Because you are three and half years of age, the exchange you had this Christmas morning with me will for you no doubt disappear into the mists of the unremembered. But, I shall not forget.
You and your brothers came to your grandmother’s house to be treated to a late breakfast of grapefruit and scrapple and to be regaled with even more presents than those Santa had already squeezed down your chimney. With her usual practicality, your Tia Mo proposed the three of you be allowed to open your presents first, a wise suggestion given that scrapple has not yet become one of your favorite victuals.
We, all of us, were gathered in the kitchen arranging the necessary coffee and cameras before going into the living room where under the tastefully festooned Christmas tree three piles of presents awaited the arrival of “the boys.” You, it seems, had sneaked into this room, for you came out of it, approached me, and – pulling my sleeve – beckoned me to follow you.
To my surprise, you led me past the presents and on to the corner table where your grandmother has the Creche on display. These beautifully hand carved Italian figurines were a gift to your grandmother and me from your great grandparents a half century ago. Every year they have excited wonder in youngsters such as you. And so, over time, I have become rather adept at anticipating and answering questions about these celestial and earthly creatures that arouse such juvenile curiosity.
On a previous visit during this Advent season, you apparently had already been introduced to this nativity scene, for you had none of the usual questions. Rather you asked only three and my responses came as easily as they did automatically. Noticing that the manger which was vacant when you had last seen it was now occupied, you pointed to the Christ Child and asked: “Who is that?” I replied that this is Jesus. You then said: “Who is Jesus?” I explained: “Jesus is the Son of God.”
Then you asked the question which in all these years no child had ever posed: “Why did he come?”
I could not answer. My inability to do so was not caused by ignorance but by powerlessness. Your perception, so shockingly profound and yet so overwhelmingly innocent, left me dumbstruck!
Why do I have the sense, young man, that in the remaining years we have to share it will be you who will be providing me with the answer?
Thank you for this unforgettable gift.
December 25, 2016
Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.