Merry Christmas

THE CHILD JESUS OF MONSIGNOR ESCRIVÁ


“El Niño de Josemaría” – Christmas of 1931

“…On October 15, the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, the chaplain came into the cloistered area of Santa Isabel. … ‘Today I went into the cloister of Santa Isabel. I encouraged the nuns. I spoke to them about love, about the cross, and about joy…and about victory. Away with anxiety! We are at the beginning of the end. Saint Teresa has obtained for me, from our Jesus, the Joy –with a capital J– that I have today. .., when it would seem, humanly speaking, that I should be sad, both for the Church and about my own situation (which, truth to tell, is not good). We just need much faith and expiation, and above faith and expiation, much Love. Besides, this morning, when purifying two ciborium’s, so as not to leave the Blessed Sacrament in the church I received almost half a ciborium of hosts, even though I gave several to each sister.’

The sisters rewarded him for that sowing of joy.

‘On my way out of the cloister they showed me, in the vestibule, a Christ Child which was a darling. I have never seen a better-looking Child Jesus! Totally captivating. They uncovered it. He has his little arms crossed on his breast and his eyes half open. Beautiful. I ate him up with kisses and. ..would have loved to kidnap him.’

For a long time thereafter he would go every week to the convent’s revolving window, and the sister on duty would let him hold “the little one.” In those days when his soul was crisscrossed by joys and afflictions ―feelings of ardent affection in prayer and difficult trials in which he asked for a cross without “Cyreneans”― his devotion to the Child Jesus was beginning to shape his interior life.

‘The Child Jesus: how this devotion has taken hold of me since I first laid eyes on that consummate Thief that my nuns keep in the vestibule of their cloister! Child Jesus, adolescent Jesus ―I like to see you that way, Lord, because …it makes me more daring. I like to see you as a little boy, a helpless child, because it makes me feel like you need me.’

As a solid devotion to the childhood of Christ took root in his soul, Father Josemaría came to realize the paradoxical nature of this spiritual route: that it requires, simultaneously, both strength and exquisite sensitivity.

‘The way of childhood. Abandonment. Spiritual childhood. All this that God is asking of me and that I am trying to have is not foolishness, but a strong and solid Christian life.’

With the confidence of a little boy before his Father God, he adjusted his old habits of prayer-not without effort-to that new path of childhood. He became more and more convinced of “how beautiful and pleasant is this path, because it allows sinners to feel as the saints have felt.”

It was December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, a day on which people in Spain traditionally play jokes on one another. The chaplain went to Santa Isabel and found that, for twenty-four hours, a novice was acting as prioress and the youngest nun as sub prioress. It was great fun to see the oldest and most serious nuns carrying out tasks imposed by the prioress of the day. When he got home, Father Josemaría kissed his statue of our Lady, began his meditation, and lost himself in contemplation. Immersed in prayer, he took up his pen and made the following entry in his journal: ‘A little boy visited a certain convent. … Little boy, you are the last donkey, the least among those who love Jesus. It’s your turn, you have the right, to rule in heaven. Let loose your imagination, and let your heart run wild too. …And before this wondrous day comes to an end, my Jesus (I will tell him), I want to be a bonfire of madly passionate love! I want my mere presence to be enough to set the world on fire, for many miles around, with an inextinguishable flame. I want to know that I am yours. Afterward, let the cross come: never will I be afraid of expiation….To suffer and to love. To love and to suffer. What a magnificent path! To love, to suffer, and to believe: faith and love. The faith of Peter, the love of John, the zeal of Paul. … The little donkey still has three minutes of divinization, good Jesus, and so he commands…that you give him more zeal than Paul, more love than John, more faith than Peter. The last wish, Jesus: may I never lack the holy cross.’

Two days later, the convent having returned to normal, the nuns let him take home with him the statue of the Child Jesus. The priest wrapped “the little one” in his cloak and brought him with him to celebrate Christmas with the outside world. Taking advantage of having that Christ Child outside the convent, he had a photo taken of it.

‘Today I brought home with me the “Christ Child of Saint Teresa.” The Augustinian nuns lent him to me. We went to see Father Gabriel, at the Carmelites, to wish him a merry Christmas. The little friar was happy and gave me a holy card and a medal. Afterward I saw Father Norberto’s spiritual director, Father Joaquin. We talked about the Work of God. From there I went to visit another convent. I spent a good amount of time with Mother Pilar. Then to the house of Pepe R., where we took a photo of the Child. Before going home, I went up to see Father Norberto, so that he could see the Child. At home, Mama prayed out loud an Our Father and a Hail Mary. I get to keep him here until tomorrow.

In a couple of journal entries written in January 1932, he relates when and how he learned the life of spiritual childhood: ‘I did not learn the path of childhood from books until after Jesus had made me start along this way…’ ”

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Footnote 204:

Apuntes, no.528. “Mother Carmen de San Jose (now deceased), who was sacristan at the time when Father Josemaría was chaplain, said that the community had, and has continued to have, a small Child Jesus which is brought to the church only at Christmastime, for veneration, and that when they passed it to him via the revolving window, they could hear him speaking to the Child very familiarly and calling him sweet names as though the statue were a living child, and that sometimes the Servant of God would ask them to let him bring this Child home with him, so that he could do his prayer in its presence, and afterward would return it to the community” (Cecilia Gómez Jimenez, Sum. 6511).

The sisters at Santa Isabel have recently issued holy cards with a picture of the statue on the front and this text on the back:

THE CHILD JESUS OF MONSIGNOR ESCRIVÁ

The Royal Convent of the Augustinian Recollect Sisters of Madrid-Atocha-Santa Isabel, founded by Blessed Alonso de Orozco in 1589, has a rich history of art and sanctity. Although very many of its treasures were destroyed by flames in the civil conflict of 1936-1939, there remains a small image of the Child Jesus, carved in wood, apparently dating from the 17th century, which in former times was exhibited, and still is exhibited, during the Christmas season for the veneration of the faithful.

Monsignor Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei, was chaplain and senior rector of this monastery from 1931 to 1946. The contemplative nuns there still keep very much alive the memory of that young priest so much in love with the Eucharist and so much given to prayer. And they cherish in particular the memory of the unusual affinity of Father Escrivá for this Christ Child, by means of which they believe he received some very extraordinary graces. The priest often took the already famous statue to his home, with the permission of the prioress, and when he returned it he always seemed deeply moved and jubilant. At that time he was consumed with mystical fervor. It was then that he wrote the book The Way (under the title Spiritual Considerations), as well as his little tract Holy Rosary.

People come from the most distant countries to contemplate and venerate this little statue of the Christ Child of Monsignor Escrivá at the convent of the Augustinian Recollect sisters.

*Taken from: Vázquez de Prada, ‘The Founder’, Volume 1.

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