Sunday, January 22, 2012

One of the most famous Christmas crèche scenes in Italy is in the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, just footsteps from the entrance to the ancient forum. In fact, this crèche (presepe in Italian) is on display for prayer year-round. It is probably unlike any Christmas crèche scene you have ever seen. It was built in Naples between the years 1780 and 1820. What makes it unusual is that, although the manger is at the center of the scene, the very large setting shows a bustling city setting, not a simple manger. Unlike in the crèche in your home, not every one of the characters in this presepe — in fact, very few of them — are focused on the tiny infant in the crib. Life is going on at a normal pace all around the infant Jesus and His parents. One of the characters is carrying a salami down the street; another is carrying a set of tools to a worksite. People are shopping, talking, working, going places. But in the center of all the activity is a simple scene set in stark contrast to all the busy-ness of the city. A young mother holds her infant son, and a protecting father looks lovingly at both of them.

This week, we will all be pulled in many directions. Life goes on for us all. No matter how busy we become, let’s never forget the small, quiet scene at the center of our busy lives: Jesus gently awaits our passing notice at the heart of all our activities. Year-round, pilgrims see the famous presepe near the Imperial Forum in Rome. They look at each of the industrious and harried characters depicted in a bustling town square, but their gaze always comes back to the quiet scene in the center, so filled with peace no matter how busy the surrounding scene. May your soul and mine be the same way this busy week: in all the ways that we are pulled here and there in the days before Christmas, never forget the peaceful gift that rests in our hearts. May the child born of Mary console you and give you peace throughout this week.
Msgr. William J. King

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