A Christmas Meditation:
The Prayer of the Shepherd
Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
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St. Ignatius used to have a simple man who carried the modest baggage of his small group. During their journeys, this man would observe St. Ignatius and members of the Company of Jesus profoundly recollected in their long prayers. Filled with admiration, he thought to himself, “What beautiful things they must be saying to God!” He was certain their prayers were far more elevated and superior to those he was capable of making.
So he decided to offer to God those beautiful things he imagined they were saying. Watching them pray, he would simply make their prayers his prayer. Doing this, the simple man thus achieved the grace of elevated prayer.
I once read a beautiful meditation on the Nativity that imagined one of the shepherds who came to adore Christ in a similar attitude. Imagine a poor shepherd, like the servant of St. Ignatius, distraught because he lacked the words to express the sentiments he felt. The shepherd saw the Divine Christ Child, so beautiful and amiable, and he discerned that this Child is Goodness itself. His forehead furled in wrinkles of concern. What could he say before the glory and grandeur of this Infant?
Shepherds come to adore the Christ Child, by Taddeo di Bartolo
And then a thought occurred to him, like a grace that God always gives to simple souls:
“Why don’t I offer to the Divine Infant what His Blessed Mother Mary and adoptive father Joseph are expressing to Him? They are so perfect, so far above me, and they love Him as no one can love him.”
Fixing his gaze on the three sublime figures, he murmured in the interior of his heart to Jesus:
“O divine Infant, I say to You everything that they are saying to You, because they seem to me so holy and so profoundly recollected. By their countenances, I see they are immersed in divine mysteries that I cannot even imagine. Even though they are dressed simply, everything about them is noble and sublime, while everything about me is low and common, my body as well as my spirit.
He would have passed a long time in this simple, mute meditation. And almost without realizing it, his heart was overcome with tenderness for the God-Child. His soul, raised to the heights through Mary and Joseph, was filled with unknown lights and ardor. With one eye on the hidden God, the other eye on the two grand adorers, that simple soul was nourished incomparably by the incomparable Trio.
“I sense that the things they are thinking and saying to You give You pleasure. The pleasure that they give to You is the pleasure that I myself desire to give to You. Receive, then, those tender endearments and profound consideration that they are making to You as if they came from my own heart and mind.”
The meditation then invited each one of us to apply the case to himself. Why shouldn’t I have recourse to the shepherd’s humble prayer when I draw near the Crčche and feel within myself no elevation of spirit or profound thoughts? At times when I am preoccupied and tired, or suffering from heavy weights and trials? Despite my distractions and inertia, here is a means to forget myself and draw near Him.
A shepherd before the Christ Child
I will contemplate Thee, O Virgin Mary, and you will open to me the unfathomable depths of your respect, your love, and your enthusiasm for Jesus. I will contemplate Thee, o Joseph, and the sentiments revealed on your countenance of such great purity, tenderness, and dedication, sentiments that I would like to have. In both your expressions and ways of being, I see complete abnegation of yourselves. Filled with admiration, I ask that your prayers become my prayers, that the pleasure you give the Child Jesus in your contemplation of him, I might also give Him.
This was a meditation I heard some years ago, and it has remained with me. When I approach the Christmas crib and find myself empty, tired, discouraged at my own inadequacies, unable to find the spirit of the Christ Child because I am weighed down too much by the world and myself, I remember the humble prayer of the shepherd. He forgot himself, and looked to Joseph and Our Lady. Admiring them in contemplation before the God-Man, he entered into their spirit and invited Jesus to reign in his soul.
It is not always the profound thoughts or original meditations that bring the soul to greater intimacy with the Christ Child. Sometimes a simple vantage point is the best one that gives the greatest benefits.
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The Santo Bambino of Ara Coeli
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