Some of my favorite parishioners sent me this card while away for Christmas. It was chosen, I’m sure, because of the donkey, what with yours truly being the donkey-priest. I notice that the other beasts are quite a bit further away, distracted by the kings arriving from the East. Meanwhile, the donkey, with great peripheral vision, is keeping an eye on Jesus, just playing with the hay, not really eating. Moreover, that donkey is standing sideways so as to play the billboard, as it were. He’s giving the Holy Family a good view of the cross painted on his back, not that they haven’t seen it on him before. Mary rode down to Bethlehem from Nazareth, a treacherous journey, on the back of this beast, and would soon be on their way with him to Egypt, and then back. Another similar donkey would bring Jesus into Jerusalem for His crucifixion.
I really like the title: “Watching in wonderment.” This takes purity of heart and agility of soul. It takes a child. If we’re not like children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. So, that’s really important. We need to slow down. “Watching in wonderment.” I love it.
If you can see it, the angels directly behind the Holy Family are one to either side of a smaller manger. That manger is below the main altar of Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome. Meanwhile, there is a tradition that the wood of that manger became the wood of the cross. So how is it that the wood of the manger is still in the form of a manger and the wood of the Cross is to be found on the other side of Rome in the Basilica of the Holy Cross. The artist of this card has presented a good answer, with a support structure over the manger forming a cross.
Think of it. Soldier-executioners responsible for crucifying criminals saw this and brought it back to Jerusalem from nearby Bethlehem when they were there executing all male children two years old and under on Herod’s behalf. I would if I were them. Anyway, just a spurious thought which, however, might transport us back to the day, that quiet day, in which, watching in wonderment, straining to hear the quietest peep from baby Jesus, one hears the echoes on the mountainsides and sloping hills the voices of angels singing: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace…
Meanwhile, I hope for the day that the angels, who, it is true, as pure spirits with no bodies, have no differentiation of male/female, but are each and every one an entirely different creature (see the commentary of the Angelic Doctor), it is also nevertheless true that all angels in the Sacred Scriptures (Raphael, Michael, Gabriel…) and throughout the history of the Church (such as the Angel of Fatima) appear exclusively as male, often as warriors.
Saint Michael’s name speaks to how he wins his battles, that is, with his humility, what with his being “Like unto God.” Saint Gabriel’s name speaks to his being the military commander of Saint Michael (which is not unsupported in the Scriptures), for Gabriel refers to a war-hero, commander type special operator of God.
I digress, but I can’t help it. Even special operators, even angels, sing. Can you, straining, hear them? Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace…
Merry Christmas! Or as the Brits who are not in a drunken stupor say: Happy Christmas!