by Bernadette Mary McGonigle (Cohort XII, Ireland)
December 8: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary when Adriana, my Italian landlady, like so many other families in Italy, Ireland, and elsewhere, began to assemble her presepi in the house – over 100 of them! Here is a picture of just a few of them, which she carefully creates each Christmas to the delight of her visiting grandchildren. Magi, shepherds, angels, glittering star, and an empty crib until December 25.
In the centre of each scene is the Holy Family exhibiting exemplary qualities of motherhood and fatherhood – Holy Mother Mary, gazing lovingly at her newborn son, Jesus, under the watchful care of St. Joseph. It is a touching scene that is replayed anew each time a new mother gazes in rapt delight at the miracle she has given birth to. We all have mothers, and Catholics easily identify Mary not only as the mother of Jesus but our mother and, as such, Mary is venerated deeply. The Catholic Church notes, “Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men,” Mary is justly honoured (Lumen Gentium 66).
For Catholics, Mary is the Blessed Virgin Mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and mother of the Church. Christmas did not exist until, by her consent, she gave birth to the Son of God in a lowly stable in Bethlehem. Over 2000 years later, the birth of her son, born that day in Bethlehem, would continue to be celebrated around the world and be an occasion for joy and an excuse, if one was needed, to share the joy with others: family, friends, strangers. At Christmas time, we are all friends and all family.
Besides Catholics, Muslims honour Mary as the most pious woman among humanity. She is the only woman who is mentioned by name in the Qur’an. This Jewish girl from Nazareth, who lived as a Jew and celebrated Jewish customs and festivals, became the mother of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. As such, she can be a rich source for dialogue in ecumenical and interreligious discussions.
Hannukah, the festival of lights, finished on December 6, 2021. On December 25, many Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. This year, we particularly need light in the dark world that surrounds us. Light in the world is something that we can all pray for; Jews, Christians, Muslims, and every other person in this whole beautiful but broken world. This year, may each of us let our light shine: the light of divinity within our own broken humanity, and together, let’s light up the world, indeed the whole cosmos. Happy Christmas to all and may Peace reign on earth.