Posted January 06, 2011 in Word Made Flesh:
Christmastime Healing

by Fr. Pat McNulty. 

It’s hard to imagine that it’s normal for a 79 year old to walk around with a teddy bear in his arms talking to it like he was five years old. I would call that weird!

Well, that’s not exactly what is meant by "dealing with your inner child." As a matter of fact, at least in the area of childhood trauma, trying to recall certain memories and feelings through these child-like activities has proven to be very healing for some people.

Maybe so, but do you think Jesus went around as an adult talkin’ to a teddy bear?

Strange you would bring that up: it leads me right into what’s on my mind now as we move from the Christmas season into Ordinary Time again.

What? Jesus with a teddy?

No, but to many people something just as peculiar, namely, the Son of God with a real childhood, with normal childhood memories and images which were an essential part of his life.

People have very little sense of the whole childhood of Jesus and its effect on his public life, on his ministry, and on our being Christian.

Look at the parables: sowing and reaping, mustard seed, bushes grown into trees for the birds, yeast in bread dough, the lilies of the field, sparrows, winds and clouds. They’re all magnificent images from an active and fruitful childhood.

And right alongside those "normal" childhood memories, there was massive childhood trauma: a long, hard trip on a donkey just before his birth, birth in meager, trashy surroundings, fleeing from a slaughter and being a refugee before he was five, being lost in a large city before he was fifteen, and finally, as Son of God being taught and raised and subject to a mere man and woman until his Baptism by John somewhere around the age of 30. And he had lost his earthly father before that.

This divine child had a very intense human childhood which formed him for his adult life.

One of the distinctive aspects of our Catholic celebration of the Christmas Season is that we walk with him through his whole childhood from birth through Nazareth up until the beginning of his public life at his Baptism by John.

And yet, during this wonderful season, many people just "stop by Bethlehem" on Christmas and the next day are back at the mall planning a New Year’s Eve party.

And there is nary a thought about the rich and eventful childhood of the Son of God, which is an essential part of the Christmas mystery and thus our Christian life as well.

So, are you recommending some kind of liturgical inner child therapy between December and Easter to get things back into proper perspective?

No, I’m not talking about an "inner child" experience here. I’m talking about the gift of childhood itself.

As we grow older we might discover that Christmas invites us to put our "teddys" aside and let the same people who formed Christ’s childhood—Mary and Joseph—enter deeply into our childhood memories. If we do that, we might be surprised what we discover about that childhood.

We need to invite them to help us find those things which were life-giving even in the midst of the traumas of our childhood, just as we do with Christ.

We need to ask them to take us back to those people who were important and present to us, our own Simeon and Anna, or maybe a close relative or long-forgotten neighbour.

We have to ask them to help us re-discover the ways that our sense of awe and wonder were fashioned as they were in Christ—like the wonder of a summer storm or that first wounded sparrow we held in our hands.

And it’s about those New Testament saints and angels we remember and gather with around the altar year after year as Jesus did with the saints and angels of the Old Testament at the altar in Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary.

It’s about childhood. We all had one, you know. And Christ had one, too.

Every year as we journey with Joseph and Mary by the Light of this holy season we can discover old friends and events and people and places of hope and joy and wonder which we had totally forgotten.

And the discovery is not restricted to December 25th, you know. As a matter of fact, this past year I had a Christmas in September.

Two Christmases in one year? I don’t think I could handle that.

I didn’t plan on it. I was getting ready for a Mass of thanksgiving for my 50th anniversary in my home parish in a little town in Indiana and decided I would spend an hour or so walking and praying in the cemetery before Mass where many of the people from my childhood are buried.

Later, during the evening Mass, I looked out upon the faces of all the parishioners still living whose families were buried in that cemetery, and I remembered something which had helped to make my childhood precious, life-giving, and childlike, regardless of the suffering and trauma.

It was the common faith we all had in Jesus Christ as we gathered at the altar day after day and as we celebrated all the marvellous Christmas mysteries together as children year after year.

It was through these experiences, even though we probably didn’t know it at the time, that we were truly children together with Christ, whether we were rich or poor, smart or not, mean or loving, childish or childlike.

That night in my home parish church, it was as if my childhood was healing something in me without any "teddys."

Oooooops, I take that back: now that I think of it there was a special "teddy" in this whole thing.

I knew there was gonna be one in all of this somewhere. Yuk!

No, this one was alive. There, waiting for me in the back of the church after Mass that night was a man about my age, now without legs, in a wheelchair. Before we even said a word, we recognized each other after fifty years.

Instinctively we both opened our arms, embraced, and just kept repeating each other’s names as we rejoiced.

We were never friends in school because of old prejudices and judgments, but in that friendly embrace, all of that was gone.

I think we realized that we had always been friends because we had walked with Christ as kids together through His whole childhood Christmas after Christmas.

To me that was an encounter with the Christ Child, and it happened in the month of September.

But you are talkin’ about that inner child stuff after all, aren’t you?

No, it’s much more than that. But while we’re on the subject, I’m thinking that maybe you need to do some more work on your poor little inner child. Sounds to me like he’s in a lot of pain. I know a great place to begin.


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