Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Christmas celebrations are officially behind us and we head into a brief period of Ordinary Time. Before you know it, we’ll be heading into Lent with Ash Wednesday being on February 14th this year. But rather than get ahead of myself, I’d like to consider a pious tradition of the Christmas season and its impact on how we may approach our daily lives.
As you know, every year there are several Nativity scenes put out to mark the miracle of Christ’s birth. All the major players are there: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, angels, and wise men. Some have more figures, some have less. But in the midst of it all, there is typically straw in and around the manger scene. Different cultures have a tradition of taking a piece of said straw from the manger scene. Some place it with their own Nativity set at home, others put it into their wallet with the thinking that you’ll always have the money you need if you do. I’m not sure how accurate that last part is, but some people are quite adamant about it. But within the whole tradition, there is also usually an offering of a dollar or so placed in the remaining straw. And that’s what has caught my attention for my letter.
What do you do with the accumulation of crinkled dollar bills that are part of the tradition of Nativity straw? The parish doesn’t need it to pay for the bale of straw we get for decoration. And it doesn’t feel right to use the money for some other project within the parish, given that it comes from such a devotional practice. And so, I take whatever offerings that I find among the statues and the straw and place them in the poor box. I think that’s the best thing that could be done with it, considering the poverty of the first Christmas and lowliness of Christ’s birth.
The straw and the donations remind me of another pious devotion many of us share; the invocation of St. Anthony when an object is lost. We all know what a friend St. Anthony is to those who have lost something and many of us pray diligently that he may help us find what was lost. But did you know that part of the tradition of the prayer is to make an offering to the poor once that object has been found? I came across that fact somewhere a few years ago and it does make a lot of sense. St. Anthony, a Franciscan, had a love for the poor. His aid and intercession should remind us to consider those less fortunate, especially when something we need has been returned to us.
And so, we encounter the two sides of Christian living; praising and worshipping God in our pious devotions as well as our care and concern for the least among us. May we strive for more of both these in our daily lives.
Peace and Goodness,