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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.
Merry Christmas and welcome to the Nativity.
One of the more sobering moments in my life came when I realized that my understanding of God was more influenced by Hollywood or holidays than it was the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. A Catholic all my life, I searched for God; however, I did so wanting to tell God who I wanted Him to be rather than have Him tell me who I really am. The guides of my pilgrimage were secular at best, yet they were all I had. Then, when all my attempts to find God exhausted their energy, something ironic happened … God found me. My eyes were opened. My heart was opened. I fell in love. I discovered the beauty of Truth, the beauty of the Scriptures, and the beauty of the Church. In it all I fell in love with God. I fell in love with His story. And, I fell in love with Christmas – the real Christmas.
With a reverent embracing of your heart, your history, and your sentimentality, I discovered that Christmas was not the celebration of family. Rather, as the liturgy expresses, Christmas is the celebration of the Family. Christmas is not the legend of a figment Santa and his gifts. Christmas is the epic feast of God who has given humanity the ultimate gift: Himself.
Christmas is about heart, not ho, ho, ho. It is about the heart of a Father longing for humanity to know who He is. Christmas is about presence, not presents. It is about the unfathomable, crazy idea that God would become a human.
And, Christmas is more messy than merry. It’s about people like you and me who live most of our lives in homes that aren’t decorated like they are in December. It’s about people like you and me who live busy, complicated lives and try to find God in marriage, raising kids, and paying bills. It’s about people like you and me who live with tough questions and real problems. You see, life is messy. I am messy. You are messy. Life is messy. Christmas – the real Christmas story – reveals the desire of God to enter a messy world. God loves us … and all of our messiness. The more we pray through the reality of Christmas, the more hope and joy we receive.
When I fell in love with God I fell in love with the Church that He gave us. She, like the Christmas story, is divinely inspired. She, like the Christmas story, is messy at times. She, like the Christmas story, is filled with saints who offer us hope. In November of 2012 our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI released Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. So that our understanding of Christmas in anchored in more fact than fiction, the basis for our retreat will be the Holy Father, not Hollywood. Everyday, we’ll unpack a nugget from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Everyday we’ll learn more about the nativity.
“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2.6-7) The Holy Father writes: “Let us begin our exegesis with the concluding words of this passage: there was no room for them in the inn. Prayerful reflection over these words has highlighted an inner parallel between this saying and the profoundly moving verse from Saint John’s Prologue: ‘He came to his own home, and his own people received him not’ (1: 11). For the Saviour of the world, for him in whom all things were created (cf. Colossians 1: 16), there was no room. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8: 20). He who was crucified outside the city (cf. Hebrews 13: 12) also came into the world outside the city. This should cause us to reflect— it points toward the reversal of values found in the figure of Jesus Christ and his message. From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.” 
“Mary laid her newborn child in a manger (cf. Luke 2: 7). From this detail it has been correctly deduced that Jesus was born in a stable, in an inhospitable— one might even say unworthy— space, which nevertheless provided the necessary privacy for the sacred event. In the area around Bethlehem, rocky caves had been used as stables since ancient times … we find the tradition that Jesus was born in a cave.” 
Welcome to the caves on the outskirts of Bethlehem, for it is there that we find the epic story of a young teenager named Mary, her husband Joseph, and a child who is the long-awaited Messiah.
Welcome to Christmas, for it is here, in these sacred days, that we will pray through the story that gives hope to our messy lives.
Welcome to Nativity – the real nativity – for it is here that our pilgrimage begins.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 66-67.
 Ibid., page 67
HOW TO USE THIS RESOURCE
Nativity is a resource you can use to go on retreat in the midst of your busy life. People go on retreat all the time. People go on lots of different retreats. Some retreats are at monasteries, others are at retreat centers, and still others are at churches. Regardless of when or where, retreat is essentially a time in a person’s life where they commit to being present to God—to pray, to listen, and to receive.
But, you’re busy, and you can’t get away, right? That’s okay. This retreat is just for you. While you may not be able to get away for several days, the mere fact that you’re reading this right now is a sign that you’re hungry for more. If you want to reconnect with God – and want some help in doing so – then this “retreat” is just for you.
The first thing you’ll need is commitment. In John 15:16 we read, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” Jesus has called you on retreat. So, when you commit to praying everyday, you commit to a person, Jesus.
For starters, find a place—a room, a church, a park, wherever. Find a place where you can focus on God without distractions. Next, you’ll need time. Ask Jesus to show you how to find the time. It may be your lunch break … could be early in the morning … could be instead of TV at night. You are busy, and in order to find 20-30 minutes each day you may need to sacrifice doing some of your favorite things. Finally, if you miss a day, forgive yourself. However, do your best to follow the days in order, even if you miss a day. The meditations build on each other sequentially.
Each day’s reflection will end with “FOR YOUR PRAYER.” There, you will be given a brief Scripture passage to pray with. Read the passage once. Get familiar with the text, the words, etc. Slowly read the passage a second time. Pay attention to how you feel as you read. Pay attention to which words “strike” you.
Next, use your spiritual senses, your Christian imagination, to pray with the passage. In his book, Meditation and Contemplation, Father Tim Gallagher, O.M.V. writes, “In this manner of praying, Saint Ignatius tells us, we imaginatively see the persons in the Bible passage, we hear the words they speak, and we observe the actions they accomplish in the event.” (page 36) So, “jump into” the Scripture passage. Be in the scene. Be with Jesus. Be with the Apostles. Once the scene comes to its natural conclusion, continue with A.R.R.R.
A.R.R.R. stands for—Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond.
You have sat with God’s Word. You have entered into the scene. Now, once you feel God is saying something to you, acknowledge what stirs within you. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and desires. These are important.
Once you’ve acknowledged what’s going on inside your heart, relate this to God. Don’t just think about what’s going on. Don’t simply think about God. Don’t think about how God might react. Relate to God. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what you think. Tell him what you want. Share all your thoughts, feelings, and desires with God. Share everything with Him.
Once you’ve shared everything with God, receive. Listen to what He’s telling you. It could be a subtle voice you hear. It could be a memory that pops up. Maybe He invites you to re-read the Scripture passage. Perhaps you feel something in your body. Perhaps he invites you into a still, restful, silence. Trust that God is listening to you and receive what He wants to share with you.
Now respond however you want. It could be more conversation. It could be a resolution. It could be tears or laughter. Respond to what you’re receiving.
Finally, journal. Keep a record this season of what your prayer was like. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, it could be a sentence or two about what God told you or how that day’s reflection struck you. Regardless of how you do it—journal.