Advent provides  starlit path to spiritual peace 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

(Third in a series)

 

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Pictured above is the Nativity from Sts. Anthony of Padua and Le Van Phung Church in Baton Rouge. Priests, religious and faith formation leaders say the manger helps people understand God’s humility in coming among them to save them.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

 

Imagine stargazing on a particularly cold, winter night, letting the brilliance of the stars guide your path.  

Suddenly from deep in the recess of your heart, you hear the word “Come,” and the starlit path, especially one star brighter than the others, brings you to a manger. But this is much more than a stable with lulling cattle and bleating sheep. You have arrived at the first Nativity. 

As Advent draws to a close, placing themselves at the manger scene helps people understand God’s humility in coming among them to save them, say priests, religious and faith formation leaders in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

“It must have been a wondrous, quiet time in which so many things were going on,” said Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “As new parents, Mary and Joseph were caught up in joy, wonder and elation of knowing that promise of who Jesus is and then there’s simultaneously the story of shepherds tending their sheep and they encounter the heavenly host.”  

“I can only imagine they must have been in fear of what’s happening in the skies above them because, think about it, you’re out in the countryside and it’s pitch black,” she said. “You can probably only see a little bit by the light of a fire, and the sheep are sleeping, and all of the sudden this powerful witness happens and the heavens open up and a heavenly hosts of angels are singing ‘Glory to God in the highest,’ which is what we sing at Mass, and tell them what’s happened and direct them to go see this newborn king.” 

With such a wondrous announcement, Dow thinks the shepherds must have said, “Okay, we gotta check this out.” 

Coming upon the scene, quietly by Mary and baby Jesus’ side is St. Joseph, whose role resonates with priests.  

“As a priest I’m a protector and provider of the church,” said Father Brad Doyle, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Peace Church in Vacherie, St. James Church in St. James and St. Philip Church in Vacherie. He said a priest leads and guides his parish in the faith, provides for their well being through the sacraments. And when people stray from God, he is an instrument of grace in helping restore that relationship through the sacrament of reconciliation.  

Father Pat Broussard, pastor of St. Mary of False River Church in New Roads, agreed.

  “The images of new life coming in to the world are beautiful,” said Father Broussard, who was a widower before he was ordained a priest. “As a biological father you feel this sense of protectiveness that you are the father. This is your family, this is your beloved and your child in a most tender moment and a very vulnerable moment. And it actually becomes kind of primal. And I think that spills over into the spiritual fathership as spiritual fathers as priests.”  

Deacon Michael Chiappetta, deacon assistant at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs, recalled the visit from the Three Wise Men, who were learned in the natural sciences, to the Nativity. They were called by the Star of Bethlehem to go with expectation to the manger scene and they witnessed the glory of God coming to Earth.  

“We are all called by the Star of Bethlehem to have a sense of expectation and find the deeper meaning of Christmas,” said Deacon Chiappetta.  

An avenue to find this deeper meaning is to enter into the poverty experienced by the Holy Family, according to Sister Ileana “Ily” Fernandez SJ, who is involved in different ministries in her congregation, and is also the spiritual director and coordinator of the 20/30 Ministry at St. George Church in Baton Rouge.  

In an Ignatian meditation, Sister Ily reflected on the long journey that ends up in such stark circumstances in Bethlehem, with Mary about to give birth and the only place to stay is a cave.  

“They are given a cave, a place where there are animals, and dirt; it smells bad,” Sister Ily said. “I look in through a small window. Mary’s time to give birth has come … no clean blanket, nothing to receive Jesus, except the strong arms of Joseph. He wipes your face and nose, and you begin to cry … I ask Mary to let me hold you. As I bring you close I know it is cold, it is all dirty around here and you are in this kind of place, why? I let you sleep in my arms …  

“I ponder all this, Jesus, the Son of God, you are born as a poor refugee child in a cave, only the love of your parents surround you. There is such simplicity and humility here, how can this be? Why did you Jesus, savior of the world, choose to be born this way?”  

As she pictures herself sitting next to the tired parents, Sister Ily realizes it is all done out of love.  

“You are doing this to be with us in the poor and smelly parts of our lives. I feel your love, simplicity and humility. Are those my values?” she said.  

Which moves Sr. Ily to think about today’s refugees who have to leave home in order to find safety and security in another country and find themselves in dire situations.  

“There was no room for them in the inn (and you ask yourself) ‘Who am I today?’ ” Sister Ily reflected. “Am I like the inn keeper and offer strangers a dirty cave? How do I treat strangers? Do I share with them our best rooms, or a ‘cave?’ ”  

Father Doyle agreed that Christ is found in the midst of the suffering.  

“There are people struggling today who need help,” said Father Doyle. “Treat people with a heart of social justice. Even if you can’t give money, treat them with dignity.”  

Remembering this humbly acknowledges that Christ brings the great gift of himself and does not ask for perfection, but a place to stay in one’s heart, said Father Broussard.  

“He (Jesus) is coming into our hearts in all of its messiness and brokenness. We prepare by asking for the grace to let him into our hearts where we are, and who we are, and invite him to work with us to straighten up the mess,” said Father Broussard.