By Father Timothy Gollob
Special to The Texas Catholic
One of the great traditions of Christianity was initiated in 1223 A.D. by the good saint, Francis of Assisi. He had been distressed by the religious indifference of his day. Christ had become a cold and foreign symbol to many of his countrymen.
St. Francis reckoned that a more human face was needed for Jesus. It was hard to see the Savior in the humans of his day as too many thought only of the external manifestations of buildings and of ceremonies and of rote prayers.
To put our human face onto Jesus was St. Francis’ aim as he celebrated the coming of Christ into our human family by having a real baby in a manger with a real mother and a real father and real animals to give an authentic experience to all five senses of those who came to observe this new thing!
From that day on, the Christmas reality that Divinity really did come into our humanity has been depicted in every sort of drama and art form. In Italy, the Nativity creche is today wonderfully diverse in each parish church. Not only is the Holy Family and the shepherds and the wise folks present and accounted for; but each diorama is festooned with representatives of all trades and occupations. These villagers are going about their daily tasks, but they have minds that are stayed on Jesus.
In 1972, after visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I wanted to get a carved, olive wood memento for my friends in Texas. At a nearby shop many nativity sets had been carved with beautiful features on Mary and Joseph and Jesus and the donkey and the cow.
They were exquisite in execution with many delicate details, but they all seemed too good. Nothing was left to imagine. Then I noticed a table with small, crudely carved figures. They had a rough crib with a baby. There were two kneeling parents. That was it! I asked the shopkeeper what they were. He explained they were made by young people learning the art of carving. He apologized for their simple lines.
For me, they were the perfect gift. I brought six sets (they were also much, much more of a bargain) to give to my family and friends. They all loved them!
There wasn’t anything fancy or polished in the stable at Bethlehem that first Christmas. Jesus and his parents would have a long road to travel. He had a mission to accomplish.
Christmas is the great event that we all need to meditate upon as we see with our eyes what artists imagined was going on that night. Our job is to figure out when and where we will have the opportunity to bump into Jesus in someone else, who being one of us, has a human face.
Father Timothy Gollob is a retired priest of the Diocese of Dallas and a longtime columnist for The Texas Catholic.