Several years ago, I had a faith crisis that lingered till Midnight Mass. That night, as I knelt in my pews next to the nativity scene in my parish, I wondered if I believed, or had ever truly believed, in the nativity story at all.
It can actually be quite frightening when doubts like these occur… because if I find that I, in fact, do not believe in that story, everything else that I had thought I believed would unravel in a matter of time too.
And so, I did what a good Catholic would. I raised up a prayer that I did not feel, and summoned the strength to face the fear raised by my doubts.
What I do remember of that prayer is this: As I closed my eyes, I found myself approaching the manger from outside. (Here, I would like to add that while I always had grand powers of imagination, much more of those were unlocked after I went through a week of Ignatian Spirituality Prayer, where I was taught to ‘enter’ particular scenes in prayer.)
And so I found myself hesitantly walking towards the manger. Obviously, I knew the Christmas story and I was very aware of who were inside, and exactly what was taking place. I was to arrive at the nativity of the supposed Lord Jesus. But what would I really encounter?
Will I recognise that the baby is the Jesus I know? Will he have a halo around him, or some form of divine mark that clearly indicates his holiness?
What if… I am disappointed by the child that greets my eyes…
But I walked on.
And arrive at the crib, I did. I remember feeling deep curiosity. With all these mixed emotions and thoughts, I took one look into the crib, at the infant child.
The baby looked… extremely normal.
There was no radiance about him, and definitely no halo. There were no angels harking his glory, and the characters around the crib were also extremely normal. Interested characters, but who wouldn’t be if you were there for the birth of a child?
I gazed at the baby as I tried to place my feelings into perspective. I didn’t feel disappointed for sure. But neither did I feel affirmed that I had ventured into this story and gotten what I needed.
Very soon enough though, I realised that with all the normalcy around this legendary baby, and with all his plain and common marks of being a human child, it was entirely up to me if I wanted to believe he was Jesus, the Son of God.
And that decision was mine to make. There would be no angel appearing to tell me otherwise; the heavens would not open to declare the baby’s Sonship for another 30 years.
A small moment of deep realisation, and one heartbeat later, my choice was certain once more – this baby whose birth becomes the Christmas story, is a holy infant, the Christ child we have all heard about at some point in our lives, the Jesus whom some of us have been graced to be acquainted with.
And my prayer was complete.
At the heart of it all, faith has always been a choice for me. And I’ve always chosen to believe. I will never know for sure what really happened that Christmas night – was the story made up or accurately recounted? But for me that night at church, my faith was restored.
God walked me into a dream of the nativity, and He showed me a very normal baby (who should actually convince me that he is nothing special), and that was what it took to restore my faith in Him. If the baby had been extraordinary, it would have been easy to believe. But that didn’t happen. What happened was so normal that my belief relied solely on having the free will to choose, believe, act. And I chose to believe whole-heartedly and foolishly simply that night, in childlike manner, innocent and pure.
Will you, too?
I have been attending the Midnight Mass for years before I became a Catholic, because a friend used to invite me along. It was natural for me then, to faithfully show up every year for the Midnight Mass after I got baptised 10 years ago.
Two years ago, I fought to arrive at my parish on December 24 despite suffering a bout of the viral flu. I was to spend the next few hours in my car, shivering from a cold from within. I was highly delirious and as I lay in my car (stuck in a very full carpark), I saw shadows moving around the carpark. There was nothing frightening about that, and neither did I feel any malice from those shadows; even in those weak moments, I enjoyed thinking they were saints-to-be from our columbarium arriving for the Midnight Mass.
That night, my husband and one-year-old son left the Mass and dragged me out of the car to grab a taxi to Mount Alvernia. Turns out I had a 41-degree fever. I was in and out of consciousness by then; apparently, I yelled at the nurses several times cos they kept me waiting for pain relief.
Last year, I missed the Midnight Mass again because I felt that I needed to be home with my two-month-old baby girl.
This year, determined as I was to rekindle my relationship with this favourite Mass of mine, I didn’t make it. Changed and ready to go, I was to remain stuck in my children’s room as they took turns to wake up crying for their parents.
It was a very lousy Christmas Eve.
So our family showed up for Christmas Mass today, with me still feeling sour that I would have to wait another year for the Midnight Mass. I felt like I had missed something important…
To make matters worse, our elder child Matthew kept acting up at Mass and driving me up the wall… I felt no joy being at church at all.
And then it was time to receive communion. With baby Emma in my arms, I got up to make my way to the priest. The choir was singing “Silent Night” and I was approaching the nativity scene which had been placed just behind where the priests were offering communion.
I sang along, step by step. I was curious about the nativity scene and in my heart, all I wanted was to spy the little Jesus in the tiny crib, and to wish Him “Happy Birthday”.
And then everything almost went silent. All I heard was “Silent Night”, and all I knew was my own approach to the nativity scene – just like it happened years ago in my walk to the infant child in the manger.
Step by step, I walked on. And I was awakened.
It was a silent night, and a holy night. All was calm and all was bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, a holy infant so tender and mild, sleeping in heavenly peace.
And I knew, Christ the Saviour is born.
God didn’t let me feel left out.
I have arrived at Christmas.
May this Christmas gift you with blessings from above, and the grace to know the One who blesses,