Pictured, "The Nino of St. John of the Cross."
The Carmelite nuns of Lake Elmo first introduced me to devotion to the Child Jesus as a young adult at the time of my conversion and return to the Church in 1972.
As a child I never felt attracted to the devotion of the Infant Jesus, mostly represented as the Infant of Prague, as I pretty much thought it sissified and only for little girls. I was more attracted to the mature Jesus, especially His Sacred Heart, probably because I needed a strong masculine model in my childhood, since my father was often absent.
It wasn't until my second conversion in 1978 that I was able to embrace the devotion completely. In the early 1970's, after returning from a rather sinful life, my focus was upon the passion of Christ, particularly His Holy Wounds, and Holy Face, devotions that are the balm of penitents.
Later, the Carmel of Our Lady of Divine Providence at Lake Elmo, Minnesota, finally published their novena booklet to the Infant Jesus. Mother Paula sent me a copy practically each time we corresponded. The nuns made public their custom of the monthly novena to the Infant Jesus from the 16th to the 25th of each month. I adopted the practice in union with them.
This happened at a time of awakening in my second conversion, wherein I understood the roots of my sin went all of the way back to childhood, hence the Divine Child Jesus became my companion and counsellor in the process. In the beginning I could only bring myself to venerate Him as the Bambino in the poverty of Bethlehem. Gradually, as He took me through His Childhood while mirroring my own, I was able to embrace every aspect of His Childhood, delighting in nearly every representation, albeit the Bambino remains dearest to me.
The monthly novena is an efficacious spiritual practice. It focuses the soul upon the mystery of the Incarnation, the Nativity, and the early years of Our Lord's life. The nuns recommend that one not limit the Divine Child by asking for particular favors, since He already knows our needs. I pray the novena to draw close to the Divine Child with the confidence that I shall want for nothing. However, He is a little Child and He knows how little children are, hence he is never put off by our particular requests, indeed, He enjoys listening to them.
The chief effect of devotion to the Infant Jesus is He becomes our constant companion, and increases our capacity to love. In some cases He heals the wounds inflicted upon us in our childhood, tracing our sins to these roots, helping us to overcome them, or at least humbly repent, with greater self knowledge each time we fall. The Infant Jesus instills humility, confidence and love, as He traces out the way of Spiritual Childhood for us.
The Divine Child is vulnerable and open to all, especially sinners. He teaches us to refrain from judging another, or condemning another, and if we do, He quickly reminds us of our own sins to gently reprimand us. With him the soul is able to see the Divine spark within even the most hardened and offensive person, often indicating to us that person's pain, loneliness, and isolation. The Divine Child teaches us to love and have compassion, even upon ourselves - He rejects no one who comes to him. He elicits such a love from our hearts that we quickly find ourselves loving without desire for sensual gratification or self-seeking, rather loving for Love's sake alone.
The monthly novena also prepares us for the Solemnity of Christmas, since we are already disposed to the true meaning of the feast. Devotion to the Divine Infancy prepares the heart, as a farmer has plowed and planted his field. waiting for the heavenly dew of this mystical night, when the grace of God has appeared. Although, this night, even the least prepared soul, upon gazing at the Divine Infant cannot help but be impressed with His merciful love...it is not just the many He invites and welcomes, but all.
Tonight, in Carmel, the nuns, with lighted candles, will process with the Infant Jesus, from cell to cell, looking for room at the Inn. Each nun, will arise to meet her Bridegroom until all the community has joined the procession. Finally they will arrive in chapel and place the Little Jesus in the manger, and midnight Mass will commence. During the Octave of Christmas, the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague will be exposed in the extern chapel for the veneration of the faithful.
The Infant Jesus once revealed to the venerable Fr. Cyril, "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you." Indeed, He has certainly blessed our Carmel with many fervent and holy vocations in response to their devotion. He has blessed me as well.