Rorate Caeli

A feast of the heart

Il presepe di Greccio, Chiesa di San Francesco, Montefalco
by Bennozzo Gozzoli. SOURCE.
God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours. 

Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). 

For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart. 

The cave in Greccio where St. Francis set up his first creche.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Benedict XVI

December 24, 2011


  1. "We love your childish estate, your powerlessness"


    "O come, O come"
    The waiting said
    Where pink turns green
    And purple red.

    Where fasting turns
    To festive feasts
    And midnight whispers
    Come from beasts.

    Where slate-gray skies,
    Tint-brown clouds glow
    Full and fraught
    To burst with snow

    And burdened mules
    Who trod the roads
    Can finally rest
    Take off their loads.

    Where families cut
    Down Balsam fir
    To scent their homes
    Like incensed myrrh.

    And men once dark
    Living in danger…
    Shed tears and kneel
    At the feat of the manger!

    ...and JOY comes in the morning!!!

  2. Staurofilax7:59 PM

    I don't know about the rest of you but I really enjoyed Pope Benedict XVI Christmas homily this year!

    God bless our Holy Father!!!

    Merry Christmas your Holiness!!!

  3. Here is another poem by St Robert Southwell

    This Little Babe

    This little Babe so few days old is come to rifle Satan's fold;
    All Hell doth at His presence quake though He Himself for cold do shake;
    For in this weak unarmed wise the gates of Hell He will surprise.

    With tears He fights and wins the field, His naked breast stands for a shield;
    His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
    His martial ensigns Cold and Need and feeble Flesh His warrior's steed.

    His camp is pitched in a stall, His bulwark but a broken wall;
    The crib His trench, haystacks His stakes; of shepherds he His muster makes;
    And thus, as sure His foe to wound, the angels' trump alarum sound.

    My soul, with Christ join thou in fight, stick to the tents that He hath pight.
    Within His crib is surest ward, this little Babe will be thy guard.
    If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

  4. Torkay3:37 PM


    Ever heard Benjamin Britten's setting of Southwell's poem, from A Ceremony of Carols? It'll give you goosebumps:

    (second song on the video)

  5. The Christ Child brings with Him the peace that the world does not understand with The Sword of the Gospel. The Earth will continue to be stained with human blood because this planet is not our home. It is the kingdom of Evil. This is why The Christ came to bring home all those who belong to Him. Let us pray that The Church soon reawakes to its divinely mandated mission to preach The Gospel fearlessly everywhere and bring home with us as many non-Catholics as possible.

  6. Gratias5:44 PM

    I love how Benedict XVI uses every opportunity to teach. I had no idea that St. Francis had a role in highlighting Christmas or established the first Crêche. I can understand now how Easter would be the main feast of the Church.

    From Benedict I also learned that Verbum = Logos = Reason and that the most important event in History was when God came to us as Jesus of Nazareth. I pray this intellectual pope may have a very long life.


    To all my friends a Christmas nod…

    In my 2 year’s old words, “Police Navidad!!” ;-)

  8. Torkay said:

    "Ever heard Benjamin Britten's setting of Southwell's poem, from A Ceremony of Carols?"

    Yes, of course, dear Torkay. :) And in the setting for "This Little Babe" I particularly like how the accompaniment imitates the "angels' trump alarum sound".


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