By Deacon John Degano
Fires burning in the fireplace. Hot chocolate on the stove… And snowflakes gently falling as we hurried to our rental car from our late afternoon conference session on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana.
As a native Southern Californian, my wife, Cheryl, isn’t used to “weather.” You know, the thing that causes the leaves to change color, or groundhogs to hibernate…
In fact, she regaled the retired Holy Cross priests with what she thinks about snow over dinner at their Fatima House residence.
“We have places in California for this kind of thing. Preserves, if you will. We call them mountains. If you want to go play in the snow or ski then you go to the mountains. Snow should not be coming to you.”
Cheryl’s tongue-in-cheek comment might find a lot of support right now as two-thirds of our nation are experiencing a-typical (for us) “weather” but we were fortunate enough to be able to come home to 70 and even 80 degree temperatures while those who live in poverty (what the conference was on) may only dream of…
People living in poverty don’t always have a choice of where to live and snowfall can be a whole lot more inconvenient for those without homes, jobs or the ability to pay utility bills and keep themselves warm until springtime.
It may even cost them their lives.
That’s a bit hard to imagine here on the West Coast, but it does serve to remind us of the Holy Family, nestled in a cave with the livestock of the local inn. Strangers. Isolated and alone. Fearful perhaps. Unable to find decent accommodations, they settled for what they could get and hunkered down until morning light.
And dawn came.
Our politically correct story of Christmas tends to end there.
What we tend to forget is the manure and soiled straw that also made up the manger scene that we place in our homes this Christmas season… That Mary’s childbirth could have gone so wrong. That the umbilical cord could have gotten in the way. That Herod’s soldiers might have found the child and put him to death with all the other under-three year old boys they were ordered to kill…
We tend to sanitize too much of the story when we tell it to our kids. We forget to tell them that the reason for the Roman census was to ‘count’ the number of Jews for taxation purposes (or worse). That Jesus’ parents were devout Jews and only took shelter with the animals because they were refused entrance everywhere else. A stable with even a partial roof overhead would have been considered luxury accommodations for pilgrims and rented out. Where Joseph and Mary stayed, no one wanted to go. It wasn’t fit for the king of the world…
The kingdom of heaven was breaking into our world. A series of juxtapositions. Contradictions.
Jesus was born into poverty in the City of Bethlehem, known also as the City of David or the “city of bread,” his bed a feed trough for the livestock.
And yet he was to feed the world with his body, broken on the cross, yet rising up three days later on Easter morn.
It’s the details that count. The smells and sounds that make it real and not just some pretty generic looking painting or TV special sponsored by Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Campbell’s ‘Umm… Umm… Good!’ Soup.
This holiday season let us look beyond the comfortable; upon the world as it is -- with renewed eyes of faith -- seeing the poor and impoverished for who and what they are. Our brothers and sisters.
And let us get ‘dirty’ as Pope Francis has invited us, to meet them on the street and not just give them a handout, but seek to learn from them as we share the awe and wonder of the season with them.
Let us seek Jesus in the poor.
John Degano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Riverside.