The first Christmas in the novitiate. It’s my first Christmas away from familiar surroundings, far from the traditions of my hometown, Caserta. It’s a time of novelty. The other first-year novices and I were entrusted with three tasks that marked the gradual entry into this significant new reality: preparing the Nativity crib and the Christmas tree, as well as guiding prayer during the Novena. They were important steps which helped me live this time of waiting in the novitiate. The activities gave life to two movements: the journey to a new Christmas, and exploring with greater intimacy the spaces of the house in which I have lived and breathed for the past three months.
The Nativity crib mirrors the dynamics of this journey. It’s structured in a particular way: the skeleton on which we built it is in the shape of a staircase, with each step having a biblical quote indicating a moment or a character in the history of salvation. I believe this is also the meaning of the crib in general: a story of steps, of ascent, of fatigue and consolation, moved by the tenderness of God the Savior and child, lover and eager for my love. The crib essentially is this: a courageous God who came for me, just for me.
On the top of the structure dominate Mary, Joseph, Jesus.
The second step – in chronological order – was the preparation of the tree. What comedy! At one point I was on the floor bent double with laughter. I enjoyed myself! It was a moment of joy and colour.
The tree, like the previous sign, tells me something about Christmas. It’s a symbol of life. And it also mirrors an aspect of my life as a novice: on the tree some points have coloured balls and shiny ribbons, while others are emptier and less luminous. This is my life, the life of a young boy in his early twenties. It’s a swing that oscillates, like everyone’s life, between joyful moments and moments of sweating.
The novena. The last task of Advent entrusted to the first-year novices. It started on December 16th. In turns, every novice, after a brief reading, shared a short reflection. We tried to present the sweetness, the greatness, the fidelity of God, the path to holiness, the invitation to employ our talents with courage. A kaleidoscope of themes. It was an opportunity to deepen our experience of an aspect of Christmas, to look at a small facet of the smile of a God close to us. The novena ended on Christmas Eve, the day before the big feast. He accompanied us until the last moment of Advent.
On the 25th we celebrated Eucharist in community within the novitiate. All these steps prepared us for the meeting of that day. But they taught me even more. They taught me that there is another Christmas, which does not coincide with December 25th. It is the Christmas of every day, more hidden than my personal journey. It is an unpredictable Christmas, which surprises and sometimes renders speechless. It’s the Christmas of the 25th of my heart, and not the calendar. This Christmas happens every time I experience a God who is always nearby, a God who is my companion or friend.