Dear members of the Kildare Ministries Community,
I often hear myself falling into the trap of believing that ‘things’ used to be better in days of old. Kids had better manners, society’s institutions like governments, schools and the police force were respected and people knew what Christmas was truly about. We were excited about giving and receiving presents and I still am! The Italian community gathered, for our yearly reunion at Christmas morning mass and we sang Italian Christmas carols. We returned home for an abundant Christmas lunch before we were allowed to open presents. Christmas was about reconnecting to our community and remembering what the birth of Christ meant for us, it was about family and being present to each other and finally it was a recognition of our love for each other with a small but precious gift. A gift… ONE! That’s how things used to be …
Now the western world seems caught up in the material world. Speaking at the Vatican on one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year, the first weekend in December, Pope Francis said people should "resist the dazzling lights of consumption" and described it as "a virus that attacks the faith at the roots." Pope Francis said consumerism makes people believe that life depends only on what they own and not on faith.
But is our desire in material possession so new really? Even Pieter Bruegel a Dutch Artist in the 1500s, who is best known for his ‘artistic’ political was disturbed by the social disorder created by consumerism. His painting The Adoration of Kings depicts the nativity scene on the arrival of the three Magi. Kneeling in front of him, they bring the child Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In this painting there is no idealizing of the Mother and Child, nor is there a sense of the divine in the painting. In fact, Baby Jesus’ face is somewhat shocking to the viewer. Is Jesus really smirking at the Magi? So too are the elongated bodies of the Magi, with their disturbing long thin fingers. And what is the viewer to make of their faces!
Judging by their gaze, Bruegel’s soldiers and town people are more interested in the gifts that the Magi are offering than in Jesus. Bruegel’s nativity is not one of holiness, reverence or joy that the saviour has been born but a satirical commentary on human psychology. We particularly notice the townsman on the extreme right who is looking at the black Magus, wearing exaggerated spectacles. The National Gallery of Boston, in their dissertation contend, that perhaps Bruegel is suggesting that those around Jesus at this time were ‘blind’ to his significance. Bruegel has used spectacles to signify in an ironic manner the inability of the subject to see the truth. Bruegel’s powerful painting, intrigues the viewer as he makes comments on the declining significance of the true meaning of Christmas by depicting our human failings and social disorder…. And this was in 1564!
Pope Francis began Advent this year with a trip to the Italian town of Greccio, where St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223. Since then many artists and sculptures have tried to genuinely communicate the Gospel. The Pope writes, “our Christmas story is like setting out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman”. According to the Pope, the nativity or the creche "shows God’s tender love” by placing the mystery of the divine within an ordinary setting. More than that, he added, the lowly setting of Christ’s birth “summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross.”
So this Christmas, let’s not be sentimental about the way Christmas used to be and romanticise our part in it. Let’s understand that for centuries humans have been tempted by the seduction of consumerism so let us instead join Pope Francis in reminding ourselves and our loved ones that Christmas is about the simple and precious things in life. Our open and embracing encounter with one another and the love we share.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Trustees and their support of us in the Office and of course of all the Ministries as well. They are interested and engaged in all that we do and the wise counsel and insightful addition is always welcomed and well received. Thank you Rosemary and Maree as our co-chairs, Brigid, Vicky, Anne and Kathy.
To the Mission and Ministry Team - a big thank you to each. We are a small but highly effective team, who support each other and work as a team to ensure our response is professional and welcoming. Thank you Jeff, Andrea, Padraig and Monica.
All of us here at Kildare Ministries, wish every one of you and your families a very Merry Christmas with peace, joy and hope filling your days.
Click here to see our special Christmas message!