Christmas in Krakow. New Years in Prague. That is what I decided, and as expected, the Czech’s know how to party. Dancing and fireworks were the order of the night, with the fireworks (you know the real deal) being lit off throughout the city. The Czech’s are so serious about their pyrotechnics that it is difficult to walk through the streets, each step needing to be navigated as if walking through a land mine. The cityscape with it’s spires explode from every direction making the glittering reflection from the river incredible to behold. I’ve never been so thankful for a new year with all the hope of a new beginning: Prague made it memorable.
Waking up after a big night is always a little difficult to put it mildly, but as I am a pilgrim, I want to attend mass. New Year’s Day mass honors Mary, Mother of God, which makes the rising so early easier, as it is one of my favorite feasts. Do you know that chill vibe you get when you’re singing the Beatles’, Let it Be? Well, that is the feeling I always get during mass on Mary’s solemnity but even more chill; absolute peace seems to settle in my very core.
I always do. And, this year was no exception. I made my way across town to the “lesser quarter” of Prague where the church of Our Lady the Victorious and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague has stood since the mid-1500s. My devotion to the Infant of Prague seems a bit mysterious to me, as if it has not yet come to complete realization. Let me explain:
In my home we were religious at Christmas, and sometimes, Easter. I was the youngest of two children. I did not have any babies around me. Ever. They were really a foreign thing. I thought of them as something like a puppy or kitten but with diapers and crying. Think of the song, The Wheels on the Bus. All the baby did was CRY, CRY, CRY. And the mommy? SHUSH. SHUSH. SHUSH. Not so endearing.
Then came Christmas, and yes, there was Santa Claus. He came with the threat that he knew everything, and if you were bad (and who wasn’t) you’d get nothing, not even coal. There also came Christmas carols. Music filled the house. Some of the songs were about a baby who was loved and was lovable… Away in a Manger, Silent Night; These carols were instrumental in opening my heart to a friendship with this baby. My favorite carol was The Little Drummer Boy. I would pour over the pages of the book by Ezra Jack Keats. The vivid illustrations would hold my gaze while I would sing that song over and over again. This would be my first experience with Mother Mary:
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
The ox and lamb kept time
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
Then he smiled at me
(Pa rum pum pum pum)
Me and my drum
That is all I needed to feel loved. She said yes to the little poor boy who didn’t have any money to buy a gift for her son. I could relate. I was poor too and couldn’t buy the gifts I wanted to give to the people I loved. As a child, I felt my poverty. God uses every opportunity given Him, to draw us towards His boundless love and His sweet smile, even childish songs.
In addition to the music, the decorations were pulled out of storage and carefully unwrapped. I distinctly remember being given the honor of placing Baby Jesus in the creche and feeling the love of God as a young child being raised in a family ruptured by divorce. God is so good and wants to love on us, like no other can.
So fast forward to adulthood. When I was becoming Catholic, I read a book about Therese of the Child Jesus. The book described an illness that Therese had as a child. Her family thought she was going to die. They prayed for her and through the Child Jesus, she was cured. The image she described was the Infant of Prague; Jesus as a child holding the whole world in his hand. Now that I think of it, that sweet little song, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands was in my Brownie songbook.
I went through the process of becoming Catholic and eventually, chose Therese as part of my Confirmation name. What drew me to Therese was her little way of trusting the Father’s love for her. Jesus and I; we were good. The Father’s love? That was difficult for me.
When I arrived at Our Lady the Victorious, I was greeted by a small stable with live animals to delight the children. Then came the whimsical wooden nativity outside of the church and finally, upon entering the sanctuary, there was a nativity decorated with handmade paper stars. A most interesting statue of Teresa of Avila that looked as if she was in motion stood below a picture of the saint in ecstacy. Across from the life-size Teresa, was a very small statue of the Infant of Prague dressed in his royal finery.
Although a little groggy from the celebration the night before, I was still present enough to pray. I could not help but be moved by the presence of this tiny little statue. He seemed to radiate a mystique and imbued grace that he wished to pour out on those who had come to his shrine to adore.
Infant of Prague
Jesus, you decided to become a child, and I’m coming to you full of trust. I believe that your attentive love forestalls all my needs.
Even for the intercession of your holy Mother, you can meet my necessities, spiritual as well as material, if I pray according to your holy will.
I love you with all my heart, all my strength, I beg pardon if my weakness makes me sin. I repeat the Gospel, “Lord if you want you can heal me.”
I leave you to decide how and when. I’m ready to accept suffering, if this is your will. Help me not to become hardened to it but rather to bear fruit.
Help me to be a faithful servant and for your sake, holy Child, to love my neighbor as myself.
Almighty Child, I pray without ceasing to you to support me in my necessities of the present moment which are:
Grant me the grace to remain in you, to be possessed and to possess you entirely, with your parents, Mary and Joseph, in the eternal praise of your holy servants.
-prayer to the Infant of Prague
Having fully prayed that prayer, I knew that my purpose in Prague had been fulfilled. Music filled the sanctuary. The closing hymn was a Christmas carol. The only familiar one I heard while in Europe. Thank ya’, Baby Jesus.
“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” -Paul’s Letter to the Church in Corinth
The Infant of Prague was given to the Carmelites of Prague by Princess Polyxena of Lobkowicz. It is believed to have belonged to Teresa of Avila, the Spanish reformer of the Carmelite order. It was promised that as long as the Order honored the Child all their needs would be provided for. Miracles have been attributed to devotion to the Infant of Prague.
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