The connection is very close. The manger at Bethlehem was a school; its first pupils were Joseph, and the shepherds, and Our Blessed Lady. And we must add the little serving maid of whom tradition speaks.
It is true that we do not know her name, and she wrote nothing of what she saw on that blessed night. But what would you? Perhaps she could not write. What architect designed the Parthenon? He did not write, either. (She may have been Veronica who with womanly pity gave Him a handkerchief as He went to Calvary; but I am sure she must have been with the "many women" who kept near Him, when Peter and the rest fled.)
I am sure, too, that all the children in the neighborhood soon came to the manger. For news travels fast in a little town, and the whole countryside heard about the message to the shepherds. The children, especially the boys, would be all agog about that great brilliant light in the heavens, and about the angels who came down from the skies to sing about peace on earth.
"Did you really see the angel, father?" a little boy asks. "How big was he, and were you frightened, and what did he say, and what did you say?" Once more the shepherd tells his story. He is the gospeler; his church a shepherds cot; his congregation, a group of children, his wife, the neighbors standing at the door. The children ring the changes and ply him with questions; no detail is forgotten; and the shepherd talks and talks until at last he must go out on the hillside to watch over his sheep.
Now anyone who thinks that these children did not go out to the hill the next day to see just where the angels were, does not know children. From the hillside they would troop, of course, over to Bethlehem to visit the Baby and His mother, and to hear all about it once more, and to see the very things they had heard about. It must have been like going to Heaven! Our Blessed Lady knew children and loved them, for the Eternal Father who chose her from all the daughters of Adam to be the Mother of His Son, and the Mother of all of us, saints and sinners alike, had given her a mothers heart and a mothers love. They did not make too much noise for her, these boys and girls from the hills, and their loud outcries, demanding to see her Son, fell like music on her ears. She gathers them around her, the Divine Child on her lap, and the eager childish voices hush as she tells them Who He is and why He has come.
That was the first Catholic school—there at the manger, where Jesus was, and His spotless Mother, and patient, kindly Joseph looking on with awed eyes, even yet hardly able to believe that this marvelous thing had happened…and wondering why God had chosen him to take care of the Child and His Mother.
The children go back home, and Joseph stands to watch them as they trudge down the road. He turns hack into the stable to light the lamp, for night is coming on, In its feeble glow, he sees the Child on His Mothers breast; sees with trembling and adoring eyes what Kings and Prophets had desired to see; sees what the Christian poet saw when he wrote of that unutterably sacred and tender mothering of the Son of God by Mary.
Et modieo lade pastus est
Per quem nee ales esurit...
"None of this Jesus, Mary, and Joseph stuff in my classroom!" said a Brooklyn teacher to her pupils not long ago.
Alas, there is none of this Jesus, Mary, and Joseph stuff in any classroom in this country—except in the classrooms of the Catholic schools. It was expelled from the schools of these allegedly Christian States nearly a century ago. You may teach many curious subjects in the modern American school, and you may talk about many topics still more curious and futile. But there are some things you must not do, and about which you may not speak. You must not take the children to Bethlehem, and you must not bring in any of this Jesus, Mary, and Joseph stuff. "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," is a text that has no weight in the secularized philosophy of education which at present rules this country. The Name of Jesus by which alone we are saved is never mentioned in the public training schools for teachers, except as the name of a person who may have lived, but certainly died nineteen centuries ago. Decidedly there is no room for Him. From school to school He goes, and the door is closed in His face. He might, possibly, be admitted as a sort of curiosity, but never as a Divine Teacher. Only when He comes to the Catholic school do the doors fly open.
For it is His. Teachers and pupils adore Him on their knees. They know that He alone has the words of eternal life. In His school the chief work of all masters and mistresses is to teach these words, and the chief duty of the pupils to learn them, and make them their deepest and most sacred principles of thought and action. His doctrine is the soul of every Catholic school, whether it be a kindergarten or a university. Its every department is another Bethlehem where Jesus is, with Mary and Joseph.
No narrow bigotry restricts the Catholic school. Its philosophy is not limited by the purblind vision which refuses to take account of the childs immortal spirit. It is not a thing of earth, this philosophy, bound to the earth. It rises above the passing things of time and sense to the world to come. It is philosophy, therefore, that is complete; no broken arc, but a perfect whole, beginning with God, and finding its term in Him. If God did not exist, if man had no duties to Him, if there were no other world and no life beyond that which now is ours, the philosophy of secularism and the secular school might suffice. But to anyone who truly believes that the Child on His Mothers breast at Bethlehem is the Son of God, and who has made that belief a true part of his life, the plan of education which rejects the Child and His Mother, is not an incomplete system, but a pernicious system.
To the Catholic mind these are familiar thoughts, but to our non-Catholic fellow-citizens they are too often a scandal and a stumbling block. Yet some among them, viewing the results of ninety years of secularism, and finding these most manifest in the sad truth that Christianity is now the creed of a minority in this country, are seeking a way back to Bethlehem. As we go over to Bethlehem on Christmas Day, and kneel before the Child, we can beg Him to set their feet on the path that leads to Him.
But let our first prayer be for the Catholic school, set up today, like His cross, to be a sign of contradiction. That prayer, spoken at Bethlehem, in the first Catholic school, will surely be answered.