In our chapel during Advent, we have a manger that we fill little by little with straw. Sisters put in pieces of straw as they make little sacrifices throughout the day…usually when no one is watching! It is a tangible, visible image of something we’re always trying to do but can’t usually see quite so clearly—to make a soft place for Jesus to come into—to make our hearts, our Convent, and everything around us softer with love and pleasing to God.
Throughout Advent and as we enter into Christmas now, I must admit I have thoroughly enjoyed imagining Mary really and truly walking right up the center aisle of our chapel and crouching down to place her Son in that manger we’ve been filling up with straw. Would He fit? I think His shoulders would be nice and snug and it seems wide enough, but I’m not sure if it’s long enough for a real infant. His feet might hang over the edge a little bit. Our manger is made of thick, simple branches tied together. It could be a little wobbly, but we put cloth underneath it, so now it’s steady and still. I love to think of Jesus filling that whole little wooden manger, only three steps away from my seat!
You, Jesus, lie there, unable to lift Your head, but You can move Your hands and feet and eyes. You can’t speak words, but You can use your lungs to cry and sneeze and cough. You can’t eat a meal, but You can drink milk, and sleep quite contentedly after Mary feeds You. As God, You have control over all things in heaven and on earth and guide every detail of our lives, and here You are choosing to come to us as a baby and to live as a human being with major limitations. Sometimes, I too feel my personal limitations quite piercingly, and I’m not as comfortable with them as You seem to be, infant Jesus. But for now, I set myself and my poverty aside and do what everyone holy has told me to do—just look at You. I imagine You in our manger, three steps away! You look back at me, needing to be held and fed and tended to. You are so totally trusting of us sisters to take care of You. Who else will if we don’t? It makes me smile because those are the kinds of things that we can certainly do!
This is my imagination, but in reality, Jesus is physically here in our chapel in the Eucharist. He is in the tabernacle always and on the altar each day during Mass. He trusts us to hold Him when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Jesus takes on even greater limitations than a baby now—in the Eucharist, He can’t move at all or make a single sound. Even though God doesn’t “need” anything from us, something in me knows instinctively that it would console and satisfy Jesus in the Eucharist to be looked at, listened to, noticed, received, held, cherished, consumed, sung to, adored, reverenced. 2000 years after He was born in Bethlehem, Jesus is here in New York City, not in a manger of straw, but in bread which becomes His flesh and blood and is held in tabernacles, ciboria, and chalices dipped in gold. He lets Himself be held, too, in our bodies which He made so carefully in His image.
Jesus we are here watching You and listening to You. Here are our songs for You! When we leave this chapel, You will be present everywhere we go—needing care in the people we meet and in each other as sisters. You will be waiting to be fed and helped and cherished. It seems so sweet that we can do that, even with our limitations and inadequacies! You told us, “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You are heaven and You became a little child. I wonder what it’d be like for us, even for a week, to not be able to walk or even to roll over on our own… to only drink milk and not be able to have any other food… to not be able to articulate a single word? You couldn’t do any of those things, but You had everything you needed. You were deeply loved, and so are we—Your little children. Thank You for taking care of us and coming to us. Thank you for limitations that provide opportunities for love.
Sr. Josephine, CFR