|Father Don Farnan
In Bethlehem, pilgrims enter the Church of the Nativity through the Door of Humility. It is structured so that only children and short people can enter standing up. Adults must become diminutive by crouching down or bowing so they can pass through to the site where Jesus was born. The door of humility reminds us to become child-like (innocent, simple, little), as Jesus taught, when we approach the wonder of the incarnation and miracle of God-made-human.
This door and this miracle call us to humble ourselves, to become small—just faces in a mob or like extras on a movie crew. When we make ourselves small, we shrink into the landscape. Yet, like the billion stars in a panoramic night sky, our twinkle gives light to the surrounding darkness. Various cultural tales and numerous fables, from Irish leprechauns to Willy Wonka’s oompaloompas, characterize little people working in the background to support a central character upholding a big image. Like Snow White’s dwarfs, Santa Claus has elves. I learned this year that these wee ones have names: Alabaster Snowball, Bushy Evergreen, Pepper Minstix, Shinny Upatree, Sugarplum Mary, and Wunorse Openslae… This blessed support cast is what makes the magic happen.
It is not much different at inner city parishes in December. In recent days and weeks, I’ve been privileged to observe wonderfully generous people mobilize their family and friends to pass through the spiritual door of humility by becoming elves that adopt poorer families for the holiday, purchase food and gifts, shop and haul toys or groceries, stuff goody bags, and deliver special treats. It is a magnificent sight to behold. They humble themselves, giving not of their surplus but offering their time and treasure to lift the spirits of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Dignifying those who struggle and suffer, they remind us, as Pope Francis does, that human beings are the summit and glory of God’s creation.
But like elves in a playpen warehouse, they can get spirited, impish, and mischievous—all work and no play would dampen or defeat the joy of the season. Though Jesus’ disciples were probably far more serious than Sneezy, Happy, Dopey, and Goofy, they also knew when to not take themselves so seriously; they were also diminutive and playful on occasion. Like disciples and others who make themselves small, holiday volunteers realize that their role helps heal the wounds of the world and its many injustices while, at the same time, gives hope to fellow sojourners who rejoice in the encouragement and goodwill they receive. December elves with other names: Heidi, Donnie, Yvette, Ben, Anna, Hugh, Renee, Lester, Amy, John, Treva, Julie, Jimmy…have turned our church halls into workshops that provide bags of fun and feasts for hundreds of urban households in the days and weeks ahead. These acts of kindness in Kansas City are not far from the act of humility in Bethlehem. Whether disciples, dwarfs, associates, helpers, or elves, these, God’s little ones, are part of the crew that cherishes the festive season of giving and tries to live it out year-round by bowing to the miracle of the incarnation.