In a Poor and Little Stable

By Sr. M. Candace Fier

In the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary of God’s Instruments, Father Kentenich prepares our hearts to ponder the intimacy of the Incarnation and birth that Mary shares with her son. 

In Bethlehem in a poor and little stable you give birth

to the Lord of the world for us all. 

Just as you showed him to the shepherds and the magi

and humbly bowed before him in adoration,

let us always be his loving instruments

and carry him deeply into human hearts.[i]

When you hear the words, “the incarnation and birth of the Son of God,” if you come from a Christian tradition, immediately a whole host of images comes to mind—a mother and father in Bethlehem fulfilling the census, a child lying in a manger, three Kings traveling from foreign lands, shepherds in the fields in awe at the angels proclaiming the birth of an infant king.  However, it is not only these historical images that come to mind. There are sights and sounds and smells that make up our personal memories of the celebration of the birth of Jesus on that day that we so fondly call Christmas. Family traditions connected with this day have the deep and abiding ability to warm our heart, create good cheer, and make us long for “peace on earth, good will to men.”[ii] 

In Bethlehem in a poor and little stable, you give birth to the Lord of the world for us all.

It happens year after year after year.  We never grow tired of celebrating Christmas.  Why?  Because he who was born that first Christmas changed the face of the earth forever. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, is like no other child born on this earth. Saint John Paul II unfolds the meaning of that shared moment: “The event that takes place in a stable, in the rocky cave, has a dimension of profound intimacy: it is something that takes place between the Mother and the Child being born. . . . The birth of Christ is above all her mystery, her great day. It is a feast of the Mother.”[iii]

Mary has been chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God.  It is she who gave him a body, gave him his humanity. It is she, in union with St. Joseph, who receive the love of God the Father that he pours into their hearts and through them into the heart of their infant child, the God-Man. This same love flows through them and returns to the Father through their lives of love and service.  Father Kentenich explains: “The Child was at the heart of the Holy Family. He was—in an absolutely literal sense—the Child of God. . . . Please understand—such is the Nazareth family! It constantly highlights the well-being of the child in every respect.”[iv] This holy family love is born in a poor stable, and yet it is a love of infinite richness

and worth. It is not earned or purchased but gifted to each of us from a Father God who loves us infinitely in and through his Son.

Jesus, as the Child, Creates and Sanctifies the Family

In Mary’s vocation as mother, Christ sanctifies her with “grace upon grace”[v] and prepares her for her mission as Mother of the Church, as Mother of the Family of God. God the Father willed that his Son, Jesus, take on our human nature in order that he could, as the God-Man, be the ransom for our salvation.  Jesus brings with him into the world all the love of the Father for human beings. In him the Father gives himself to every person and in him is confirmed our eternal inheritance as human beings. This is an inheritance of childship before God the Father. Christ exemplifies for us what childship is through his total self-surrender to the Father. This gift of self-surrender brought about the gift of the Incarnation; God became one of us by becoming a child. And by his life, death and resurrection Christ has won for us a share in divine life and made us truly children of God. Through our striving to live, pray, and love like Christ, we become a child in his image.

It is in this context that Father Kentenich shows us the way to the Father, the way of the child:   “Become what you are!  Everything in you, which is great and noble, should be perfected. You should develop all the seeds of nobility found within you. . . . Becoming a child is the meaning of our lives, for it is our ideal of human existence.”[vi]

Our world today cries out for genuine authentic persons who live what they believe and sacrifice in order that the image of Christ may be perfected in them. The Father’s desire is that Christ be the example for all times and all peoples. Likewise, the Holy Family has taken its place in the plan of God in order to give redemptive meaning to the words “father, mother and child.” In the Holy Family, conjugal love was made fruitful in familial love. Together, Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived for us the Christian life of prayer, work, and suffering. Theirs was a life where each member of the Holy Family exemplified total self-surrender to the Father, in word and work, in suffering and joy.

Childlikeness Lived Out in Word, Work and Suffering   

There is nothing as transformational as childlikeness lived out in daily life. It is to be lived out in our words, the fruit of our prayer life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “Thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him.”[vii] Jesus and Mary lived in this divine presence. Their words—simple in their surrender, profound in their love for the Father—re-echo in our mind and heart: “Behold I am the handmaid of Lord; let it be done unto me as you say.”[viii] “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?”[ix]

The self-surrender of Christ and Mary was not only lived in Bethlehem but throughout the whole of their lives. With each passing year, it grew in depth, unfolding to the world in Jesus’ public life. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary instructs.[x] “I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do,” Jesus tells the Father.[xi] Christ and Mary were sheltered in God in each and every action of their lives.  

We too want to surrender in love to the Father as Jesus and Mary did. We listen to the Father as he calls out to us, as he speaks to us in our heart, that place of loving encounter with him. We hear him in and through the words of Holy Scripture, in and through the beauty of creation and the voices of our time and world. The Catechism teaches: “We may forget God, we may hide from him, we may run after idols and false gods, but God never gives up calling out to us, inviting us to prayer.”[xii] His call invites our response of love.  In this way, we come to know God and to know ourselves as God knows us. We can truly become what we are, a child.

This call and response, this dialogue of love, forms us so that our childlikeness is witnessed in our actions, our work. Like Christ and Mary we seek always to do, not only what the Father asks to do, but also what we perceive as his wish, so that his Fatherly love may be experienced by all.  In this way we are able to find the presence of God in others, our families, our friends, and each person and circumstance we encounter.

People today want to create a world without difficulties, without suffering.  However, we will not be successful, because God in his plan of love uses difficulties to reach out to us in love.  He wants us to see him behind everything, to trust him, and to have the faith to believe that he will draw us ever more deeply into his heart and care for our every need. For in truth, if there were no suffering to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy, the joy that is the resting in the possession of the ultimate Good, God himself?

In her distress, Mary asked, “Son, why have you done this to us? You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.”[xiii] From the cross, Jesus called out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”[xiv] We want to be children of the Father who follow the example of Christ and Mary in our suffering.  And as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we, like Saint Paul, want to “fill up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”[xv]

This is the creation and sanctification of family that Christ calls us to each day. As instruments of Christ’s love, we carry him deeply into human hearts. May this mission be for us an endless source of love and joy.

Thoughts to consider:

  • How did I hear God speaking to me today?
  • What prevents me from finding the presence of God in others?
  • What idols and false gods did I run after today?
  • Do I allow God to meet me in suffering?      

[i] For the Rosary of God’s Instruments, see Father Joseph Kentenich, Heavenwards, trans. Jonathan Niehaus, American edition 4.0 (Waukesha, Wisconsin: Schoenstatt Fathers, 1992), pp. 91–100.

[ii] Luke 2:14.

[iii] Pope St. John Paul II, A Year With Mary – Daily Meditations (New York, Catholic Book Publishing Co, 1986), 59.

[iv] Fr. Joseph Kentenich, The Family At the Service of Life (Waukesha, WI: Schoenstatt Fathers, 1996), 33.

[v] John 1:16.

[vi] Fr. Joseph Kentenich, Childlikeness Before God – Reflections on Spiritual Childhood (Waukesha, WI: Schoenstatt Fathers, 2001), 50.

[vii] CCC, #2565.

[viii] Luke 1:38.

[ix] Luke 2:49.

[x] John 2:5.

[xi] John 17:4.

[xii] CCC #2567. 

[xiii] Luke 2:48.

[xiv] Luke 23:46.

[xv] Colossians 1:24.