I grew up Catholic in Tonawanda, New York, and attended grade school at St. Amelia’s, where we had Felician nuns, all Polish, many from the “old country.” I’ve written about some of my experiences with the nuns in previous posts.
My parents moved to a little brown Cape Cod on Findlay Avenue in 1954.
I spent my childhood there. It was a time when most moms stayed home, you knew all your neighbors, and our mothers never worried about sending us outside to play. We drank from that garden hose, sunscreen hadn’t been invented, and summer was one long glorious golden season that seemed to never end.
But it’s Christmas now. And Christmases were magical when I was a child. One day in December, as my father hurried out out to meet the guys in his carpool, all of whom worked at Hooker Chemical on Grand Island, he stopped and looked at me. “We’re going to church tonight to meet baby Jesus.” Then he winked and was out the door.
I could think of nothing else that day. I was four or five, and hadn’t started school yet. The excitement was so great I could hardly eat dinner. Finally, after my mother had bundled me and my sister into our winter coats and boots, with my dad carrying the baby, we left for St. Amelia’s.
The church had a center aisle to the main altar and two side aisles that led to smaller altars, the left dedicated to St. Joseph and the right to Mary. My father turned and led us up the right aisle to Mary’s altar. But the statue of Mary had disappeared. In it’s place stood a large wooden stable, its floor covered with straw. A wooden angel floated above the stable. Wooden statues of sheep and shepherds stood outside. Inside a man and a woman knelt in the straw. And before them, a little wooden statue of a baby in a manger.
“See?” My father nodded toward the Nativity scene. “Baby Jesus.”
I was stunned. In a complete state of disbelief. This was not what I had expected. No, I had imagined Jesus coming out from that little room to the left of the main altar. That mysterious chamber where the priest and altar boys went when the Mass had finished. Even though my father had said “Baby Jesus,” I had pictured Jesus walking out from that room, and sitting down with me on one of the hard wooden pews. And then we would talk. I had imagined a real live person, not a wooden statue.
Years later, at the tail end of the Jesus movement in the early 70’s, I met the real Jesus.
No, he didn’t walk out of the sacristy door and sit down with me in the pew, but I met Him. And He has been with me ever since.
As a young mother, I reflected on the absolute faith a child has when a parent tells them something. How implicitly they trust and believe. The faith of a child is a wonder and a miracle.
This Christmas I’m celebrating the birth and life of the real Jesus. And I pray you find peace and joy in knowing Him.