by Father Mark Goldasich
Well, it’s almost time to hear those magical words that stir my heart: “Hey, Father, did ya notice? Somebody put some money under Baby Jesus!”
The “somebody” is my mom. After she visits the manger scene at my parish, she’ll slip a few bucks under the Christ Child. Then she’ll ask me, for the millionth time, why we don’t have a dish out for donations, like they do at my home parish of St. John the Baptist on Strawberry Hill.
So, why the dish? Well, the following story might explain things a bit:
One year, a Father Robert was invited to preach the Novena for Christmas in a parish in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In every sermon, he promised that for Christmas, parishioners would be treated to a wonderful “living crib.” People were eager to see it.
Christmas Day was approaching, but nothing new could be seen in the church. The usual crib was prepared in the usual way in the usual place by the usual women.
Two days before Christmas, Father Robert again announced that living crib. After Mass that day, he picked three students and sent them on a secret mission, with the words: “In these two days before Christmas you will go out to the poorest areas of the parish and look for the poorest families. Write down the names of the parents, the number of children and their ages, and their exact address. Bring the results of this census to me by Christmas Eve.”
The students returned with about a hundred addresses. Father Robert had the information written on separate papers, which were then folded and placed on a tray.
A few minutes before Midnight Mass, Father Robert placed the tray on a small table beside the altar. At the start of Mass, he processed in, carrying two large posters, which he then tucked in next to his chair.
After the Gospel, the people settled in for the homily. They were puzzled when Father Robert left the podium and went to retrieve the two posters. He then walked to the place where the usual crib scene was set up, flipped one of the posters around so that its words could be seen, and left it propped up there. The poster had just two words on it: “Dead Crib.”
Next he approached the small table with the tray on it beside the altar. There he placed the other poster, on which was written: “Living Crib.”
The church became deathly silent. People wondered what all this meant and looked expectantly to Father Robert for some explanation. His homily that day was brief.
Father Robert said, “Social injustice, unemployment, lack of housing, lack of medical care, lack of love and respect for the human person and his rights, ignorance, illiteracy, and poverty have forced Christ to change his address. Today, Christmas Day, he is waiting for your visit at his new address that you will find on pieces of paper in this tray.”
With that, the Mass continued. It’s said that after Mass ended, the church remained empty… and so did the tray. The baker sold more bread that day, and the butcher more meat.
The shops sold more rice and beans, and the milk disappeared from the shelves. Many other things as well — clothes, shoes, books, pens and toys — got new owners that Christmas Day. And Christ indeed was found . . . living at his new address. (Adapted from the story by M. Cristofolini, found in “More Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers” by Anthony Castle.)
In some sense, that donation plate at my home parish and the bucks slipped by my mom under the Baby Jesus at my parish continue the story of Father Robert above. While we fittingly are drawn to admire the manger scenes in our parishes, our interest can’t stop there. Like the other statues in our churches, the figures in the Nativity set are only visual reminders. They are not real; they are not living. Instead, they direct our attention to the new address where Christ truly lives today: wherever in our parish, neighborhood, city, nation or world people lack what they need — physically, emotionally, spiritually.
As you gather this Christmas and gifts are exchanged, perhaps one new tradition can be added to your celebration. How about placing a small dish near your Nativity scene and invite guests to leave a little “manger money” there for the Christ Child? Not only can this be a reminder of whose birth we are celebrating — it can also provide for Christ, who continues to live in the most unexpected places.
I’ll close for now. You see, I have a little dish I need to put out in church.