what intense happiness is to be found at the side of the manger! The very absence of everything calculated to please the senses leaves the soul free to enjoy itself more largely. It is not of that which benefits the body, but of that which benefits the soul that all men stand in need. This is the lesson preached so eloquently by the silent Babe.