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Christ Is Born to Mary and Joseph, For Shepherds, Magi, and Everyone In Between

Fr Rich AndreFr. Rich Andre, CSP
December 22, 2023

Welcome! Whether this is your first time or your four-thousandth time worshipping with the Paulist Center Community, we are glad that you are with us. We are an active, intentional Roman Catholic community. No matter your religious affiliation, you are most welcome to participate in any of our activities that speak to your spiritual values.

This Christmas, we celebrate a special anniversary. On Christmas night in 1223, in the small Sanctuary of Greccio in Lazio, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene. Hoping to help the local townspeople better understand the humble circumstances of Christ’s birth, Francis brought together a stable, some hay, an ox, an ass, a woman, a man, and a baby. While much of what happened in Lazio 800 years ago has been lost to history, it’s clear that the townspeople connected with the Christmas story that night in new, more personal ways.

Even today, when people openly question the need for religious belief, the Nativity scenes inspired by St. Francis give us a lot to contemplate.

In this year when war threatens all people who live in the land of Jesus’ birth, no matter their religion or ethnicity, we are all too aware how much must be done to bring about peace on earth. We fervently pray that all the people who live there can find a way to flourish as God intends. We also pray for people facing violence in Ukraine and so many other places that don’t make the headlines as often. We pray for the more than 100 million people — 1.2% of the world’s population! — who are immigrants, nearly a third of whom are refugees. We pray for a world tottering on the edge of crises of poverty, inadequate healthcare, injustice, and climate change.

What can our prayers accomplish? We cannot achieve peace, save the planet, solve the refugee crisis, or justly solve economic imbalance without God. If we can quiet ourselves long enough, God will provide the wisdom we need… and perhaps work some miracles, too. But when we gaze upon that nativity scene, we see God, in Christ, flanked by Mary and Joseph, two people who trusted enough to allow God to work through them. God also needs us to make change happen.

We at the Paulist Center do not claim to have all the solutions to the problems facing our world. But when so many people see only hopelessness, we still see hope. In so many of the problems of our world today, we are all victims of competing narratives. We are being asked to pick between two contrasting, simplified stories, when the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians, neither Republicans nor Democrats, neither liberals nor traditionalists, have the full grasp of truth, beauty, and dignity that God envisions.

The Nativity scene inspired by St. Francis shows us disparate people can share a common narrative. Shepherds were among the lowest of the low in Judean society. The prevailing thinking was that no one would take a job out in the elements 24/7 unless they couldn’t find a better job. The magi were wealthy foreigners (probably from modern day Iran) who were not Jewish, and probably did not speak Aramaic. Mary and Joseph would soon be refugees. Yet all these people came together as part of a common narrative we tell of the adoration of Christ, the very heart of creation.

Today at the Paulist Center, we continue to come together, to journey together as we each wrestle with our questions. We search together for answers provided by God’s presence among us, strengthened by our diversity. Since 1957, when people began flocking to the Paulist Center  on their lunch breaks to learn about the Catholic faith, this has been a place of innovative evangelization. It was among the first places to minister to certain marginalized groups, including divorced and separated people, women yearning for larger leadership roles within the Church, and LGBTQ+ persons. Our community is filled with passionate people dedicated to issues of charity and justice, as you can read throughout the rest of this bulletin. Even today, in a Church that seems to be greying, we have a remarkable number of families and young adults who negotiate the weekly challenges of commuting and/or parking to join us.

On behalf of the entire Paulist Center staff and worshipping community, we warmly welcome you and wish you a blessed and holy Christmas season. God understands our challenges. Christmas demonstrates that even when things seem far from perfect, God can still find a way. As we transition to a new year, we recall these words of Pope Francis: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (Evangelii Gaudium, #6). We are infinitely loved by the God who comes to dwell among us.