We all have our favorite childhood memories of the Christmas holidays. I still remember the three little wooden mangers that sat on the table in our living room all Advent. My brother, sister and I would place a piece of straw into our own little manger every time we performed some act of virtue or said a prayer. By Christmas Eve each manger was full, and my parents placed in them a figure of baby Jesus as well as a small religious gift.
Advent and Christmas were family times with traditions that remain to this day in our memories of the season. I loved the smell of the mincemeat pie baking in the kitchen. Every year without fail, we watched “The Little Drummer Boy” on the night we put up the Christmas tree (which my mother insisted we leave up till the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!).
What I most cherished in the Christmas season, however, were the evenings. I would turn all the lights low, put on some religious Christmas music, and curl up in a chair before the manger scene carefully perched on the logs in our living room fireplace. Tiny Christmas lights twinkled in the straw that surrounded the figurines: Mary and Joseph, shepherds and kings, sheep and donkeys and cattle. I loved singing Christmas carols on those blessed evenings, uniting myself in spirit to the angels who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds. It was a magical moment for a child.
A statue of the infant Jesus in a manger is a striking reminder to us of something that happened 2000 years ago. The Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. In the Nicene Creed we confess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” God sent his Son to save us by reconciling us with himself, taking away our sins.
More than any gift or party or special treat, those Christmas evenings before the manger are the memories I cherish most to this day. On those quiet nights alone with my childhood thoughts, I soaked in the simple, yet ever so amazing meaning of the Christmas story: God had come to seek me out so that he could take me home with him one day. It is something absolutely true for each one of us. Through the Incarnation, Jesus began his work of redemption that would be completed in the Paschal Mystery. Now reconciliation with the Father is possible for all of us fallen sons and daughters of Adam. The Word became flesh in the womb of Mary that we might know God’s love and that he might make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Over fifty years later, these contemplative Christmas evenings have been replaced with daily hours spent in quiet stillness before the burning presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I come to silent prayer before the Eucharist as often as I can, because the Lord has come to earth to search for me, to love me, to heal me, and to carry me home to the Father. The Eucharist is not a figurine, not part of a nativity display that once a year captivates our hearts at Christmas time, reminding us of the birth of Love. In the Blessed Sacrament Jesus is truly present: body, blood, soul, and divinity. Jesus is real. Jesus is here. Right now. Today. For me. For you.
“The very flesh that Jesus received from the Virgin Mary on the day she said her fiat to the angel, the very flesh of the Child laying in the manger, is the same flesh that Jesus continues to give us sacramentally in the Eucharist.”
In the Eucharist we don’t simply remember what Jesus did. In the Eucharist we enter, right now, into that reality with our entire being. In the Eucharist we participate in the salvation Jesus is bringing about on this earth today. The very flesh that Jesus received from the Virgin Mary on the day she said her fiat to the angel, the very flesh of the Child laying in the manger, is the same flesh that Jesus continues to give us sacramentally in the Eucharist. Mary, the young girl who received the message of the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah; Mary, who knelt in adoration and quiet prayer at the side of her Son lying in a manger, is also known by the title Our Lady of the Eucharist.
Mary is uniquely positioned to help us truly enter into the Eucharistic mystery. He whom the whole world could not contain enclosed himself in the womb of his Virgin Mother. In Holy Communion the God of all the earth, the joy of the angels, the life of the world makes his home within you and me! Sometimes we wonder how to welcome him into our hearts. I imagine Mary would tell us: “Jesus is living and real. Jesus loves you. Jesus has something to say to you. Just listen. Jesus cares about what is happening to you and has a plan for your healing and salvation. He has a unique role for you to play in the mystery of salvation. Just tell him yes.”
As Jesus’ Mother, Mary calls us to unite ourselves sacramentally to her Son as often as we can. As the Woman of Advent and the Mother of the Savior, she calls us to the silent and still presence of God that burns in our Eucharistic Chapels. This Christmas, as we are drawn into the wonder of Christ’s birth and our hearts are warmed by the nativity scenes, as well they should be, let us resolve to warm ourselves from now on as often as possible at the fire of the Eucharist, Jesus truly present both during the holy sacrifice of the Mass and reserved in every tabernacle of every Catholic church.
Mary was the first tabernacle of God. She adored him in her womb for the nine months before his birth, a secret prayer of loving worship. May the Virgin Mother of the Savior teach us how to become tabernacles of God. After receiving Jesus in Communion may we, as did Mary, carry him into the world. In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “Let our adoration never cease.”
May these words of Bl. James Alberione inspire our love and devotion for Mary, whose only desire is to lead us into loving communion with her beloved son, Jesus:
“O Mary, model of loving souls and fervent adorers, I ask you for three precious graces: to know the God hidden in the Tabernacle; to seek his presence, in holy intimacy; to live habitually with my heart turned to him. Amen.”