In 1958 when Pope Pius XII died the Cardinals could not agree on his successor or on the future direction of the Church, so they elected Pope John XXIII kind of like a placeholder.
He was 78 and pretty overweight, and they reasoned that he would be Pope for a couple of years and then they would elect his successor.
Pope John almost immediately won over the heart of the Church.
One of the first places he went was Regina Coeli Prison, the Mens’ prison in Rome, and when he walked in he got up in front of all the prisoners and said,
“Hello I’m your new Bishop. Since you couldn’t come to see me, I thought I would come to see you.”
1958 was the advent of Television and so Pope John’s first Midnight Mass was one of the first events televised from St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was the first time many saw St. Peter’s Basilica, or even saw the Mass.Catholic were hoping to make a good impression on the world.
I came across this account of Pope John’s first Christmas homily, but the Vatican website is not complete that far back so I can’t be absolutely sure it is his, but it sounds like him for sure.
Supposedly, Good Pope John, now Good Saint John, began his homily by asking which of the characters in the Christmas scene best represent us?
"If you say it was the angels, he said, you would be wrong because angels do not have bodies like us.”
“If you say it was the shepherds, you would be wrong, because the shepherds were farmers, and most of us are not farmers.”
"If you say it was the Wise Men, you would be wrong, because the Wise Men were wealthy and highly educated, but most of us are neither wise nor wealthy.
I think you know where this is going...
Then the pope said:
I believe the donkey best represents us in the manger scene.
You see, "The donkey was always feeling sorry for himself.
He felt frustrated and thought his life was meaningless.
He was habitually unhappy.”
“He would always walk around with a long sad face or, what the Italians call ‘una faccia lunga.’
"One day as he was walking, the donkey looked up and saw a horse. He thought to himself:
‘What a beautiful animal the Lord made when he created the horse. Look at him. He is strong and tall and he can run like the wind.”
The donkey said to himself, "Me—I am short and ugly.
I have no mane and cannot run very fast at all,” and the donkey was jealous of the horse.
He continued walking with a long face and he looked up and saw a camel.
This time he said to himself, “What a wonderful creature God made when he made the camel. Look at him. He can go for days without any water.
Me—I am thirsty as soon as I take a few steps.”
Again the donkey continued walking with a long face when suddenly he looked up and saw a cow.
The donkey said to himself, ‘Look at the cow. She is very friendly and gets along with everyone.
The cow not only gives milk to nourish her own, but she nourishes other creatures as well.
Me—I cannot nourish anyone. I am very stubborn. I am not easy to get along with.”
Continuing with his walk, he looked up and saw a baby in a manger.
There was something special about the baby, so he walked up to the manger and sat down by the infant.
"It was a cold wintry night and the baby was cold."
Then the pope said that the donkey began to breath on the baby.
He continued, "After a while, the baby reached up and patted the donkey on the nose—as if to say: ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for keeping me warm on this cold wintry night.”
"Now, for the first time in his life, the donkey was happy.
He no longer felt sorry for himself.He had found meaning and purpose in his life, and all his troubles went away because he thought of someone else and wasn’t just thinking of himself and his problems.”
And then Pope John XXIII said something that astounded everyone in the Church.
"For that’s the way it is with Almighty God. All he wants is the warm breath of a living soul and a warm heart. You give him that and he will take care of the rest."
Then he looked out over the vast crowd in the Basilica and said, “I want you to remember this for the rest of your life and he repeated...
“For that’s the way it is with Almighty God. All he wants is the warm breath of a living soul and a warm heart. You give him that and he will take care of the rest.”
The Basilica was silent and everyone was very moved and thought that the Pope had finished. What else could he possibly say they wondered, but then he looked out over the Basilica and added,
“From one donkey to a bunch of donkeys: Merry Christmas."
If Good Pope John can say it so can I
From one donkey to a bunch of donkeys…
Merry Christmas too…. Amen