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The mystical Christmas experience of Saint Arnold

Author: Saju George Aruvelil SVD
Subject: History
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: VivatDeus.org
Year: 2022
Fr. Arnold Janssen - Stained Glass Window in Steyl

How did Saint Arnold understand the Incarnation of the Word of God?

Some of his prayers and sayings make clear his understanding of the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. For him “the goal of the Incarnation is our union with God in Christ who was born today. The Infant Jesús is the gift of Divine Love of the most Holy Trinity to us all”. And “the Divine Word has chosen to be a pilgrim with us in order to lead us to glory and to make us his brothers and sisters. Yes, God’s Son has become our brother”.

Regarding the humility of the divine election to take on the human condition, Fr. Arnold says that “the Xavier did not choose power and riches when he came to us. He was content with humility, poverty and even rejection by his own people. Although almost every child finds itself in a cradle, the Lord of heaven and earth was put in a lowly manger from which animals took their food”.

That is why he exhorted the members of his congregations to that we cannot find favor with God if we don´t become little like child. This is the great teaching of the Holy Night (Christmas). How much fullness in spiritual and bodily blessings has the Infant Christ brought here to Earth! Let us be grateful to him. Let us make others aware of the blessings he desires to share with us.

Our Founder was praying that “in order to save us and to teach us, You came to us as Light in our night. We want to remain faithful to your word, which You, 0h Divine Word, brought to us”. Thus, in the quarter-hour prayer says ” You sent the Word as Savior of the world, Make us all one in him”.

It is always commoving to see Fr. Arnold tenderly holding the Divine Child, Verbum Caro Factum Est, in his arms. Our Founder had a mystical experience of the Incarnation of the Word. This was not an abstract idea but something that reached the bottom of his heart. It was manifested in the Christmas celebrations in the Foundation House of Steyl. That is to say, as a father tenderly takes his baby, in the same way he also tenderly took the statuette of the infant child Jesús, as if it were really the baby Jesus from the manger in Bethlehem.

Already in the beginning itself, in the first year of the foundation, Fr. Arnold bought a crib from the Sisters of Aachen for the mission house in Steyl. In 1883, the Christmas Eve procession began to encourage devotion to the Incarnate Word. The small image of the infant Jesus, destined for the manger in the upper church, was first placed in the cradle of the manger in the hall of the mission house, which was adorned with candles and votive candles. Both the hall and the main corridors of the house were illuminated with Chinese lanterns and decorated with Christmas wreaths. At midnight the members of the community were woke up with a musical band that was played by the brothers of the mission, interpreting Christmas carols. Everyone hastened to go to the chapel and from there to walk in procession to the hall (Cf. H. Fischer, Life of AJ, 451).

With deep emotion and warmth, Fr. Arnold recited the prayer that he himself had composed. It began with the joyous proclamation of the Christmas mystery; the goodness and kindness of God our Xavier has appeared. This was followed by the prayers of salutation, adoration and

thanksgiving and many petitions, especially for the sacred work of the missions and for the Holy Church. Then, much like the gray-haired Simeon in the temple, Fr. Arnoldo took the Infant Jesus in his arms in a gesture of tender devotion, then blessed the community with it and tenderly deposited in the beautifully covered cradle satin cloth. The Superior General always conducted this ceremony in the Mother house itself. He did it so for the last time on Christmas 1907.

Fr Grosse-Kappenberg wrote that he will never forget the impression made on him by watching Fr. Arnoldo, now gray-haired, kneeling before the Infant Jesus and reciting the prayers that flowed from his heart, his face radiant with devotion and holy joy. On this occasion he was truly sincere childlike, ardent and deeply pious deeply thought (Cf. Remembering AJ, 119-120).

Fr. Arnold worshipped the Infant Jesus not only on Christmas night, but throughout the entire Christmas season. During the evenings and when he was alone in the chapel, he turned off the lights, took the image of the Child Jesus out of the crib and walked through the upper and lower floors of the place, praying and meditating, as if overwhelmed by paternal love. Those who saw it were deeply inspired and could not forget what they had witnessed. Arnold contemplated and says “how full of grace, light and joy is the birth of our Divine Saviour in Bethlehem. Surrounded by choirs of angels, he was received by them upon his entry into this world. The King of Glory appeared on earth and was received by innumerable choirs of angels, his servants.” And “oh You who are dressed in the poor clothing of our flesh, Son of God, are the chosen instrument of the Love of the Most Holy Divine Trinity, the sun of Love”.

In conclusion, as per my understanding, for Saint Arnold the Incarnation of the Word was not a historical fact but a profound mystical experience. The mystery of the Incarnation was the Founder’s hidden source, drawing him irresistibly in adoration, wonderment, and loving gratitude. About this mystery the Incarnation what he experienced, perhaps it was for him beyond to express in words. He had left for us a precious heritage and a task as well.

This motivates us to ask what is our spiritual experience of the Incarnation of the Word?




Saju George Aruvelil SVD is from India. He is one of the first OTP who has gone to Argentina. He finished his theological studies for the priesthood also there. He then began his service in the education field in our SVD institutions. He obtained a licentiate in Spirituality from Pontifical University of Comillas, Madrid. He also holds a doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical University of Argentina, Buenos Aires. He also helps in the formation of laity and religious candidates. He gives retreats and leads workshops, seminars, etc. He has a radio program and writes in a local newspaper. At present he is a promoter of Laudato Si Movement for caring for the Earth together with his parish priestly pastoral activities.

3 Responses

  1. Gracias Padre por su mensaje de cada dia y que la Virgen Maria siga haciendo en Ud. , un pequeño Belen. Que cada Proyecto que hace sea fecudo y roco en Amor y sabiduría, para , por y con los necesitados, material y espiritualmente

  2. Qué alegría padre Saju, mi mamá devota del “padre Arnoldo” ella estudió y trabajó siempre con las hermanas Siervas del Espíritu Santo del barrio de Palermo (Argentina). Mi hermano tiene 71 años, se llama Arnoldo, desde chicos mi mamá nos enseñó a rezar con el librito de oración del “padre Arnoldo”. Conservo este librito y el de la vida de él, impreso el 14 de agosto de 1948 en la editorial Guadalupe de Villa Calzada. Feliz de que Arnoldo sea Santo, para mí siempre será el “padre Arnoldo” como me enseñó mi mamá. Sigo orándole por mis necesidades. Un abrazo para usted.

  3. Muy buen Compilado!
    Gracias esto es algo que todo verbita debe conocer y agradecer!

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