|Adoration of the Shepherds ~ Jusepe di Ribera ~ 1640|
I'm going to jump the gun a little with this painting by Jusepe de Ribera: The Adoration of the Shepherds. I'd re-title it: The Welcoming of Mary. The fellow nearest the manger, his clothing all tattered, is down and out poor. And notice too, right behind him is a shepherdess! One new gospel commentary says the shepherds were poor and usually women and children. And Mary has unwrapped the Infant and lifted him up for everyone to see.
The shepherds adoring is a popular theme in painting. That's important of course, but before that, we might acknowledge Mary's welcoming of these poor folks. Let's hold this sense of welcome. I'd venture most of the folks who check in here are church-goers, and at Christmas time there are lots of people who are guests in our churches: college students coming home, grown children returning home with their own young families, extended families gathering. Of course too, there are those who only come to Mass at Easter and Christmas, if that. They would all love to hear and feel a warm welcome.
I read recently of an Episcopalian man who happened to visit a Baptist Church one Sunday morning, and at the hand-shake of peace (Catholics aren't the only ones who do this) he turned to the man next to him and said, "I'm sorry, I don't know your name. I'm not a member and have never been here before." The man took his hand and said, "You're here today, so you're a member." Wow, that gets my attention: to have the welcoming of a stranger, so in the front of his mind, that it was ready to be spoken in a second.
The Baptist fellow said, "You're here today, so you're a member," while the Catholic sense or spirit might more be, "Is this your geographical parish?" "Are you on our mailing list," "Do you use envelopes?" "Is your marriage in the church?" "Have you filled out a census card?"
On the Classical Christmas music station this week there was a piece from an album titled: A Marian Christmas. How lovely is that! A devout Catholic is Marian. But I'd suggest that to be Marian is more an attitude, before it's a devotion. And at the top of the Marian qualities we might want to practice is welcome.
I knew a teen aged boy who'd had no religious training or direction after his First Communion. But while at the residential school where I was chaplain he became quite devout: prayerful, faithful to Mass and Confession, sacrificial and virtuous. As Christmas approached, he excitedly told me he would be going to midnight Mass in his home parish, and that he'd even convinced his family to go with him. When after the holiday vacation we spoke again, he was disappointed and upset that the priest began the sermon with, "You people who only come here at Christmas and Easter."
Marian people trip over themselves to welcome others. When seeing the shepherds, Mary probably said something like, "Don't stand at the door, come in out of the cold and meet the Baby." And as at Cana, when Mary seemed to have had some premonition about her son, she might have added, "This Child is for everyone; no questions asked."