JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!
As the clock ticks towards Christmas Eve and Christmas day (and season), our thoughts turn more fully to the Crib of Christ and the Babe that was born in the most unlikely of circumstances and places. The feelings of anticipation, joy, and excitement in celebrating the birth of Jesus often hearken back to our childhood memories when we would know that something special was going to be taking place as night fell on Christmas Eve. Not only was it the glee over the possibility of Santa Clause visiting our house, but there was also a childlike understanding that the manger scene carefully laid out on our table was about to dramatically change as the Christ Child was finally placed there amidst the animals, the angels, shepherds, and the Holy Family. The amazing thing was that the Baby Jesus was the star of the show! We understood that the entire world looked upon the birth of this helpless child as the freedom and liberation from their woes, as the arrival of their King! We understood that He was like us - a child!
We are now grown adults, yet this sense of childlike joy and pregnant anticipation should not be any less! Yet perhaps we have gotten caught up in our 'adult' responsibilities, concerns, cares, and duties. Perhaps we have even become somewhat cynical or too serious to spend moments allowing our spirits to frolic with Jesus. Indeed, we may have forgotten that little Jesus is waiting to speak to our hearts and that He is calling us to have simple unencumbered child-like hearts that enable us to see and hear Him and His Divine Presence in our lives each and every moment of every day. He has openly shared his promise "that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled." (Jn 15:11)
What does this joy consist of? It surely is not worldly joy that comes and goes in an instant, and leaves our hearts feeling momentarily satisfied and then quickly empty once again. No, it is something deeper than that found in the deepest recesses of our hearts. In Proverbs we are told that wisdom "was delighted every day, playing before him all the time, playing in the world. And my delights were to be with the children of the earth" [Prv 8:30-31] Jesus is Divine Wisdom and brings this wisdom to us in order to rediscover and nurture our childhood innocence and dependence upon him. He affirms this in the Gospel of Matthew when He praises His Father, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Mt11:25) He tells us soon thereafter that "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (MT 18:3-5) His birth was the first step in showing us how to do this and opening the gates for us to guard our childlike traits for, in and with Him.
Christmas is a fitting time for us to look at how we are nurturing our child within. God needs that child to be loved, nurtured, and listened to. He needs this little one's capacity to love, to look upon His creation and all people with fresh eyes, and to experience every moment of daily life as a gift and an opportunity for discovery at each moment. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (MT 19:14) The Holy Trinity was so convicted of the importance of Jesus coming to earth in the flesh that salvation history unfolded only upon the fiat of Our Lady, the subsequent Incarnation, Birth, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. One did not happen without the other. Furthermore, although scant details are available of Jesus' childhood, we know that he played, ran, explored, studied, and learned his trade as He grew up "and grew in wisdom" as it was foretold that 'a little child shall lead them.' (Is 11:6)
We need to give ourselves permission to play and frolic. We need to be responsible adults and we must embrace our daily duties, but we also need to balance this with complete trust and joy in God. This means recognizing as a child does, that God is watching over us and wants a true relationship with us. We need to just 'be'. This enables God to tap into our soul and release more graces to us that are then openly received. The result can be as stunning as the art of famous child prodigy Akiane (see link above) or as hidden as one whose soul is immersed in the Divine Child as was the case with Ven. Cyril of the Mother of God. He was born Nicholas Schockwilerg in 1590 at Luxemburg and entered the Carmelite Order at an early age. He was ordained a priest in 1624 and was later elected a prior. In 1628 he left the monastery to join the more austere Discalced Carmelites at Prague. It was he who rescued the statue of Infant Jesus from the rubble of a church, after it had been ransacked by Saxons. The statue had been damaged and the hands broken off. One day when Father Cyril was praying in the oratory he heard the words: "Have pity on Me and I will have pity on you. Give Me back my hands and I will give you peace. The more you honour Me, the more I will bless you." Many subsequent miracles have taken place through this devotion to the Child infant of Prague. See http://floscarmelivitisflorigera.blogspot.com/2009/01/octave-of-nativity.html
As Carmelites, we see the rich history of devotion to the Child Jesus. St. Teresa of Avila reportedly always traveled with her statue of the Infant Jesus when she was establishing new convents. Her devotion to the Infant Jesus was forged after she was coming down the steps of her convent when she saw a beautiful young boy. The Child spoke to her and said: "Who are you?" Teresa answered: "I am Teresa of Jesus, who are you?" The Child answered: "I am Jesus of Teresa!" Her spiritual daughter, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face" was also particularly devoted to the Infant Jesus. Thérèse placed an Infant statue in the novitiate at Lisieux when she had charge of the novices, because she knew how many blessings the Divine Child brought to the Carmelite novices in Prague when it was placed in their midst. The same statue still stands in the cloister at Lisieux. Her entire spirituality was based upon the way of spiritual childhood and consists of deep and childlike dependence upon God in all circumstances and in great confidence. (See http://www.meditationsfromcarmel.com/content/teresa-jesus-and-th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se-and-child-jesus)
As Christmas arrives, let us become little children who frolic around the crib and dance for joy at the incarnation and birth of Christ as our spiritual Father St. John of the Cross reportedly did. On the day before Christmas he used to organize with the friars a kind of paraliturgical procession to recall how Mary and Joseph went in search of lodging for the divine Infant. At Christmas time above all he felt his heart pulsate with love for the Child Jesus. One Christmas, seeing a statue of the Infant lying on a cushion, he cried out, "Lord, if love is to slay me, the hour has now come. " Another Christmas, taken with love, he took the statue of the Infant in his arms and began to dance with enraptured joy. His countenance, in fact, corresponded with the Church's liturgy. (See http://www.franciscan-sfo.org/ap/yepes/gen_7.htm)
Let us be free as little ones, and pray as Our Lady instructed Ven. Cyril:
Jesus, you decided to become a child, and I'm coming to you full of trust. I believe that your attentive love forestalls all my needs. Even for the intercession of your Holy Mother, you can meet my necessities, spiritual as well as material, if I pray according to your holy will. I love you with all my heart, all my strength.
I beg your pardon, if my weakness makes me sin. I repeat with the Gospel "Lord, if you want you can heal me." I leave you to decide how and when. I am ready to accept suffering, if this is your will, but help me not to become hardened to it, rather to bear fruit. Help me to be a faithful servant and for your sake, holy Child, to love my neighbour as myself. Almighty Child, unceasingly I pray you to support me in my necessities of the present moment.
Grant me the grace to remain in you, to be possessed and possess you entirely, with your parents, Mary and Joseph, in the eternal praise of your heavenly servants. (See http://www.infantjesus.com/prayers.htm) Amen.