St. Luke’s description of Christ’s birth invites us to consider that
in every age those who wish to meet Jesus must find him with his Mother
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 20 November, the Holy Father
returned to his catechesis on the Blessed Mother. In speaking of the
Nativity, the Pope said: "Mary experiences childbirth in a
condition of extreme poverty: she cannot give the Son of God even what
mothers usually offer a newborn baby; instead, she has to lay him 'in a
manger', an improvised cradle which contrasts with the dignity of the
'Son of the Most High'". Here is a translation of his
catechesis, which was the 36th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and
was given in Italian.
1. In the story of Jesus' birth, the Evangelist Luke recounts several
facts that help us better understand the meaning of the event.
He first mentions the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, which
obliges Joseph, "of the house and lineage of David", and Mary
his wife to go "to the city of David, which is called
Bethlehem" (Lk 2:4).
In informing us about the circumstances in which the journey and
birth take place, the Evangelist presents us with a situation of
hardship and poverty, which lets us glimpse some basic characteristics
of the messianic kingdom: a kingdom without earthly honours or powers,
which belongs to him who, in his public life, will say of himself:
"The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Lk 9:58).
2. Luke's account contains a few seemingly unimportant notes, which
are meant to arouse in the reader a better understanding of the mystery
of the Nativity and the sentiments of her who gave birth to the Son of
The description of the birth, recounted in simple fashion, presents
Mary as intensely participating in what was taking place in her:
"She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling
clothes, and laid him in a manger..." (Lk 2:7). The Virgin's action
is the result of her complete willingness to co-operate in God's plan,
already expressed at the Annunciation in her "let it be to me
according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
Mary shares in Son's redeeming mission
Mary experiences childbirth in a condition of extreme poverty: she
cannot give the Son of God even what mothers usually offer a newborn
baby; instead, she has to lay him "in a manger", an improvised
cradle which contrasts with the dignity of the "Son of the Most
3. The Gospel notes that "there was no place for them in the
inn" (Lk 2:7). This statement, recalling the text in John's
Prologue: "His own people received him not" (Jn 1:11),
foretells as it were the many refusals Jesus will meet with during his
earthly life. The phrase "for them" joins the Son and the
Mother in this rejection, and shows how Mary is already associated with
her Son's destiny of suffering and shares in his redeeming mission.
Rejected by "his own", Jesus is welcomed by the shepherds,
rough men of ill repute, but chosen by God as the first to receive the
good news of the Saviour's birth. The message the Angel gives them is an
invitation to rejoice: "Behold, I bring you good news of a great
joy which will come to all the people" (Lk 2:10), along with a
request to overcome all fear: "Be not afraid".
Indeed, as it was for Mary at the time of the Annunciation, so too
for them the news of Jesus' birth represents the great sign of God's
goodwill towards men. In the divine Redeemer, contemplated in the
poverty of a Bethlehem cave, we can see an invitation to approach with
confidence the One who is the hope of humanity.
The angels' song: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace among men with whom he is pleased!", which can also be
translated as "men of goodwill" (Lk 2:14), reveals to the
shepherds what Mary had expressed in her Magnificat: Jesus' birth
is the sign of God's merciful love, which is especially shown towards
the poor and humble.
4. The shepherds respond enthusiastically and promptly to the angel's
invitation: "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that
has happened, which the Lord has made known to us" (Lk 2:15).
They did not search in vain: "And they ... found Mary and
Joseph, and the babe" (Lk 2:16). To them, as the Council recalls,
"the Mother of God joyfully showed her first-born Son" (Lumen
gentium, n. 57). It was the defining moment of their lives.
Mary pondered these events in her heart
The shepherds’ spontaneous desire to make known what "had been
told them concerning this child" (Lk 2:17), after the wondrous
experience of meeting the Mother and her Son, suggests to evangelizers
in every age the importance and, even more, the necessity of a deep
spiritual relationship with Mary, in order to know Jesus better and to
become the joyful proclaimers of his Gospel of salvation.
With regard to these extraordinary events, Luke tells us that Mary
"kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk
2:19). While the shepherds passed from fear to wonder and praise, the
Virgin, because of her faith, kept alive the memory of the events
involving her Son, and deepened her understanding of them by reflecting
on them in her heart, that is, in the inmost core of her person. In this
way she suggests that another mother, the Church, should foster the gift
and task of contemplation and theological reflection, in order better to
accept the mystery of salvation, to understand it more thoroughly and to
proclaim it with renewed effort to the people of every age.