What happened to devotion to the baby Jesus? Some time in 1967, Sister Mary Paul (now Jody) went on a course given by Fr Trendy Trousers and learnt that the infancy narratives were all fictional, that it did children irreparable psychological harm to talk about the baby Jesus and that adults had to be more grown-up and think of Jesus only as "the man for others."
In a "hermeneutic of continuity moment" earlier this week, I got to thinking about this particular devotion and my parishioners have heard me mention it both from the pulpit and in the confessional. So it must also go on the blog.
When St Francis constructed the crib at Greccio, he showed his saintly understanding of psychology. Many of the saints have encouraged us to picture scenes from the Gospel in our imagination. By constructing the nativity scene, we give ourselves the opportunity to meditate upon the awesome mystery that it represents. The Word of God, all-powerful, omniscient, creator of the universe, begotten of the Father before time began, came to visit us as a baby. We can also reflect on the part played in the scene by Our Lady, St Joseph, the shepherds or the magi: but I think that the 1960s denigration of the baby Jesus has remained in the theological subconscious so that we are perhaps a little embarrassed even to use this expression. It is against that embarrassment that I wish to take up arms.
My own thought was this: whenever parents bring a new baby to Church, there is a kind of rugby scrum afterwards. People want just to see the little child - they count themselves lucky if they are able to stroke his head or to hold him. Something in us responds immediately, with an infallible instinct, to a small infant. (One day, a consultant in the parish was at the edge of such a scrum and joked "Let me through, I'm a doctor!")
By imagining in our prayers the infant Jesus, cradled in his mother's arms, we can appreciate the infinite humility of our God. Despite our having sinned against him, turned our backs on him, cast him out of our lives in favour of some paltry gain, petty vindictiveness, or passing pleasure that we have placed at a higher value than his love, he has not cast us off, destroyed us, sent us to hell. Instead, the all-holy God has come to us utterly weak and vulnerable, a tiny infant whom nobody could fail to love.
This, surely, is a most powerful reason for giving thanks for our Christian faith. Allah is indeed all merciful, just and powerful. But his mercy is shown in a way that exceeds anything we could dare to hope for. This baby is the living God and he invites us to love him, to change our lives, to give him our all.