Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


Christmas Day
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
December 25th, 2013
Year A

There are so many traditional aspects that make up the Christmas season: evergreen trees, wreathes, holly, mistletoe, lights, music, and so on. One such feature, however, has always struck me – the poinsettia flowers. I never understood why these flowers were associated with Christmas. So, I decided to do a little research. As it turns out, their origin is Mexican. They were originally part of the Aztec culture, had a name that meant “flower that withers, mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure” and were associated with the religious sacrifices of the people – the red leaves symbolizing blood.

How, then, did these beautiful flowers come to the US? In 1825, the Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, was attending Christmas Mass near Taxco, Mexico and he saw these flowers. He decided to send some home to South Carolina as gifts. When he was finally sent home, he continued to promote the flower as a symbol of Christmas and succeeded in making a small fortune from it.

Yet, there is more to this story than simple history. There is a legend that is associated with the poinsettia flower. A charming story is told of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present the Christ Child at the Christmas Eve Mass. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes,” said Pedro consolingly. Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back tears as she entered the small village chapel. As she approached the altar, she remembered Pedro's kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the crechè. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season. Franciscan priests near Taxco took notice of this and began to use them in nativity processions and to adorn nativity scenes. Thus, the poinsettia became a traditional symbol of Christmas.

Reflecting both on the history and legend of the Flores de Noche Buena, we find that poinsettia flowers are a traditional symbol of Christmas because in both accounts there is something relevant to the birth of Jesus Christ. In the story of Pepita, a poor humble girl who offered a very small and humble gift, her love is displayed in the weeds turned into beautiful, brilliant red colored flowers. Indeed, a miracle. Does not our God display His own humility by being born, born to a poor family, in a stable-cave, surrounded by animals and shepherds? Almighty God has entered our humanity by becoming a child. St. Paul says it so clearly in his letter to the Philippians, that Jesus: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found in human appearance, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” St. Paul draws out for us the second element that is relevant to the birth of Christ in the history and legend of the poinsettia – Christ’s death, His sacrifice. For the Aztecs, the red leaves of the flower symbolized the blood of their sacrifices. In the legend of Pepita, they symbolize the blood of Jesus. It is worth noting that Bethlehem, the City of David, means “House of Bread”. Furthermore, Jesus was laid in a manger, a feeding trough. Already present in the birth of the savior is the foreshadowing of His sacrifice on the cross and the giving up of Himself as food for us. Who would have guessed that we could ascertain that these two characteristics would be found in a flower? Yet, no wonder it is associated with Christmas because we find them in Jesus as well.

Underneath it all, what underlines humility, what moves a person to sacrifice is love. Love is truly what we find here because love is the true meaning of Christmas. It was love that brought the savior to be born for us, it was for love that He offered Himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and it is for love that He gives Himself to us as food, spiritual nourishment.

In the story of Pepita we find tremendous inspiration. She simply loves Jesus, so much so that even her small, humble gift, is turned into something beautiful. She has something beautiful to display and it is not flowers but rather love. In the manger in Bethlehem, God displays His great love for us. Yet, our love is little because we are sinners. Our love is little because we are proud. Our love is little because we refuse to sacrifice. How then, can we show a greater love? By being humble. By being aware our sins, asking for His mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, by offering small acts of sacrifice – small yet beautiful in His eyes. Let us therefore receive Him with joy, with a renewal of love, a new sense of fervor to want to live our faith – so needed in a world hungry for God. Each and every Sunday, everyday, He feeds us with His Body and Blood and shows us His love. May this Christmas – and beyond – be a time when we display for Him our love. Let us simply love Him in return, as He deserves.






Fr. Jon Reardon

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.



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