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Anne Marie Murphy - with a restored creche 2012

Let the Holy Spirit work

Have you ever heard of the phrase “the spiritual life of children”? I never knew they had a spiritual life until I was introduced to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd while stationed at our house in Winslow, Arizona.

One of the most meaningful experiences I had in the atrium occurred when I was an observer in another catechist’s class. As an observer, you sit on a stool and just watch the children work. This is one of the hardest lessons for an adult to learn: to let the child work and let the Holy Spirit work and not get in the way of either one.

The children had already been given a presentation of a new material and were now able to choose any work they wished to spend time with.

From where I sat, I could see a little girl of about 4 years old take down the Nativity material from the shelf and, unrolling a mat to work on, sit on the floor and start to put the Nativity figures in place. There were the sheep and shepherds in a field of green felt, various animals to put in the stable, and, of course, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.

The angel came down to announce the Good News to the shepherds in their green field, who hurried off at once with their sheep to see the new born babe. The child re-enacted the gospel story as her catechist had first showed her.

All of a sudden, she started to move the figures in a way I didn’t remember. I restrained myself from going over and asking her what she was doing. I thought she was doing something wrong. We had never showed her this!

She had taken Baby Jesus out of his manager, and he was crawling along the floor on his hands and feet. He looked like a real baby, but again my adult mind thought it was kind of irreverent or something. I knew she had a baby sister and was probably imitating what her baby sister did. I restrained myself from interrupting and continued to sit quietly and watch.

Now, as Baby Jesus continued to crawl, she started to make little whining noises. What was she up to? Baby Jesus crawled up the side of the wooden stable and onto the roof! Still, the little noises could be heard. I was hoping Baby Jesus wouldn’t fall off the roof and break his neck.

Should I intervene and tell her that this wasn’t how she had been shown to use the materials? (We do this sometimes if the children are using the materials in a destructive way.)

Unbeknownst to me, the little girl had a particular destination in mind for Baby Jesus. He crawled to the edge of the roof where she had hidden the tiniest sheep from the shepherd’s flock that had come from the field to adore at the manger.

That was the source of the noise she had been making. The little sheep on the roof had been calling out, and Jesus had left his warm blanket in the manger and had crawled up on the roof in his diaper to find it!

Wow! I got it! This was the whole point of the Catechesis.

This little girl had taken two presentations from different parts of Jesus’ life, the Incarnation and the parable of the Good Shepherd, combined them, and made them her own. In her mind, even as a little baby, Jesus was the Good Shepherd who wouldn’t hesitate to leave his manger bed if he heard a lost sheep calling to him!

As I continued to watch, Baby Jesus picked up his lost sheep and together they crawled back down from the roof of the stable and together went into the manger bed, where she covered them both with his swaddling clothes. She finished her work and put everything away, while I thrilled at the glimpse the Holy Spirit had given me of the spiritual life of a child.

Restoration May/June 2024