The infant Christ has been inviting me for a few months now. I do not quite recall when it started, but a desire to know Jesus as a child began to pull at my heart. Looking back, I can see that I was particularly drawn to the innocence of Christ.
Halfway through college, filled with its challenges and life-changing experiences, the simplicity of the world seemed to be breaking down. Gone were the black-and-white moral choices, the tight constructions of reality; maturity demands nuance. But it did not require the cynicism, or crassness, or the loss of joy that I had picked up. Faith became this grim task of pious stoicism, and worse, judgement of those less rigorous than I. And this is where I found myself, and where I find myself tempted today.
Enter the Christ child. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus rebukes the Apostles: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And again, “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” There is no better model of child-like devotion than Christ himself. And so, the infant Christ began to draw me in.
One of the first moments like this was before the Infant of Prague statue in St. Mary’s up in Jackson. I had always held a bit of contempt and sarcasm for the silly-looking doll venerated by quaint elderly people. In my mind, it lacked the dour attitude that was present in a serious faith; it was too frivolous, with its multiple sequined outfits, the rosy cheeks, and oversized crown. But kneeling there before the statue, I knew that this child offered an alternative to the jaded person I was becoming.
Fast-forward to Christmas Eve, having neglected to act on the invitation to know the Christ child, I sat in the pew and prayed a simple Christmas prayer for the baby Jesus to make me love him, a prayer far too saccharine, simple, and trite for my taste. Later that week, I remembered the Infant of Prague, but I didn’t know how to pray to Him. So, I turned to the Internet, and ordered a little cheesy looking pamphlet of devotions. It clashed with my aesthetic, and so I had doubts if it could actually be a serious devotion.
But then four days later, having forgotten about the pamphlet in the mail, I was at a bookstore with my siblings. The bookstore was upkept by the Orthodox and was filled with icons and Eastern theology. And I was on the hunt to find something with the Christ child in it. After finding nothing, I told my little sister what I was looking for, staring at a shelf of books. She promptly reached forward and grabbed a three-inch tall ancient looking book, with no title on the binding. And on the cover, in beautiful calligraphy was written: “The Infant Jesus of Prague.”
The ancient book was beautiful, full of art-deco illustrations and devotions. It was also extremely overpriced. But I was resolved to get it; things like this could not be mere coincidence. But then I remembered the pamphlet in the mail. I pulled out my phone and discovered that the pamphlet was the exact same book that I held in my hand, albeit with a less appealing, updated cover. I think God was teaching me a lesson about my aesthetic preferences. I returned the old book and went home, lesson learned.
I would like to say that I now have a consistent devotion to the Infant of Prague but can only say that I’m trying. In retrospect, I can see the Infant of Prague showing up all over the place for the past few months. Not only was He unnoticed on the back of the five-way cross I always wear, but apparently my older sister already had a strong devotion to Him and had told me to pray in front of the statue at her house months ago.
Sometimes, it seems, a devotion chooses you. In this new year, I would invite you to reflect on what devotion the Lord is calling you to. In the vast wealth of Catholic devotions and prayers, it can feel like you can never do enough. But God wants to be loved by each of us in a unique way, in a way that He will reveal. And that uniqueness is a beautiful thing.
Holy Infant Jesus of Prague, bless and protect us.