Make your heart a manger

Mark my words
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Christmas is a time for stories.

Although nothing can compare with “the greatest story ever told” — God becoming flesh and living among us — it’s fascinating, nevertheless, to see how that story continues to play out in each generation.

I’ll turn this column over now to Rev. Jess Moody, a prolific Southern Baptist preacher who tells this story in his book “Club Sandwich” about an encounter with Rose Kennedy. After doing a Bible class in the home of an heiress where Rose was present, Rev. Moody had a chance to chat with her.

“I was a spoiled young bride of a strong-willed man, a socialite who attended every function possible,” she began. “We were expecting a child and elated at the prospect. The day came when our child was born. She was a beautiful child.

“But it wasn’t long until we realized that there was something terribly wrong with her. We took her to the doctor, who confirmed our fears. She was [mentally handicapped], and nothing could be done.”

“Anger grew in my heart,” Rose said. “How could God do such a thing to this child — to me? I turned my back on God, my husband, my closest friends — and became a recluse.

“One evening, a major event was happening in the city. I wanted to go, but I was so filled with wrath that I thought I might create a scene. My husband feared it, too, so we decided to stay home. A lovely woman, who was one of our maids, gently said to me, ‘Please excuse me, Mrs. Kennedy, but I’ve been watching you the last few weeks. I love you very much, and I hate to see this destroy your life. Mrs. Kennedy, you’ll never be happy until you make your heart a manger where the Christ Child may be born.’

“I fired her on the spot! Yet later that night, my mind ruminated relentlessly, keeping me awake. I could not forget that lovely face, the sweetness of the maid, the joy in her spirit, and especially her words.

I have loved Christ my whole life, and tried to be a good Catholic, but now I knelt beside my bed and prayed, ‘Dear God, make my heart a manger where the Christ Child may be born.’ I felt a fresh, new, divine entry into my life, and there was born in me a love for [mentally handicapped] children.”

“Oh, by the way, I rehired the lovely maid,” Rose added. “She was with us until her death.” (Story found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)

What a great story to chew on during these Fourteen Days of Christmas. (Yes, I know that the number is usually 12, but since Epiphany is not celebrated until Jan. 8 this time around, we actually get a couple of extra days.) Rose Kennedy was truly visited by a “wise woman.” That maid absolutely got it right.

Although the Blessed Mother gave birth to Jesus in a unique way, we’re called as Christians to continue to “give birth” to Jesus in our time and place. We start by welcoming him with joy into the manger of our heart.

In his incarnation, Jesus turned the world upside down. It becomes a place where a lowly maid leads a powerful, prominent and wealthy woman to a deeper understanding of what love is. Yes, since Jesus’ coming, nothing will ever be the same.

Perhaps the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen best captures the meaning of Christmas: “Songs, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying yes to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying yes to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine.”

What can we say, but yes!

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