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.


All Saints day

All saints day; stained glass window
Photo was taken at Sacred Heart Parish, Reefton, New Zealand.

Billy O’Leary was seven and lived in a very small village miles from anywhere and anyone.

The village had a general store which sold just about everything, a small school, and a small Church.

Billy’s father was the teacher at the school, the only teacher, so Billy used to say his father was the Headteacher.

One day, Billy’s father had to travel to the city for business reasons and invited Billy to travel with him.

Billy was excited for two reasons; he had heard his parents talk of the city and yet had no idea where it was, and second, it meant travelling on the train, which Billy had never done.

The day arrived, and Billy presented himself at breakfast in his Sunday best. He and his father walked to the train station and duly caught the train.

Billy sat by the window and watched cows and sheep and corn and maize go whizzing by.

When his father had finished his business, he asked Billy if there were anything he would like to do.

Now, back at school, Billy, Fr O’Grady from the Church had talked to the class about St Brendan’s Cathedral and had shown pictures of St Brendan’s Cathedral, which was here in this city, and so he asked his father whether they could go and have a look inside.

So off they went.

Now St Brendan’s was a very, very, very old cathedral, built when in some countries there was still kings and queens and princes and princesses and knights in armour and ladies in waiting.

Inside, the cathedral was dark, cold and kind of spooky.

Billy was a little bit scared, and a shiver ran through is body, so Billy held his father’s hand tight as they walked around.

The walls inside were very high, and right at the top there were stained glass windows all the way around.

Each window had a saint’s name.

Some Billy knew; St Patrick, of course, the twelve apostles, and St Brendan.

Others he had never heard of, like St Finbar, St Brigid and St Cairan.

As he walked around looking at all the windows, an amazing thing happened.

Outside, the clouds broke, and the sun streamed through the stained-glass windows, and suddenly the inside of the church was bathed in light.

Billy let go of his father’s hand and walked confidently on his own.

The following day at school, Fr O’Grady from the town Church came to the school to prepare the children for the coming feast of All Saints.

He began by asking the children, “Does anyone know what a saint is?”

Up shot Billy’s hand, and he waved it about with enthusiasm.

Fr O’Grady could not help but notice the enthusiastic waving, and besides, there was no other hand raised seeking the priest’s attention.

“Yes, Billy do you know what a saint is? Tell us now.”

“Father,” spoke Billy with confidence, “it is someone who lets the sun in and lights up the whole Church.”


(If you want to you may spell the word either sun or Son!!)

Abraham’s three visitors

In the Genesis account the Lord visits Abraham in the form of three men who are apparently angels representing God.

Abraham bows low to the ground before his three visitors and they speak to Abraham in union and are alternatively referred to by the Genesis writer as “they” or “the Lord.”  Abraham offers them the hospitality of foot washing, rest under a shade tree, and a meal and they offered him the announcement that God was going to give he and his wife Sarah a son, though Sarah was far past the age of childbearing.

Symbolism in Rublev’s Icon

In Rublev’s icon painting he depicts the three heavenly visitors sitting at a table with a cup placed before them on the table.  Most scholars understand the figures to be seated left to right in their doxological order of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Others had painted this Biblical story, but Rublev was the first to paint only the three angelic figures and to make them of equal size.  Rublev depicts the three as One Lord.  Each holds a rod in his left hand, symbolizing their equality.  Each wears a cloak of blue, the colour of divinity.  And the face of each is exactly the same, depicting their oneness.

The Father is like the figure on the left.  His divinely blue tunic is cloaked in a colour that is light and almost transparent because he is the hidden Creator.  With his right he blesses the Son – he is pleased with the sacrifice he will make.  His head is the only one that is lifted high and yet his gaze is turned to the other two figures.

The Son is portrayed in the middle figure.  He wears both the blue of divinity and reddish purple of royal priesthood.  He is the King who descends to serve as priest to the people he created and to become part of them.  With his hand he blesses the cup he is to drink, accepting his readiness to sacrifice himself for humanity.  His head is bowed to his Father on the left.

The Spirit is indicated in the figure on the right.  Over his divinely blue tunic he wears a cloak of green, symbolizing life and regeneration.  His hand is resting on the table next to the cup, suggesting that he will be with the Son as he carries out his mission.  His head is inclined toward the Father and the Son.  His gaze is toward the open space at the table.

Notice the beautiful circular movement in the icon of Father, Son, and Spirit?  The Son and the Spirit incline their heads toward the Father, and he directs his gaze back at them.  The Father blesses the Son, the Son accepts the cup of sacrifice, the Spirit comforts the Son in his mission, and the Father shows he is pleased with the Son.  Love is initiated by the Father, embodied by the Son, and accomplished through the Spirit.