It’s been very rainy and bleak here, a perfect backdrop for the ongoing spiritual chastisement we are suffering under Francis the Humble®. A devotion which offers solace in these times is that of the Divine Infant Jesus, Who draws us by His perfect humility and loving obedience to Our Father in Heaven.
Devotion to the Holy Infant is complementary to that of Fatima. Both call us to mortification, true humility and perfect obedience. And devotion to the Divine Infant is a necessary part of the devotion recommended by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the beloved Little Flower.
Devotion to the Infant Jesus originated in Spain and then spread to many countries in a variety of manifestations. Many saints have been favored with this devotion, notably St. Anthony of Padua/Lisbon, St. Teresa of Avila and St. St Thérèse of Lisieux and Sister Lucia of Fatima.
Here’s a bit of background on just a few of the numerous devotions to the Holy Infant Jesus:
Santo Niño de Atocha
According to tradition, devotion to the Santo Niño de Atocha originated in devotion to Our Lady of Antioch and her Divine Child and “Atocha” derived from “Antioch” over many centuries. The original statue is said to have been sculpted by St. Luke the Evangelist and so dates to very early times. By 1162, the devotion had spread to Spain and became immensely popular. The following story is taken from the site El Santo Nino de Atocha:
The pious legend of the wonder working little Santo Niño is set in Spain.
In Atocha, a suburb of Madrid, many men were imprisoned by the Moors (Muslims) who terrorized the Christians there because of their faith. The prisoners were not fed by their jailers, so food was taken to them by their families. The caliph issued an order that no one except children twelve years old and younger would be permitted to bring food to the prisoners. Those with young children would manage to keep their relatives alive, but what of the others?
The women of the town appealed to Our Lady, begging her to help them find a way to feed their husbands, sons, and brothers. Soon the children came home from the prison with a strange story. Those prisoners who had no young children to feed them were being visited and fed by a young boy. None of the children knew who He was, but the little water gourd He carried was never empty, and there was always plenty of bread in His basket to feed all the hapless prisoners without children of their own to bring them their food. He came at night, slipping past the sleeping guards or smiling politely at those who were alert.
Those who had asked the Virgin of Atocha for a miracle began to suspect the identity of the little boy. As if in confirmation, the shoes on the statue of the child Jesus were worn down and dusty. When they replaced the shoes with new ones, those too were quickly worn out. After Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Moors from Spain in 1492, the people continued to invoke the aid of Our Lady of the Atocha and her Holy Child.
And so we see in the foregoing the miraculous intervention of the Holy Virgin and Child to assist Catholics against muslim persecution. Perhaps a useful devotion for our present times, isn’t it?
Santo Niño de Atocha in Mexico and New Mexico
In Mexico, the devotion to was brought by the Spanish and carries on the tradition of devotion to the little pilgrim Child Jesus. A major shrine is in the state of Zacatecas in Fresnillo/Plateros, where many miracles were attributed to the Holy Infant Who miraculously saved miners who had been trapped in an explosion in the Fresnillo silver mine. In New Mexico, the Shrine is near the Sanctuary of Chimayo. Among the many veterans of World War II, were the brave New Mexicans who survived Corregidor, the Bataan Death March and internment in Japanese prison camps. When they returned, some 2,000 made a pilgrimage to the Holy Infant of Atocha at Chimayo, many walking barefoot.
The Holy Child Jesus is believed to travel through the countryside, seeking poor sinners to heal and help. In some areas, He is thought to be absent from the church at night, due to His peregrinations in search if souls to save.
Santo Niño de Cebú
In the Philippines, devotion to the Holy Infant Jesus known as “Santo Niño” was brought by the Spanish to Cebu in about 1521 when a member of Magellan’s crew gave the local queen a statue of the Santo Niño as a baptismal gift. The little statue has a wonderful, miraculous history and has been known to survive many calamities, as far back as 1565, when, after a battle in which the then-village of Cebu burned to the ground, soldiers found the wooden box containing the sacred statue unscathed amongst the ruins.
And again, during World War II, when the Santo Niño Church was bombed, the statue of Santo Niño de Cebú was found to be completely undamaged. There are many other such miracles both for the statue and for the devout Filipinos who treasure devotion to the Holy Infant Jesus of Cebú. Devotion to the Holy Infant is an excellent example of humility, and is the basis for the practice of spiritual childhood .
In the Philippines, according to site, SantoNinodeCebu.org, the Feast day of El Santo Niño is celebrated on the third Sunday of every year and many Cebuanos and Filipinos in general, do not consider the Christmas season over until the Feast of the beloved Santo Niño.
Santo Bambino di Ara Caeli
Italy also has a devotion to the Divine Infant with an interesting history. Santo Bambino di Ara Caeli is a lovely devotion to the Holy Child. The Church of Santa Maria di Ara Caeli is built over the ruins of what was once the pagan Roman temple of Juno. The Emperor Augustus, who reigned at the time of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth, was told by the Sibyl that the “King of Ages” would soon come. Upon hearing this prophesy, Augustus is said to have received a vision of a holy Virgin, standing upon an altar, surrounded with golden light and bearing in her arms an Infant. An altar was soon raised to this vision of a future King and was called the “Altar of Heaven”, or Ara Caeli.
The Church of Santa Maria di Ara Caeli was built on this site in the Sixth century but it was not until the 15th century that the Santo Bambino arrived in a miraculous manner. A Franciscan Friar in Jerusalem carved the statue of the Santo Bambino out of olive wood from the garden of Gethsemane. It is said that angels painted the statue while he slept, after he ran out of paint. And then, when the friar was taking the Bambino to Rome, his ship foundered in a storm. Although the holy friar survived, he arrived in Italy dejected because of the loss of his beautiful statue of the Child Jesus. As he was walking on the beach in Livorno, while praying to the Santo Bambino to return, he saw with amazement the his lovely statue resting in the sand at his feet, where waves had tenderly deposited it.
Other devotions to the Holy Child are the “Little King of Grace” in Beaune, France and the Holy Child of Remedy in Madrid, Spain. In Bogota, Colombia, a miraculous statue of the Divine Infant resides in the Santuario del Divino Nino.
The one thing that all these devotions have in common is the devotion to the sacred humanity of the Child Jesus which shows to us His perfect obedience to His Father as well as His unfathomable love for us. God our Father has placed in our hearts an instinctive love for helpless infants and children and it pleases Him when we honor His beloved Son, who, being rich became poor for us that by His poverty we might become rich. (2 Corinthians, 8,9).
Holy Infant of Prague
My own devotion is to the Holy Infant of Prague and is a very personal devotion because of my children, many of whom were lost to us through miscarriage and several more who have lost their faith. Here is some background on the Holy Infant of Prague:
The statue of the Infant of Prague is said to have been brought there by a Spanish noblewoman, Duchess Maria Maxmiliana (Marie) Manrique de Lara, who married the Czech nobleman Vratislav of Pernstejn in 1556. Tradition tells us that she received this rare treasure as a wedding gift and brought the Infant Jesus statue to her new residence in Prague.
During the terrors of the Protestant revolution, the church which housed the statue was pillaged and in time, devotion to the Divine Infant was neglected and eventually ceased altogether. The image of the Infant Jesus of Prague was thrown upon a heap of rubbish behind the high altar. Both hands were broken off by the fall, but even though the statue was made of wax, it was otherwise undamaged. Here the Divine Infant lay, forgotten by all for several years.
In 1637, a Father Cyrillus rescued the Divine Infant and with miraculous assistance, eventually restored the statue, hands and all.
One of my favorite quotes is the one from the legend of the Infant of Prague where the Child Jesus told Father Cyrillus, “Have pity on Me and I will have pity on you. Give Me My hands and I will give you peace. The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you.” We should all lend Him our hands, that is, strive to do all that we can, each day, for love of Him to honor Him and make reparation for those who will not serve Him in this time of arrogant disobedience which parades as humility.
Perhaps you would like to try one of these prayers:
Family Prayer to the Holy Infant of Prague
O Most Holy Infant of Prague, so generous to those who turn to Thee in need, be attentive to our voice in supplication for our loved ones who have chosen to separate themselves from Thee, Who art alone their salvation.
Dearest Jesus, remember the sorrow with which Thy Mother and St. Joseph sought Thee when Thou taught in the Temple. Remember their joy when they found Thee after three days! By the tears they shed in Thy loss and their joyful embrace when finding Thee, we beg Thy mercy for our poor families who grieve at the loss of faith of their loved ones. Most Holy Child Jesus, we beg Thee to reunite our family in the one, true faith that all our members may be saved.
Most Holy Infant, we repent of our sins which may have contributed to the loss of our loved ones’ faith and earnestly desire to make amends. O Jesus, Who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and saved, have mercy on our loved ones and return them to the faith. With joyful hearts and confident faith, we entrust our families to Thee, most merciful Infant. And when our family is united once more in faith, we shall proclaim Thy great goodness and mercy, calling all poor sinners home to Thee, most loving Child Jesus! Amen.
Novena Prayer in Honor of the Nativity of Jesus
This prayer begins on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30 – and is recited 15 times a day until Christmas Day.
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment when the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight in Bethlehem in piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe O Lord to hear my prayers and grant them through the infinite merits of our Savior Jesus Christ and His most Blessed Mother. Amen.
Many people have attested to this prayer’s efficacy!
Holy Infant Jesus, ever obedient to the heavenly Father, teach us to mortify our wills by loving obedience to Thee in all things. Most sweet Jesus, grant that I may follow Thee to Calvary and there lay down my life for love of Thee, trusting in Thine infinite mercy. Amen.
~ by evensong ~