It was Christmas Eve in the old Monastery of Les Feuillants and Sister Josefa Menendez was at Mass,
“I was in the middle of the Chapel, on my way to Communion, when I saw Our Lady coming towards me. In her arms she was holding the Child Jesus, covered with a white veil which she took off as soon as I had communicated. His little garment was white and His hands were crossed on His breast. Then I did not see Him any more … When I had reached my place in the chapel, Our Lady came again quite close to me. She lifted the Child slightly; He was lying in her arms. Little Jesus stretched out His hands and fondled His Mother. Then with His tiny right hand He seemed to be asking me for mine and I gave it to Him. He seized hold of my finger and held it tight, and all around both of them floated an unknown but delicious aroma. Our Lady was smiling, “My daughter”, she said to me, “Kiss the feet of your God, Who will be your inseparable companion if you wish. Have no fear, draw near to Him, He is all love.” I kissed His little feet; He looked at me and then He crossed His hands on His breast and Our Lady wrapped Him in her veil. I asked her to bless me which she did and then they vanished.”
On another day, Our Lady appeared to Sister Josefa Menendez and spoke of her sorrows.
“I asked her,’ wrote Josefa naively, ‘if the presence of the Child Jesus, so small and so lovely, had not been the best of consolations?’ Our Lady then asked her to imagine the anguish she felt when contemplating the Divine Infant,
‘I kissed those little hands, and felt my lips already stained with the Precious Blood that one day would gush from their wounds. I kissed His feet, and already saw them nailed to the Cross. And as I carefully tended His hair, I pictured it all clotted with blood and entangled in the cruel thorns. And when at Nazareth, He first ventured on a few steps, hastening with outstretched arms to meet me, my tears fell as I pictured them extended on the Cross on which He was to die. When He reached boyhood, He was so divinely beautiful that none could contemplate Him unmoved … yet in my heart, the heart of a mother, the sword was turned at the thought of the tortures that were to be inflicted on Him, of which I felt beforehand the savage recoil.” (“The Way of Divine Love” Kindle Edition).
Devotion to the Holy Infant is complementary to that of Fatima. It has been rightly called the way of spiritual infancy. I believe that since the revelations to Sister Josefa occurred right after those of Fatima, there is a strong connection, calling us to deepen our understanding of the essential unity between devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Indeed, it is impossible to read the autobiography of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and the writings of Sister Lucia and not see the similarities in the total, childlike devotion and trust in Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. This spiritual infancy was also clearly exemplified by St. Therese, the Little Flower.
This spiritual infancy is precisely what is most repugnant today to modern Catholics, and therefore, I sense the need for my persistence in promoting devotion to the Divine Infant as a potent antidote to the languorous disinterest besetting Catholics today. To put it another way, you really need to consider devotion to the Divine Infant, in fact, if you are reluctant, that is all the more reason! A quick review may help:
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, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux and Sister Lucia of Fatima.
According to tradition, devotion to the Santo Nino de Atocha originated in devotion to Our Lady of Antioch and her Divine Child. “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 became worn out. After Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Moors from Spain in 1492, the people continued to invoke the aid of Our Lady of 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?
In Mexico, the devotion to Santo Nino de Atocha was brought by the Spanish and carries on the tradition of devotion to the little pilgrim Child Jesus. The Holy Child Jesus is believed to travel through the countryside, seeking poor sinners to heal and help. In some areas, He is honored as Santo Nino Perdido because He is thought to be absent from the church at night, due to His peregrinations in search of souls to save.
In the Philippines, devotion to the “Santo Nino” 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 Nino as a baptismal gift. After Magellan died in battle, it was some time before the Spaniards returned, but in 1565, a sailor from the fleet of Lopez de Gaspi found in some rubble a pine box in which the precious image was found intact. In time, a church was built on the site where the Santo Nino was recovered. During the last World War, the church was bombed, however once again, the Little Christ Child was found unscathed. (Santo Nino de Cebu)
Italy also has a devotion to the Divine Infant with an interesting history. Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli 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 Coeli.
The Church of Santa Maria di Ara Coeli 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. For much more information, Dr. Marian Horvat has an excellent article on the holy Bambino of Ara Coeli here.
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.
We also posted previously on the Crucified Child Jesus of Pichincha in Equador which is associated with the apparitions of our Lady of Good Success.
We close this brief review of devotion to the Divine Child Jesus with the well known 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.(Infant of Prague site).
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. It is an excellent remedy for the modernism which everywhere discounts the sacred humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 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 for love of the Immaculate Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, King.