Christmas message of the Custos – CHRISTMAS 2017

During the restoration work on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, its magnificent mosaics have emerged more beautifully. One particular discovery is that of an additional angel, one of seven in the procession of angels. They are all walking towards the Grotto in which the Baby Jesus was born, towards the manger in which Mary placed Jesus after having wrapped him in swaddling clothes.

The seven angels are showing us the way we must follow to arrive at that Grotto and the manger, where the Son of God smiled and cried with the face of a real infant, and where he revealed the face of God to us in the face of an infant. Here he began to save us through the visible, fragile powerlessness of a child.
The extraordinary event which is Christmas, unfolds itself before us—first of all—as a gift which comes to us, and which we receive: a gift of salvation which can change our life and our history, despite the presence of many contrary signs in the daily news and in our personal experience.

In Bethlehem, within that Grotto, each and every one of us is prompted to ask: From what can a new-born baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger possibly save us?
• Such a child can save us from a way of life wrapped up in our own preoccupation with ourselves! He can do so precisely by compelling us to forget about our tears for a short while. Because he is hungry he compels us to worry less about our needs. Precisely because he needs our care and our attention he obliges us not to place ourselves too much at the center of the universe, and he teaches us how to love!
• Such a child can save us from our presumption, from our haughtiness and from our pride, from our desire to assert ourselves at any cost! He presents himself defenceless, and disarms our hearts! He is incapable of distinguishing the rich from the poor, the weak from the powerful, the great from the small. He makes us all equal in his presence and he also makes us experience together our littleness. He compels us to learn his language, to become children once again, to rediscover the words and simple actions of the time when we were small, without treachery, without hypocrisy or false cleverness.
• Such a child can save us from the foundations of a false life: he cannot tell the value of money, he doesn’t know what a credit card is, he doesn’t need a smartphone, or the Internet, or Facebook in order to communicate. He simply asks for a mother’s milk, he needs only the warmth of human contact, someone’s intimacy and care!
• Such a child can save us from pessimism, from a lack of trust, from fear of death, because he places before our eyes the mystery and the miracle of life. When he smiles, he becomes the image of joy, he makes us forget all discomfort, all anguish, all evil!

In that child, who is called Jesus, the very heart of God is throbbing! That child in swaddling clothes and in a manger is Jesus, the very author of life. He has come to live our own life in order to give us his life and to introduce us ultimately to the very life of God.
The Child of Bethlehem offers himself and gives himself over to us with open arms. He can show us the sweetest of smiles, but at the same time he is fragile, defenceless and in need of everything.
We are also called to open our arms to welcome and to open our hands to give, with the joyful and generous heart of Francis of Assisi.
May each and every one of us, in this holy Christmas, learn how to open his or her arms to welcome the Child of Bethlehem with generous tenderness, and also to welcome all the little ones in whom He is always present.
May each and every one of us be able to open his or her hands, in the action of giving, towards those who are in need and towards every creature we meet in these days along our life journey.

Happy Christmas from the Grotto of Bethlehem.
Happy Christmas from the Manger of Bethlehem.
Happy Christmas from the place in which the gift of God and our salvation have begun!
Happy Christmas to each and every one of you, to your families and your communities.

Fr. Francesco Patton OFM
Custos of the Holy Land

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