Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Una Grotto al Freddo al Gelo


This little statue of the Christ Child is carried in procession on Christmas Eve to the cave under the Basilica of the Nativity where Christ was born. I took this blurry photo in the adjacent church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, where the figure is kept behind glass under an altar.

I have been touched more and more during these past few Christmastides with the stunning paradox that God became a poor baby born in the filth of a stable. His earthly parents were exposed to scandal, the Baby God was born into squalor, and his birth, though it was attended with marvelous apparitions of angels and followed by the visit of kings, was soon after followed by a wrenching uprooting and a flight in fear of His assasination. Logically, one might think that the Son of God should not be treated such. And that is the Mystery, that He came to be treated that way, and to show us how to endure whatever God wills for us.

Scandal
If Mary had been a more usual young woman, she might not have been so accepting of conceiving the Son of God with what she must have known would be the scandal hanging over her head. We all know how people talk, especially in small towns like Nazareth, where she and Joseph must have been well known.

Squalor
And what would have been the reaction of an average woman to have to give birth in a stable to the son of the Most High King of the Universe? Wouldn't she have had the right to expect a much more suitable setting? Where animals are, are found dirty straw and bad odors. Even if she wasn't squeamish about her own comfort, the average mother's concern would be great for the health of herself and the baby in such a place.

Then Came a Long Terrifying Journey Away from Home
Not too much later, under the terror of Herod's assasain's in pursuit of their Child's life. Mary had to follow the angel's instruction in her husband Joseph's dream. Instead of returning from Bethlehem to Nazareth, they had to leave friends and family behind, and flee to Egypt.

How Did They Support Themselves?
I sometimes wonder if the Holy Family sold the gifts of the Magi during their exile for the wherewithal to support them on their journey and during their sojourn in the strange land.

Out of Egypt I have Called My Son
People then and now count the days between a marriage and the birth of the first child. The memory would still have been alive when they returned to Nazareth from Egypt some time later. Gossips have long memories. And it's sure that neighbors would have wondered where they disappeared to, and why.

The Deep Poverty of the Baby God
The Italians have a beautiful Christmas song about the baby God and His deep poverty. Liberty and I learned to sing it when we sang with the Italian choir at Holy Cross in San Jose at Christmas for a few years. I'm crazy for chant and polyphony, but I also love Christmas songs like this one.

Following is a rough translation:

Tu scendi dalle stelle, o Re del Cielo,
You descended from the stars, O King of Heaven

E vieni in una grotta al freddo, al gelo.
And came into a cave to cold and ice.

O Bambino mio Divino,
O my Baby God

Io ti vedo qui tremar.
I see you tremble.

O Dio beato,
O blessed God

E quanto ti costò l'avermi amato!
And how much it cost you to love me!

A Te, che sei del mondo il Creatore
You who are the world's Creator

Mancano panni e fuoco, o mio Signore.
Lack clothing and warmth, oh my Lord.

Caro eletto Pargoletto,
Dear chosen Baby

Quanto questa povertà
How much this poverty cost

Più m'innamora,
Makes me love you more.

Giacché ti fece Amor povero ancora.
For you, Love, made yourself poor.

Hear a version of this sung at the Vatican.
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