Our Lord Jesus Christ could have chosen to redeem us in an infinite variety of ways, but He chose the way of a helpless infant. There is a lesson in that, but it is often overlooked. Caryll Houselander was a quirky lady, and has some interesting thoughts to offer on the subject. She certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I am fond of this essay and hope that you too will see something of value in it.
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On the night of His birth, when He first gave His body to us, lambs were brought to Christ. On the night before He died, when He gave us His body in Holy Communion, He kept the ritual of the Paschal lamb. The lowly beasts came into the stable to stand close to Mary and Joseph and to warm them with their great shaggy flanks. The breath of cattle is fragrant with clover; old men and children believe that this is so because the ox was to breathe on the nakedness of the little Lord to warm Him. At all events it was the yoke of the ox that Christ used as the symbol of the Cross laid on the shoulders of all those who would follow Him through the ages. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is sweet, and my burden light.” (Matt 11, 29-30)
A donkey stood by the manger, and Christ rode on a donkey on the eve of His Passion – which, we are told, is the reason why every donkey has a cross marked out in soft dark fur on his grey back. Long ago the prophet had foreseen the hour of Christ’s birth and Christ’s death in one inseparable vision: “In the midst of two animals, Thou shalt be made known. When the years shall draw nigh, Thou shalt be known. When the time shall come, Thou shalt be shown.” On Calvary Christ is set between two thieves; in Bethlehem He is set between two animals. On Calvary He is poor, with the poverty of destitution; in Bethlehem He is poor, with the poverty of destitution. He is deprived of his home in Nazareth; the cradle made ready for Him is empty: “The foxes have holes; the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
On Calvary He was naked, stripped of His garments and of all that He had; in Bethlehem He was naked and stripped of all that He had. On Calvary He was stretched and straightened and fastened down to the Cross; in Bethlehem He was stretched out and straightened and fastened in swaddling bands. On Calvary He was lifted up, helpless, and held up for men to look upon; in Bethlehem He was lifted up, helpless, to be gazed upon. “Lo, if I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me!” On Calvary He was laid upon a wooden cross; in Bethlehem He was laid in a wooden manger. By the Cross stood Mary His Mother; by the crib knelt Mary His Mother. He was crucified outside of the city wall; He was born outside of His own village and crowded out of Bethlehem: “I am a worm, and no man; the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.”
At His birth He was called “King of the Jews”; at His death He was called “King of the Jews.” The claim to be king threatened His life in Bethlehem; the claim to be king cost Him His life in Jerusalem. Three times this mysterious title is heavy with doom: at His birth, His trial, and His death. At His birth: “There came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to adore Him.’ ” At His trial: “And Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, saying: ‘Art Thou the King of the Jews?’ Jesus saith to Him: ‘Thou sayest it.’ ” At His death: “And they put over His head His cause written: ‘This is Jesus the King of the Jews.’ ” He was mocked at His birth by Herod; He was mocked at His death by the Roman soldiers. In both cases the derision was a mockery of adoration.
Herod was the pioneer of those hypocrites who, for their own pride, would slay the Christ Child in the heart of the world: “Go and diligently inquire after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.” The Roman soldiers were the pioneers of those egoists who, for passing entertainment and sensation, will ridicule and blaspheme the suffering Christ in the heart of man, motivated — like so much of the cruelty today — by group mentality. . .
Two crowns are set side by side — a crown of gold at His birth, a crown of thorns at His death. The crown of gold is too hard and heavy for His infant head; His head bowed and died in the crown of thorns. . . At Bethlehem myrrh was brought to Him; and myrrh was brought to anoint His body for burial. Each time, it was brought by a rich man who came by night — first by the wise king and then by Nicodemus. . . There, in the stable at Bethlehem, began the lovely waste that is the extravagance of love, that is and will always be scandal to the loveless. Already, as the useless crown of gold that the infant’s head could not support shone at His feet, as clouds of incense hung in the rafters of the stable, and as the air grew fragrant with the smell of myrrh, the box of precious ointment was broken to anoint the Beloved for His burial. Already before God the great cathedrals arose, growing up to Him like forests of stone. Jewels from the crowns of kings and queens were set in chalices of beaten gold. Already contemplatives, drawn by an inner compulsion as mysterious as the migration of birds, flocked to God. Carmelites, Carthusians, Trappists, Poor Clares, were received into the Infant’s open hands, and there nailed into the Man’s hands nailed to the Cross — nailed by the three vows that are the three nails that hold Christ in us to the cross of suffering and the love that redeems the world. “To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” . . .
Both the manger and the tomb were borrowed. Both had been made for their owners. They were not made for Christ. All that had been prepared for Him God had set aside. God chose what men should give to His Son, and He chose things so shaped or worn to the givers’ life that they had become part of them, so warm with the givers’ touch that they could not be given without the giving of self.
Christ accepted those offerings in which self was given: not what man had made for Him, but what man had made for himself — the gifts with self at the core, involving the surrender of the giver’s will, even in the choice of the gift. So it is today and always. We would like to give God gifts of our own choosing which, even if they are in one sense part of our life, are yet things added on for the purpose of giving, without having to pull up anything of ourself at the roots.
We are often surprised when, after we have offered God several litanies a day and a pest of little mortifications, He chooses instead something that is really ourselves: our solitude, for example, or the sweetness of the feeling of love, or, as is very frequent now, our home. It is what God chooses that kindles in the crucible and burns the flame of love. He accepted both straw and gold. He did not despise the humble animals or the humility of their giving; He accepted the warm breath of the cattle on His cold hands and feet, the soft touch of the sheep’s wool, and the joy that shone from the violet eyes of the little red calves. . . .
In Bethlehem the Mother of Christ gave Christ’s human body to us. She had given her own flesh and blood to Him to be His flesh and blood. Now she gave herself to us in Him, by giving Him to us. She gave His body to cold, to thirst, to light and darkness, to sleep. In Bethlehem began the thirst of Calvary, the terrible thirst caused by loss of blood, the thirst that withers the tongue and the hands and feet and the whole body. In Bethlehem came the infant blindness; and blindness came again on Calvary, filling Christ’s eyes with the darkness of dying.
In Bethlehem Christ slept His first sleep in His Mother’s arms; on Calvary, He slept His last sleep in His Mother’s arms. In the inscape of Calvary, in the Passion of the infant Jesus, we behold His Resurrection from the dead. Christ came out of the darkness of the womb. He was the Light of the World. He came to give the world life. The life of the whole world burnt in the tiny flame of an infant’s life; it began the age-long fight with death in the least and frailest that human nature can be; in the helplessness, the littleness, the blindness of an infant, life prevailed. The Light of the World shone in darkness. At Bethlehem love and death met in the body of Christ, and love prevailed.
Over and over again in every human life, love and death meet face-to-face. No human power, splendor, or strength, no material might or wealth, can overcome death — the death of the soul. Yet if the life in the soul is the tiniest spark of the life of Christ, love prevails and death is overcome in us. Christ came out of the darkness of the tomb. He came back from the helplessness and blindness and silence of death, and His feet that walked on earth bore the wounds of death, and His hands that touched the flowers and the grass bore the wounds of death. He had overcome the world; He had died all our deaths and had overcome death. All over the world, in generation after generation, men rose from the dead; all over the world, everywhere, there was resurrection and Easter morning in the heart of man.
The message of the Incarnation is peace. At Bethlehem angels stood among the flocks and round the stable door; angels stood beside the empty tomb. On the hills above Bethlehem the angels’ song was peace: “Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.” And peace was the word on the tongue of the risen Christ, His greeting to the world: “Peace be to you.” At the Nativity, it was to shepherds that the angels brought the message of peace, and shepherds who came first to the Divine Child. On the night before He suffered, Christ, keeping the Feast of the Paschal Lamb, gave His peace, the peace of the Lamb of God: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (“Little Way of the Infant Jesus” by Caryll Houselander, Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.)
Dear Readers: It has been rather strongly brought to my attention that Houselander is considered to be (even though she died some years before the tragedy of Vatican II) a modernist for her false ecumenism. On the basis of what I have just been told, that would indeed appear to be the case. And so I will no more quote her. But still, the above essay appealed to me as being along the line of the writings of beloved Archbishop Fulton Sheen and her thoughts on the Divine Infancy were rather nice. Actually, the quote from Houselander that brought her to my attention was: “When the Christ Child once more reigns, His throne will be His mother’s arms.”
Now that, dear readers, is something we can all agree on!
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
† Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
† St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
† St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Please pray for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
~ Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!