From The Oystercatcher of Southwark
by Erica Colahan-Ruggieri
“O, Holy Night, hmm hmm…” Mary hummed as she helped Mollie into her little bed, tucking the blankets around her.
“Pretty, Muter,” Mollie sighed, rubbing her eyes and reaching her chubby arms up to hug Mary’s neck.
“I am the most blessed mother in the world, my little dove,” Mary cooed. She eased herself down on the edge of the bed, careful not to squish her daughter’s tiny feet, hidden under the covers. The bed groaned with her bulk, as she was large with full-term pregnancy.
Whispering now, she continued, “Mollie, I’ll tell you a secret. Can you keep a secret, even from Daddy?”
Mollie looked up at her mother with large brown eyes, “Yes,” she said.
“On this night, many many years ago, there was a special Jewish muter who waited to give birth to her child, just as I am tonight. She was very close to her time, and knew the babe was coming soon.” Mollie’s eyes closed.
“The muter’s name was also Mary, and she was content to be a handmaiden of God—to live her life as He saw fit—to give everything to her maker.” Little Mollie’s breathing slowed. Mary knew she was asleep, but continued her story none-the-less, if only to hear herself say it.
“She became the Blessed Mother of the Lord, and loves each of us very much.” Her voice trailed off, as tears streamed down her face.
Oh, Mary, I have hidden you and your son in the corners of my heart and kept you from my own child. How can it be that you should love me, still? Surely, the God of the Hebrews is the same God I love. Why is everything so different? I am longing for you—for my home—and I feel very alone. Please forgive me, on this, most Holy night, please forgive me!
Mary sat on the bed a little longer, watching her child sleep, and feeling the baby within start to squirm around. Suddenly, the baby kicked three times in succession—right against her ribcage. Three huge, pounding kicks that took Mary’s breath away. She waited. The kicking stopped and the baby settled down.
Mary was reminded of one of the lessons she had taught the children in the Sunday School class at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Southwark. It was the story of St. Peter, who had denied the Lord three times in front of the crowd. When asked, Peter had sworn he did not know Jesus. She remembered the Gospel of Matthew, which recorded the warning that Jesus gave to Peter:
‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’
St. Peter had forsaken his Savior. Like her, he hid Jesus in the corners of his heart. He kept the Lord from others, and wept bitterly—he felt alone.
And, Peter had been forgiven. Jesus built his church on Peter, the rock. He lived his life for God and became a saint in death. St. Peter, pray for me, Mary implored.
She continued to hum her song, remembering the candlelight at midnight Mass on Christmas. The way the light flickered across the faces of her loved ones—her parents and siblings, all lined up in a row—occupying the entire pew. The little ones wiggling in their seats, anticipation of the morning gift on their precious little faces. The neighbors smiling at one another across the church. The priest raising the Eucharist high above his head.
This was a most Holy Night and Mary knew that she was not alone.