December 22, 2019


Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  Thus, in posting this homily on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.

God bless you.

Father Shawn


I love Nativity Scenes. One of my favourite places in the cathedral this time of year is the Nativity Chapel in the vestibule…Over in the rectory there  is a Nativity Scene in almost every room on the first floor…Pope Francis wrote a letter at the beginning of  this December encouraging all of us to keep up the wonderful tradition of having Nativity Scenes in our homes, our  schools, our places of work, even in hospitals, prisons and town squares.  The Holy Father said that as we contemplate the Christmas story depicted in the Manger scene “we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of God, who became man in order to encounter every single one of us.  So great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.” (Admirabile Signum #1)  In the simple form of the Nativity Scene the greatest event of history is depicted with utmost simplicity.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity Scene in Creccio (Gah-wretch-ee-oe), Italy in 1223 A.D.   St. Francis came from a very wealthy merchant family.  But as a young man, he learned the search for fulfillment in the things of this world always comes up short.  He came to realize that it is only Jesus Christ, who can fulfill the human heart.

St. Francis wanted “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem…(Pope Francis #2) It was very much like our  pageant…staged with live actors and live animals, not puppets, in a cave.  St. Francis wanted to contemplate the poverty and humility of God laid in a bed of hay. …We are told that all those who were there that Christmas night in 1223, experienced a new and indescribable Joy in the presence of the Christmas Scene.  Then a priest who was present solemnly celebrated the Holy Eucharist, celebrated Mass, over the manger, showing the bond between the Son of God, taking on our nature, and the Eucharist.  Laid in a manger where animals feed, He would become our food, the bread come down from heaven, which we will receive in this celebration of Mass.

Pope Francis asks…Why does the Christmas Creche, the Manger scene, arouse such wonder and move us so deeply…even today?  First, he says, because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. (#3)

“God became human.  This is the central claim of Christianity…This is what we gather to celebrate tonight —still startling after two thousand years— God became human. The creator of the cosmos, who transcends any definition or concept, took to himself a nature like ours, becoming one of us. Christianity asserts that the infinite and the finite met…in Jesus Christ… that the eternal and the temporal embrace…in Jesus Christ, and…in Jesus Christ the fashioner of the galaxies and planets became a baby too weak even to raise his head …and as if continuing a joke…this incarnation, this taking on human nature,  of God was first made manifest not in Rome, Athens, or Babylon, not in any great cultural or political capital, but in Bethlehem of Judea, a tiny backwater outpost in the corner of the Roman Empire.

One might laugh derisively at this joke—as many have over the centuries—but, as G.K. Chesterton observed, the heart of even the most skeptical person is changed simply for having heard this message.

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II referred to this mysterious truth as “The Law of the Gift.”  In becoming one of us in the Babe in Bethlehem depicted in our Nativity Scenes…God laid aside His Divinity…and modelled for us “The Law of the Gift”  What is this Law?  “we cannot fully find ourself except through a sincere gift of ourself.” (Gaudium et Spes #24) I know this sounds to be counterintuitive, but it strikes a deep cord of truth within in the heart of every human person.  “We cannot fully find ourself except through a sincere gift of ourself.” The Law of the Gift is not self focussed, but other focussed.

“One receives one’s life precisely when one offers it as a gift.” Those of you who are married…. those of you who are parents live this…know it intuitively…A marriage…a family…is only as happy…as when you make a sincere gift of yourself to the other…to your spouse…to your children…… and is only as unhappy as when we fail to do this.  Curving in on ourselves…self-focussed not other focussed.

Pope Francis echoes his two predecessors.  He says contemplating the Nativity Scene invites us to “feel” and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation, in taking on Human Nature.  Implicitly, it summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the Cross.” The Pope says it asks us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need.”  Contemplating the Nativity Seed spurs us on to action:  Feeding the hungry, Giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting those imprisoned.

The spirituality of  Christmas, of Nativity scenes, is one of seeking, of looking.  This is part of the goal of Christmas when we contemplate Him in the Manager. . How are we actively looking for Jesus Christ? And what are the things that get in our way of seeing who he is and seeking Him first in our lives…, his kingdom, his righteousness.

We need to set out to contemplate Him…to adore Him…Gazing on the manger, listening to the Scriptures, tonight we realize He is the only one we really  need.  There is no journey so great as that of seeking Christ.  There is no journey so great as that of looking for Christ.  No path is worth following if it doesn’t lead to Christ.

Today our Saviour is born.   Nobody should feel excluded from sharing in such joy.  Our reason for rejoicing is common to all.  Our Lord has come to free us all.  For the Son, in the fullness of time has assumed our human nature in order to reconcile the human race with its Creator.   Love has come into the world.  Those who seek for love now know where to find it.  It is essentially love that each of us needs  – even those who claim to be already fully satisfied.

This night…As we contemplate the manger scene and what it represents…let us thank God for having wanted to come to us so that we can understand him and love him…And…allow Him to love us.

At home, here in the cathedral…pause for a moment before the Nativity Set and open your heart to the Lord in prayer in words similar to these….

Let us pray:

God our Heavenly Father,

from the moment of creation

you have never ceased showing your love for us.

Even when we turned away from you,

you did not abandon us to the darkness of sin and death.

Indeed, it was when our need was greatest that you sent us a Redeemer your Son, Jesus,

to be born of the Virgin Mary.

Bless us as we look upon this manger.

May it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus and

raise our minds to contemplate the awesome mystery of

God made flesh.

Let this holy season fill us with hope that we might join

Him in the eternal Kingdom of peace in heaven.

Through Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives

and reigns for ever and ever.