This depiction of the Virgin Mother contemplating her Infant Son asleep on the wood of the Cross was painted by the egregiously heterodox William Blake. I hesitated before using it but, for all of his madness, Blake does capture something of the mystery of Redemption present from the first moment of the Incarnation. Stabant autem juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus (Joann. 19:25). There are other earlier depictions of the same theme notably among the Italians of the 15th—17th centuries: il bambino disteso sulla croce. In Eastern iconography there is the depiction of the Child Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice, either on the paten itself or emerging from the chalice.
With all that has been happening of late at Silverstream Priory — multiple illnesses, a bizarre accident in the kitchen and, consequently, a much pared–down celebration of Christmas — I have been giving some thought to the mystery evoked by Caryll Houselander in The Passion of the Infant Christ.
The Divine Infancy in us is the logical answer to the peculiar sufferings of our age and the only solution to its problems. If the Infant Christ is fostered in us, no life is trivial. No life is impotent before suffering, no suffering is too trifling to heal the world, too little to redeem, to be the point at which the world’s healing begins.
The Word comes into the world as Priest and Victim. He enters His Virgin Mother's womb as the priest goes into the altar, as the Host laid upon the corporal. Does not the Epistle to the Hebrews reveal the interior dispositions of the Word in the very moment of the Incarnation?
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. First he says, Sacrifices, and oblations, and holocausts for sin thou wouldest not, neither are they pleasing to thee, which are offered according to the law. And then: Said I, Behold, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish that which followeth. In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once. (Hebrews 10:5–10)
In Chapter this morning I suggested to the brethren that the priceless and incomparable gift of union with the sufferings of the Infant Christ, Priest and Victim, comes to us like a gift in the unattractive wrappings of suffering, infirmity, limitations, and poverty. Returning to my office after Chapter, I opened the computer to review incoming mail and found there a message from a Benedictine Oblate living in California. She writes:
Recently, I made a discovery in my own life that when something really out-of-the-way, unexpected, difficult and disheartening happens to me, it is before some great good presents itself. Like a wonderful beautiful gift wrapped in an unappealing, even ugly package. I am wondering if the angels aren't about to bring you some great good, based on all the negatives that have suddenly appeared on your doorstep.
How very like God to make of the sufferings and infirmities that come our way the sacrament of a deeper communion with the Infant Christ and, on top of that, the means by which He prepares us to receive other gifts. The secret is to make the prayer of the Infant Christ, Priest and Victim, the prayer of our own hearts: "Behold, I come to do thy will, O God".