The days from the Solstice to Christmas Eve were among the darkest and coldest of my life. Tears were shed, apologies said. Hard won peace felt fragile. I stumbled into Christmas Eve morning in a typical melancholy fashion. I set about making the customary magic happen, all while feeling like an utter failure at just about everything that mattered. It was not a pretty place to be.
Our plan was to accompany Mike to Midnight Mass at the Basilica. Karoline had chattered all day about the "big church." Earlier this season, we had received a letter from our pastor encouraging us, among other things, to attend Mass at noon on Christmas Day in order to make Christ the center of the Christmas celebration. We've opted for Midnight Mass for several years now and one of the great blessings of that is that it brings the reason for the feast into sharp focus. We are Midnight Mass people. Karoline and Katie talked all day about going to the "big church."
I was exhausted. Sarah Annie has some wicked virus that sounds suspiciously like bronchitis. We're sharing it. My throat is sore. I've slept and eaten very little since that dark settled at the week's beginning. We hosted brunch for 18 people Thursday morning. I caught a quick nap putting Sarah to sleep. At dinner, just an hour before the pilgrimage was to begin, Mike said again that he could just take a few children with him (they'd be just fine while he worked) and I could stay home with the little ones. Michael, looking green around the gills, contemplated staying home as well. Maybe this just wasn't the year to do this big midnight thing.
I waffled. Katie cried. She wanted to go and she wanted me with her. Karoline announced she was going. We went. It is an hour's drive to the church. Mike needed to be there 2 1/2 hours early. Mass was two hours. Then it's an hour home in the wee hours of Christmas morning. This trek is a huge commitment. On the way there, I discussed strategy with Christian. We decided that I'd take the little girls and visit all the small chapels before Mass began, then I'd duck out with Sarah Anne and not even attempt to sit through Mass. He'd keep Karoline under his watchful care. Michael would take care of Katie. Paddy would be in charge of the little boys. I would spend Mass sitting quietly with my baby in the lower church. They would be together upstairs in the pew.
From the minute we arrived, Karoline was stuck to me like tenacious tinsel on tree. We went to the large nativity, where just an hour earlier, her Daddy had climbed inside and tenderly moved Joseph (to get a better shot--but still it touched me somehow that he was worried about Joseph). Been a rough week--doesn't take much to make me cry. At the sight of baby Jesus, Karoline's eyes grew wide. She dropped to her knees.
"Hi, Baby Jesus! It's me. Thank you for all the children in our family. Thank you for making Sarah Annie my little sister. I love you!"
And she was up, leaving the strangers who witnessed the moment with me to wipe their eyes.
I decided to try to stay in the upper church for Mass. Karoline wanted to be with me and I wanted her to see the beauty that is Christmas Eve with the Papal Nuncio. She was awed and both little ones were hushed for the candlelit procession. She knew the hymns and sang along. Paddy made sure she didn't catch her hair on fire with the candles. It was a bit stressful. Then the lights came up. And she and Sarah Annie chattered away while they took all the donation envelopes for the rack on the pew and "organized" them. We made it to the Kyrie. And then we walked that very long aisle from our reserved seats in front to the back of the church. Karoline wasn't leaving me for anything. Now I had them both.
We made our way to the crypt church. I knew I'd hear the music and know when to go back upstairs for communion. Slowly, I walked Karoline around the church, stopping at each mosaic to tell her about the saint depicted there. She spent a long time at the nativity, patting the nearby sheep and begging to touch baby Jesus. We saw St. Elizabeth. And St. Anne holding the Blessed Mother with a book to read. We stopped to say a prayer with St. Joseph. Then, we were at the center of the back of the church. "Jesus is here too, Karoline," I whispered, "really here in the Tabernacle."
"In the gold box?" she asked.
She dropped to her knees. I stood in awed amazement.
Thank you Jesus, for Sarah Annie. And especially thank you for giving me to my mommy. I love you, Jesus! Bye bye.
She was off to look at the next mosaic. I was rooted to the spot right there in front of that Tabernacle where the Baby and the King had just touched the tenderest part of my heart and healed the wounds He knew were there.
Yes, thank you Jesus. I love you, too