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December Article 2014 for RI Catholic

Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND

Sr. Brigid had spent most of her life in a remote village in sub-Sahara, West Africa. Due to the extreme heat and the short rainy season, food was scarce. They were able to grow a variety of rice when the weather was wet and that had to last them through the long dry period. There was one particular variety of rice that was more difficult to grow and was a special treat to receive.

At Christmas, Sr. Brigid managed to get enough of that rice for a pack for every person in the small church community. Christmas was during the rainy season so the rice was available. After Midnight Mass, every member of the parish was given the package of rice. On each package of rice the person’s name was written.

As they prepared to leave the church to return to their huts, the sky opened and a deluge of rain poured down on them. They were waiting in the open doorway until the rain let up. Sr. Brigid looked back at the altar and saw Joseph slowly making his way to the crèche which was in front of the altar. Joseph had one leg that was paralyzed from birth so he leaned on a home-made crutch and hobbled along dragging the bad leg after him. When Joseph was in front of the manger scene, he knelt down on the good leg, resting on his crutch. He bowed his head and reached to pick up the statue of the Infant Jesus. Cradling it carefully, Joseph seemed to be in deep prayer. His whole body was an image of worship and adoration with the crutch in one hand and the figure of the Infant Jesus in the other.

The rain stopped and the rest of the people began their journey back to their homes. Sr. Brigid just waited quietly at the doorway until Joseph was ready to leave. Reverently he replaced the statue of Jesus in its manger bed. He rose from his kneeling position with great difficulty. That bad leg allowed him no strength on one side of his body. Finally he was able to steady himself, turn and hobble toward the door and home.

Joseph had a serene expression on his face; he turned to Sr. Brigid and wished her blessings for Christmas and thanked her for the rice.  Slowly he made his way into the dark towards home.

In late January Sr. Brigid was cleaning the church and packing the Nativity set for storage until the next year. Carefully she wrapped and placed each figurine in the box. The last thing she moved was the stable itself. As she lifted it up, something caught her eye. Tucked into the corner of the stable was one of the packages of rice which had been given to the parishioners for Christmas.  On this bag was written in Sr. Brigid’s own handwriting the name “Joseph.”

Immediately Sr. Brigid understood what Joseph was doing after Midnight Mass. He was placing his gift of special rice in the stable. The three Magi came in all their finery two thousand years earlier and gave expensive gifts to a child in a stable. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh rested by the newborn baby. All these centuries later another man, clothed in rags rather than riches, left a far greater gift. He gave all that he had to the same child. Diamonds were less precious than those small kernels of rice; an entourage of wealthy visitors less impressive than the crippled Joseph.

Such is the Incarnation’s meaning, the message of Christmas. Jesus comes into our world to those who recognize him and to those who revile him. To those who surrender themselves to him, he satisfies their hunger for love. He gives them hearts capable of profound gratitude even for a bag of rice. Jesus, the Word of God, comes into both the mess and the beauty of ordinary life. Jesus comes into a world of violence and war, of hunger and oppression. He comes into a people fueled by fear. Because he comes, there is hope, there is love. There is a call to leave everything and follow him. The truly wise know enough to leave their rice at the stab

 

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic

 

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