Charley’s family was suffering. Dad was out of a job. Mom was suffering from an illness, but they really couldn’t figure out what was happening to her. Charley’s big brother, the one who hit him sometimes, was having trouble in school. It seemed he had trouble reading. No one in the family could seem to get ahead.
Charley looked around for comfort. He knew his parents loved him, although they didn’t understand him and he thought they ignored him most of the time. His grandmother would come to stay sometimes, and she hugged and kissed him a lot. Charley liked this, and when he felt sad and lonely, he would think of his grandma’s last visit.
Charley had heard that there was a God who was distant from us, a God who didn’t or couldn’t really care for us. He had heard on the radio a song called “If God were one of us,” which asked what would happen if God lived on earth, but he didn’t, according to the song, he lived far away.
Charley had heard that his parents used to go to Church sometimes, that they had gone to Catholic school even, but he didn’t really understand anything about their religion. He knew that sometimes they prayed as they had been taught. His mom once, when a tornado was nearby, made them all kneel in the basement, she lit a candle and said a prayer through her tears of fear. Charley wanted to know that prayer, he wanted to know more of what it was all about, but he didn’t really understand what it was all about, because he had never been taught himself. They just assumed he did, forgetting that they had been taught themselves.
Charley’s dad would get upset sometimes and punch the wall. His Mom would worry a lot about the family, and about her latest medical tests, and would cry in the bathroom, thinking no one heard — but Charley would hear. Charley would get so worried about his mom and dad, that he would forget to be careful around his brother. His brother would come around the corner, punch him in the arm, hard, and say “Hey, squirt.” Charley didn’t talk about being worried, but he sure was, and scared of what he couldn’t really understand. Couldn’t God understand?
When Charley’s grandmother would come to visit, she would cook for them and she would read to Charley and shower him with kisses. She would teach him all kinds of practical things. Charley liked to learn these things. His grandma would talk to Charley’s mom and dad about God, that they should get back to Church, that they should go to Confession, that they should have Charley and his brother baptized, that they should get their marriage blessed, that they should go to Mass on Sunday. Then everything would be okay, she said. They could survive. Charley didn’t know what Confession was. He loved his grandma, though, and thought maybe what she said would help. After she left Charley’s parents would make fun of what she said, but Charley could feel, though he would never tell them, that they made fun of what she said because what she said made them nervous.
Then, one day, Charley learned his secret, a secret made him feel good, that made him hope, although he didn’t know why. His grandma had left a big book, and he was looking through it one time. He saw the words “For God… sent His only Son.” God sent His Son because he loved us. Charley didn’t really understand but he loved to think about it.
“Could it be?” Charley thought, “God was one of us? He understands us?” the more Charley thought about the better he felt. “God was one of us; He understands us; that song is stupid.” Charley wanted to learn more, but was afraid to ask his parents. He didn’t want to be made fun of by them. He didn’t want to ask his brother, because he didn’t want a punch in the arm. So, for many months, he kept this his secret, a secret he thought about every day. As he thought more and more about it, he wanted to know more. He wanted to bring the happiness he felt to calm his father. When he was worried about his dad not having a job, he thought of his secret, and had hope. When he was worried about his mom being sick, he thought of his secret, and went to comfort her. He even tried to help his brother, who didn’t seem to be able to read as well as Charley, even though he was older. When his brother would punch him in the arm, he would think of his secret and try to give his brother hope.
Charley had problems. He wanted to learn more, but he didn’t know how, and he wanted to make his family happy, but was afraid. He didn’t know the right questions to ask; he didn’t know how to explain what he worried about; instead he thought about his secret, and that made him happy.
Then one December, Grandma came to visit. She brought lots of smiles and hugs and kisses. She also brought gifts. One of the gifts was a manger scene, statuettes of a baby in a feedbox, surrounded by a woman, several men, animals, and even an angel. Across the top of the stable Charley’s secret was written, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.”
Charley asked his grandma about the words, he asked if they could teach him. When she left, he pointed to the words right there in the living room, and asked his parents about them. “You learned right,” he said “why couldn’t you teach me?”
Wouldn’t it be right to straighten out their lives? If God became man, couldn’t he understand us? Wouldn’t it be right to come close to God? He asked himself these questions and then he implored, “Mom, can’t you teach me more?”
“Out of the mouths of babes,” his mom said to Charley’s dad.
His dad said, “Let’s do the right thing.”
That year, Charley learned more and more, he was baptized and made his First Holy Communion, his parents got married in the Church and started to go to Sunday Mass. They began to pray as a family, and not just when there was a tornado passing by. Charley learned more and more about God, about God’s friends the saints and angels, and he learned that when he had been thinking about his secret, all that time his secret made him feel good, he was actually talking to God in a different kind of prayer.
By the next Christmas Charley realized that his secret was not secret at all. It was a truth which should be shared with all, even his annoying big brother: God became man and lived among us. He knows us’ he understands, and he wants us to learn from him, to follow him. He offers us compassion, but calls us to be responsible; he wants us to do good. Charley learned that, even if we abandon Him, like his parents had, He will never abandon us; that He always loves us, loves us so much He became one of us. His father found a job he didn’t like, but it was a job. His mother was still sick, but was coping. His brother still punched him in the arm, but he was still his brother. Charley had learned that God became man and what that meant. He thought of what had been his secret, and even with all of his family’s problems, he was still very happy.
Let us all be unafraid to share Charley’s secret, to spread it around to all we meet, to preach it to the world. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…” “…the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
Happy Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord!