Occupy Bethlehem?

December 23, 2011

Is there a social justice angle to the Nativity story? This question may at first seem designed to quench any Christmas spirit. One would rather not think about politics when contemplating the heartwarming tableau of the Holy Family at Bethlehem. But Catholic social teaching is an expression of the magisterium of the Church, and thus rooted in the Gospel. So, of course, such a central mystery as the Incarnation speaks to the issue of social justice. To start, the Incarnation teaches us about the dignity of women. Second class citizens in the ancient world, women have always borne a greater share of poverty and victimization than men. Yet the greatest event in history involved a young woman’s yes to God. Our salvation depended on the feminine virtue of Mary – not the male-imitating careerist model of modern radical feminism; but a moral strength precisely exhibited in motherhood, in a loving marriage, and in fidelity to Divine Truth. Modeled on the Blessed Mother, authentic femininity must be exalted for its potential to bear salvation to the world. The story of Christmas is so familiar and beautiful that we can forget the heart-wrenching trials that Mary and Joseph went though in bringing Jesus into the world. They experienced homelessness and poverty, the indignity of being an afterthought in a great empire, and the hardship of being without friends or family at a vulnerable moment. Our awareness heightened by the story of Bethlehem, we as a society are called to a special concern for “those who are poor or in any way afflicted”. (Gaudium et Spes, para. 1) We now know for sure that no human being is insignificant, no matter how unfortunate his or her circumstances. Then there are the three Wiseman, who came from the East to honor the newborn King. Their entry into the picture marks, in a way, the beginning of the story of the Church Universal, with its role of healing the divisions among the peoples of the earth. Christmas teaches us that men can lay down their arms, dispense with prejudices and petty hatreds, and discover their commonality as human beings, children of the same Father. Today everyone recognizes the message of peace that Christmas entails. The Christ child reminds us of the futility of violence. There are other social justice lessons in the Christmas story as well: the Holy Family suffer the lot of refugees and the cruelty of a tyrant; they themselves demonstrate the importance of the institution of the family as the basic unit of society; and the baby Jesus gives the Divine stamp to the message of the dignity of every human from conception onward, even of those born into terribly trying situations. The Christ child transforms our personal lives and illuminates our individual faith lives indeed; but He was born into the world, not just our hearts. This Christmas may He be born again into our world, and may the light of His peace and justice shine in all the dark places.

More News & Events