By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 12, 2019
The manger on the altar glittered with pinpoints of light. The brightly painted animals surrounded the baby, whose arms were outstretched in welcome.
This was many years ago, when Father John Murphy was delivering his homily at St. Thomas More Church, from the opposite side of the altar. As he talked, a small creature emerged from the straw in the manger and skittered across the floor.
Those in the congregation who noticed the appearance of this unexpected visitor shared quick glances and smiles. The mouse didn’t show up again during Mass, and I wondered if he waited until the coast was clear before returning to his cozy home near the baby.
The moment reminded me of Reepicheep, a talking mouse in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, who is courageous and filled with faith. Despite his diminutive size, he deftly battles the forces of darkness.
During Advent, we can reflect on those who waited for the Messiah to appear. Many expected a royal personage who would wield political power, and were disappointed by Jesus, a different kind of king.
Christ didn’t come into a white-washed, winsome world, but one familiar to each of us. A world where darkness often triumphs over light and where sin eats away at souls. A world where cruel tyrants crush the small and the weak.
God could have chosen a palace for his Son’s birth. He could have planned it so Jesus entered a rich family, who would raise him to become a powerful political leader. But God shaped the story with a surprise beginning and ending.
The child arrived in an exceedingly humble way, not in an elegant inn, but a simple stable. As a man, he said to seek God in the meek and the mournful, the prisoner and the pauper.
Every year, many of us promise ourselves this Advent will be different. We won’t get caught up in the frenzy that turns the birth of Christ into another reason to shop.
We will devote Advent to readying our hearts to receive Jesus. We will go to daily Mass, read Scripture each morning and put off partying until Christmas Day.
Still, it seems that everything conspires against us. The search for the perfect gift drags us away from prayer time. The quest for the beautifully decorated house and lavishly prepared feast fritters away our energy. We’re too tired to pray and too busy for Mass.
We want to wait prayerfully during Advent, but secular society screams at us to rush. Hurry through the traffic, put the tree up immediately and bake the cookies today.
For me, it helps to realize that Christ wasn’t born in a monastery, silent and set apart from the world’s distractions. His ministry took place along dusty roads amidst pushing, impatient crowds.
But he knew when to leave the frenzy behind and find a solitary spot to pray. He went to the mountain and the shore to regain the stillness that flowers in compassion.
I take comfort in this, realizing Advent may never be an entirely secluded and silent season, where prayer and reflection fill every moment.
We may not achieve a perfect score at daily Mass attendance, but whenever we’re there, we discover a little more room in our hearts for Christ. We may not spend hours in silent adoration, but every moment we do, we glimpse a little more of his compassion.
Christ was a man of surprises, who served the weak, the ailing and the helpless. He gave sight to the blind and life to the dead. He said childhood was the kingdom of God.
He shunned the big and the brutish, and praised the little and the lowly. This includes the lilies of the field, the sparrows in the grass—and perhaps also the mouse in the manger.
Artwork by Jef Murray, Lorraine’s late husband. You may contact Lorraine at firstname.lastname@example.org.