Sunday, December 24, 2006

How La Befana Missed Out

Bishop Dennis Schnurr gave a homily (2004) explaining the witch figure in the nativity scene visiting the Christ Child.

The Italian tradition from the 13th century relates that the three Wise Men visited the home of La Befana on their way to see the Child Jesus. La Befana extended to them every hospitality, and they stayed in her home for the night. The next morning, they invited her to come along with them on their journey. She politely turned them down since she had so much housework to do. (I say: anything before housework!)

Later she regretted her decision, realizing she had missed seeing the baby Jesus. She started her endless journeying from house to house, seeking Him, and bringing presents to the children in case one might be Him.

The central lesson, as the bishop pointed out, was that La Befana missed the opportunity that came with the invitation. We could miss Christmas, for all the attendant activities we get involved in, like shopping and decorating.

I thought of the way various invitations which seem small can be so much more and how readily I turn them down. It happened a week ago that after about the 12th email invitation for volunteers for a student pancake feed I finally decided to go. It was a great time and little trouble, I met some new people, and we showed the students our support as they prepared for finals.

There are so many Gospel texts warning us to be ready for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13) and to not be like the guests who don't show up for the wedding (Mt 22:1-14). They are newly married or just bought a field (Luke 14:15-24). They are the ones who decide how they will spend their time; they know best how to manage their lives.

These parables are all about an invitation (Mt 21:23-25) that comes from Another. They are about being ready for that final moment, death. But that large invitation comes after thousands of tiny ones. It might be that we hate to pick up the phone and there's someone waiting to talk, or maybe we can think of other people who need that prayer service more than ourselves.

There is a necessary discernment we have to make with all the invitations that come our way. However, I find that our first impulse is to treat nearly every proposal, including retreats and other faith-building events, like just one more extra-curricular activity. Like La Befana, we risk to miss the big event.

The original invitation, like the one offered to La Befana, is to "come and see", as Fr. Giussani describes it in "Generating Traces in the History of the World".
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them,"Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. (John 1:35-39)
La Befana - An Italian Christmas Tradition

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