The Politics Of The Manger

On Friday, the Vatican unveiled this year’s version of the Nativity Scene in St. Peter’s Square which, in addition to portraying the Birth of Christ, pays tribute to migrant refugees and to the recent Italian earthquakes. In a speech at the blessing of the scene, Pope Francis called attention to the sufferings of the migrants, and compared their situation to that of Christ at His birth in Bethlehem. Somewhat incongruously – to my mind, anyway – a donation box at the scene allows visitors to help pay for repairs to churches damaged during the earthquake, rather than aid the migrants.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, over the past several years the unveiling of the city Nativity Scene has become something of an act of political theatre. The display is set up on the square fronted by city hall and the provincial government and, depending on the political persuasions of the mayor, the visitor sees either a traditional representation of the Nativity, or an irreverent art installation with political undertones. The latter is the case this year, thanks to the city’s viciously anti-Catholic mayor, failed sitcom actress Ana Colau. I will have the great displeasure of seeing this monstrosity in person next week; stay tuned to my Instagram account for details.

Given the appalling state of Christianity in Europe at the present time, perhaps at the unveiling of its Nativity scene it would have been more prudent of the Vatican to focus on evangelization, rather than remonstration. In an increasingly pagan Europe, where many nominal Christians do not even bother to get their children baptized any more, it would seem that the Church’s problem is not one of raising awareness regarding the plight of others, but rather a lack of self-awareness regarding its own plight. In the case of Barcelona, and other cities whose governments use Christmas as an excuse to make a political statement, Christianity has become an easy target for the airing of all sorts of views. In fact, Christmas is now the perfect time of year in which to strike a blow against the reason for the holiday itself, by openly mocking Christ through taxpayer-funded art installations.

It seems to me that a Nativity scene, should one decide to display one at all, ought to be about celebrating the Incarnation, rather than drawing attention to causes. On a daily basis, in every form of media, we are inundated with messages about every cause under the sun: not just migrants and refugees, but the environment, disease, poverty, natural disasters, and every conceivable permutation of social justice issue. All of these problems and concerns deserve our concern, discussion, and, where warranted, support.

Yet, does not God deserve just a little bit of our undivided attention? Is a simple Nativity scene too tempting an opportunity to resist turning it into a visual press release? The Birth of Christ came about, not as a reaction to Roman political unrest or Jewish theological disputes or the like, but as the way in which God chose to save us from our sins. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we be permitted to remember that, at Christmastime, in an unadulterated fashion.

Advertisements

The Courtier In The Federalist: Discover What 3 Classic Paintings Secretly Say About The Meaning Of Christmas

Check out my latest for The Federalist, in which I discuss 3 beautiful Old Master paintings depicting scenes from the Bible about the birth of Jesus, and the importance of the actual text contained within these works of art. You may be surprised at not only the presence, but of the significance of these painted words. My thanks to The Federalist for letting me share my thoughts with their readers and with all of you, yet again.


 

Join Me For A Glorious Christmas Concert!

​On Wednesday, November 30th at 7:30 pm, the Choir of St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Washington, DC will hold their first Christmas Concert under music Director and Organist Neil Weston. For more information, read the flyer below or check out the parish web site. I strongly urge you to attend if you can, and even if you cannot, please share this information with anyone whom you think may be interested because, quite frankly, our choir is amazing. Those Christmas CD’s they will be selling after the concert will go very quickly.

As regular readers know, St. Stephen’s is my parish here in the Nation’s Capital, and I have often praised the musical talents of our musicians on social media. In fact, everyone who has joined me for Mass at St. Stephen’s over the years has commented on how superb our music is, and that we are one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. Check out this recording I made of them singing Vivaldi at Mass one Sunday – I think you’ll agree that they sound more like something out of a cathedral rather than a parish church.

Part of this amazing sound has to do with the church itself, a building which will be of interest to those who like Midcentury Modern design. From the outside, St. Stephen’s doesn’t reveal its secrets, except in the magnificent bronze doors depicting scenes from the life of St. Stephen by the great contemporary sculptor Antony Visco of Philadelphia. Upon entering, you are enveloped in walls of French Modernist stained glass from Chartres, and the swooping lines of Mad Men and Connery-era Bond architecture. You can read about the history of the building, including why it was JFK and Jackie’s favorite parish when they were in the White House, by reading the Wikipedia entry.

However even with the great acoustics inside the building, in the end it is the people who make the music. Our musicians at St. Stephen’s are seriously impressive talents, capable of performing a very wide repertoire, from Medieval to Modern, highly popular to relatively unknown works. Director Neil Weston not only has exquisite musical taste, he is also a force to be reckoned with on the organ, as you can hear and see here.

I hope you’ll join me for this evening, and please do share this event with those you know who might be interested in attending. Be sure to come up and say hello, if you spot me at the performance. It is early enough in the season that it will not conflict with anything else on your calendar, and it will help all of us to start the Advent and Christmas season off right!