Pennies At The Crib
By Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Just as every experience of God catches up within itself every other experience of God, so it is with Christmas. In addition, if we take time to reflect, we will probably realize that every Christmas holds within itself something old and something new. There is one thing we know for sure. With each new Christmas, we touch the nearness of God in a new way.
I grew up in a little town in northern Iowa, with a population of 500. For many years, even before I appeared on the scene, it was the custom in our parish to have the children visit the crib on Christmas Day and to place pennies in a little glass dish, near the manger. The children were accompanied by their parents, of course, who probably supplied the pennies in the first place. I recall that the glow of the Christmas lights, on the otherwise the un-decorated greens, was awesome, as was the soft light in the stable near the Holy Family. Wide-eyed and wondering, the children spontaneously came to know the holy mystery of Christmas just by being there. These visits continued every Sunday after Mass, until the crib was taken down, leaving a bit of sadness in its wake. I am inclined to think that this custom still goes on. Strangely, there is something within me that wants to send a penny to someone in that parish and ask them to place my penny in that little dish, once again.
What Shall I Bring?
Now, many years later, with others I suspect, I still ask myself: “What shall I bring to the crib this Christmas?” Deep down, and secretly, I know that whatever I place there will leave me changed. Suppose we are attached to what we are asked to offer. Suppose we are reluctant. Maybe we have grown accustomed to the would-be gift, even though it may be one of pain. Maybe we have only powerlessness and uncertainty to offer. In any event, we know that we can always lay our desire before the Child and ask God to take the gift from us, but to do so gradually, gently and carefully.
However, there is more to this story. In his Romances,* St. John of the Cross describes something very unusual happening, something that, very likely, has been occurring, again and again, since that first Christmas. There, in the cradle, God is weeping human tears. Mary, the Mother, is amazed and looks on in sheer wonder, stunned by such a sight. What is more, she sees a gift-exchange taking place. God's comfort, understanding, and full acceptance are entering the heart of the world.
I See The World
As I reflect on this, I find myself wanting to place before this Child not just my gift but a gift from the world. In spirit, I see the world offering its struggle, its suffering and its powerlessness, together with its cry for an increase of trust. In return, I see God embracing the whole world and the world being held close to God's heart. Fear, anxiety and worry about the future are no more.
* St John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Trans., Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., Otilio Rodrigue, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), p.732.
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