It is customary in Rome, and elsewhere in Italy, to keep the presepe (Nativity scene) up until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This extended Christmastide allows for a prolonged contemplation of the Incarnate Word. It is an invitation to enter deeply into the mysteries of Our Lord’s infancy and childhood in the company of the Virgin Mother, of Saint Joseph, of the shepherds, the Magi, Anna, Simeon, and a whole host of saints through the ages.
Yesterday I went with a friend to pray in the room of the Servant of God, Abbot Ildebrando Gregori, O.S.B. (1894–1985) on the Via della Conciliazione. I photographed the Bambino still lying sweetly on the altar of the little chapel of the Benedettine Riparatrici del Santo Volto.
I also photographed my own Bambino for you. Since my arrival here in Rome, He lies on a clothed trimmed in lace that my Nana Barbato made by hand some sixty or seventy years ago. Next to Him is my relic of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life: for the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us (1 Jn 1:1–2).
The mystery of the Child Christ is the antidote for so much of what troubles us. Love of the Child Christ restores innocence where it has been lost. It disinfects and heals childhood’s ancient wounds. It simplifies what is complicated in us. It humbles pride and turns arrogance into meekness. It dispels despair and causes hope to spring up in the most hopeless places of our lives. Those who love the Child Christ will themselves become like little children. The Child Christ makes grown–ups fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I am inspired by the example of so many saints, that is, repentant sinners, who found healing, humility, purity of heart, gentleness, hope, and above all, merciful love in the contemplation of the Infant Christ: Saint Bernard, Saint Aelred, Blessed Guerric of Igny, and countless other Cistercians; Saint Francis, Saint Clare, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Anthony, and a multitude of Franciscans; Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint John of the Cross, Venerable Marguerite du Saint–Sacrement (Carmelite of Beaune); Dominicans Saint Rose of Lima and Blessed Agnès de Langeac; Monsieur Olier and the French School; Saint Alphonsus and the Redemptorists.
The “Little King” reigning from His glass case is in the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. There are ex-voto offerings at His feet in grateful remembrance of favours received.
There are many friends of the Child Christ closer to our own times, too many, in fact to name here. Among them were Saint Vincent Pallotti; Venerable Mother Cornelia Connelly; Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face; Blessed Lorenzo Salvi, a Passionist; Dom Vital Lehodey, a Trappist Abbot; the indomitable Mère Yvonne–Aimée of Malestroit; and Little Sister Magdeleine de Jésus. “And Jesus calling unto Him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven'” ( Mt 18:2–3).