An only child

In his autobiography, “An Only Child” the Irish writer Frank O’Connor recounts the following story:

One Christmas Santa Claus brought me a toy engine.

As it was the only present I had received, I took it with me to the convent, and played with it on the floor while Mother and “the old nuns” discussed old times.

But a young nun brought us in to see the crib.

When I saw the Holy Child in the manger, I was very distressed because little as I had, he had nothing at all.

For me, it was fresh proof of the incompetence of Santa Claus – an elderly man who hadn’t even remembered to give the Infant Jesus a toy and who should have retired long ago.

I asked the young nun politely if the Holy Child didn’t like toys, and she replied composedly enough:

“Oh, he does, but his mother is too poor to afford them”.

That settled it.

My mother was poor too, but at Christmas, she at least managed to buy me something, even if it was only a box of crayons.

I distinctly remember getting into the crib and putting the engine between his outstretched arms.

I probably showed him how to wind it as well because a small baby like that would not be clever enough to know.

I remember too, the tearful feeling of reckless generosity with which I left him there in the nightly darkness of the chapel, clutching my toy engine to his chest.

The Christmas pram

Fr Mulcahy had been appointed to the parish of St Brendan’s, a parish in rural County Kerry, Ireland.

At Christmas, he was incredibly surprised that the Church had no crib.

The parishioners agreed to put a little aside each week till enough was collected for the purchase.

After two years of saving, enough had been raised and the crib figures were purchased. Fr O’Reilly had a contact in Rome who acquired the figures in beautiful Italian marble.

The local carpenter agreed to build the crib to show the statues.

Great delight was taken at the Midnight Mass that year when the crib was installed and the figures arranged.

To much rejoicing and song, Fr Mulcahy and others proceeded in with the figure of the infant Jesus, which was placed with reverence in the crib.

Early the next morning, Fr Mulcahy decided to go and say his morning prayers in front of the crib.

When he arrived at the crib and knelt, absolute shock went through his entire body.

The figure of the infant Jesus was missing.!

“I had better inform the police immediately”, Fr Mulcahy muttered to himself, “who would do such a thing – and on Christmas morning!”

As he was about to leave the church by the side door, he heard what sounded like the front door of the Church opening.

He paused. “Are they returning?” he wondered and hid behind a pillar.

Up the centre aisle walked young Bridget Fitzpatrick, pushing a pram!

Bemused, Fr Mulcahy watched.

She stopped at the crib, bent down, and leaned into the pram, gently lifting the figure of the baby Jesus. She placed the figure back in its resting place in the crib.

Fr Mulcahy walked forward and asked Bridget what she had been up to.

“Well, Father,” says Bridget, “I prayed to Jesus for a new doll’s pram for Christmas. And I promised that if I received one, he would be the first one to have a ride. Well, I received the pram, and we just been for a walk around the block.”

Maybe, Christmas is not so much about putting the infant Jesus into the crib, but rather daring to take him for a walk outside.


Fourth Sunday of Advent

There are many ways we can wait.

We wait at the train or bus station with anxiety and nervousness, hoping the public transport will be on time this morning when I need it most.

We wait at red lights at the traffic intersection with irritation when there are no other vehicles coming or going in any direction.

We wait in the departure lounge at the airport, assuming the doors to the walkway will be opened soon – and then those seated in Rows 16 to 23 are called to board, and you take a quick look at your boarding pass knowing you are in Row 8!

We wait with expectation and a little concern for the exam results from our final exams, with the outcome of these exams propelling me forward or holding me back.

There are many other kinds of waiting, for example, the farmer who has planted seeds in his paddock – the first sign of a green carpet appearing, bringing relief.

Then there is a special kind of waiting – I experienced this kind 22 years ago, and is still my favourite image for Advent.

My younger sister was pregnant with her child.

We lived in the same city, and I would visit her and her husband with some regularity.

On a particular occasion, the home was locked.

No problem, I knew where the key was “hidden”, and so let myself into the house.

In a short time, my sister returned. She explained that she had been for a pregnancy checkup and then asked an amazing question, “do you want to see the baby?”

She had a VHS (a video for those two young to know) of the growing fetus in her womb.

So, there we sat, my sister quite pregnant and me as we watched this fetus swimming around inside the womb!

It is one of my most special memories and is captured for me in the phrase, “ the one who is to come is already here! “

Maybe that is at the heart of Advent, “ the one who is to come is already here!”

Third Sunday of Advent

Springtime colours in Hagley Park, Christchurch.

Planted on the median of Christchurch’s Memorial Avenue are a number of blossom trees.

During the winter months, the trees are naked and somewhat brutal in their appearance; however, with the ‘advent’ of springtime, they are transformed with new buds which blossom with spectacular colour.

Memorial Avenue leads to a further outburst of colour as it arrives at Hagley Park; a large urban expanse of trees and recreational facilities in the middle of the picturesque city.

The transformation is extraordinary and is entirely colour based!

Our Advent first readings are taken from the prophet Isaiah, and they are songs of expectation and then of celebration.

This Sunday, Isaiah is full of this expectation and festivity (Is. 35: 1 – 6, 10)

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.”

“They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”

”Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy”.

“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

“The redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing.“

“Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness.”

Our redemption begins not in the snow but rather from the blossom and colour of Spring!