IT IS easy to understand how enraptured children can become at the contemplation of a tiny Babe in a manger.
To have God reduce Himself to their own status, to become a child like them, to need a mother, what more could they desire!
They feel on a footing with Him.
The Almighty is of their stature!
We are told that on Christmas Eve, Saint John of the Cross used to carry a statue of the Infant Jesus in procession about the monastery.
The procession would stop before each monk’s cell asking hospitality for the Divine Babe.
The cells, like the hearts of the monks, would open to faith and to love.
Only then would the statue be carried to the Crib and the Divine Office begin.
Children share the simplicity of these holy monks. Nothing attracts them more than the Crib.
This very attraction makes it imperative that they learn about it correctly.
Care must be taken not to mix in with the gospel mystery any details which the child will later come to recognize as false.
What good can come of representing Santa Claus almost as God the Father who has given us His Son?
Why let children believe that it is the Infant Jesus Himself who comes down the chimney to bring them presents . . . only to hear some day, “You know, mamma, this is the last time I’m going to believe in Little Jesus who comes down the chimney with presents.”
If we mix the false with the true, it is no wonder the child will not be able to separate legend from doctrine later on.
The Gospel is sufficiently extraordinary in itself without our adding any of our own creations to it.
If we do, we may well fear the child will become disgusted later at being deceived and reject everything.
Any charming legend or pious little story we may want to tell them when they are very little should be kept quite distinct and handled very differently from the dogmatic truths and authentic historical facts we teach them.
Let us not introduce fairies into the story of Jeanne of Arc’s childhood, nor put the legend of Saint Nicholas rescuing little children on a level with the realities of the Redemption, with the facts of Our Lord’s saving us from hell.
If, therefore, we are to capitalize on the child’s attraction for the marvelous, let us avoid abusing his credulity; above all when dealing with the lives of the saints, with the Blessed Virgin and with Christ, let us not mix the false with the true.
Let us always keep on a plane apart those truths which are to be forever the object of ineradicable belief.
There is, however, a positive suggestion to offer:
Explain to the child how Baptism has made him a living Crib; not a wooden manger padded with straw, but a living Crib;
not a crib where only little Jesus lives but a Crib where the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity dwell, the Three Divine Persons.
Here, too, is splendid opportunity to show the child the difference between the two presences—
the presence of God in the soul through grace and the presence of Jesus in the stable through the Incarnation.