The community of the Pontifical Scots College wishes our families, friends and benefactors a blessed Christmas. Below, the Rector gives his Christmas Message for 2018.A Christmas Message from the Rector
Technology, the cost of postage or simply my friends being too busy means that I don’t get the number of Christmas cards that I used to. Yet those that do drop through the post are reminders of family and friends with their colourful depictions of Christmas trees, Santa, snowflakes and, thankfully, there are still some that have nativity scenes.
I am always fascinated by the variety of different ways in which the birth of Christ is portrayed: everything from a recent drawing – well, a series of coloured pencil strokes – from a child in the local school to the work of some of the Renaissance masters. All of them try to capture the joy and beauty of our Saviour’s birth, but they do so in many different ways. Most try and stay faithful to the Gospel description of the intimate family scene in the stable; Jesus, Mary, a few shepherds, the odd angel and the child ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger’. It is a beautiful image of Jesus wrapped up and warm in his bed of straw lifted off the ground, sheltered and secure.
Just every now and again, a different nativity presents itself as the artist tries to offer a more theological interpretation of the birth of Jesus. One such portrayal that often appears on Christmas cards is by Fra Angelico from a fresco he painted on the wall of one of the cells in the Dominican priory in Florence. In Fra Angelico’s scene, while the ox and the ass enjoy the shelter of the stable feeding from the manger, outside Jesus lies on the ground – surrounded by Mary, Joseph, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Peter of Verona. There is no manger, no swaddling clothes; there is nothing to cover him. Fra Angelico, following the vision of St Bridget of Sweden, wanted to draw attention to the reality of the incarnation as the moment the Son of God humbles himself and comes to dwell among his people. This is Jesus humble, on the ground, unable to get any lower. This is Jesus exposed for all to see, not hidden under the swaddling bands. This is Jesus outside, while others enjoy the warmth of his stable.
As we celebrate Christmas in these difficult times, I suggest that Fra Angelico’s nativity gives us, the Church, some gentle instruction and encouragement. When we feel that we cannot get any lower, we need to embrace the path of humility chosen by the infant Jesus. When we are tempted to be hidden from gaze and scrutiny of others, we need to embrace openness and transparency as Christ did. When we look to be inside and accepted, we need to be outside and vulnerable as the Son of God was.
Jesus lies there small, vulnerable, weak and exposed, but he does not lie there alone. He is surrounded by those who love him, Mary and Joseph, and those will love him, St Catherine and St Peter. They will not leave him alone; they will pick him up and hold him to themselves. We, in our time, are asked to pick Christ up and hold him and his Church. A Church that is humble, open and outside as Christ is.
I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the entire College community, to wish our families, friends and benefactors – indeed, all people of good will – a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year.