The Fathers: For Fr. Bill McNichols

From house to house he treks, and inn to inn, the feral dogs
following the exhausted donkey. His wife, tired as she is,
does not complain. She knows he is doing all he can,
but there is no room, no room, no room. In time to come,
that common cri de coeur: no room. He hears the clink
of tankards, the bawdy laughter in the inner courtyard,
the dogs closing in. It is dark, dark, but somehow
filled with light, a dark light which is always there, he sees,
though there are precious few who dream enough to see it.

My little grandson gets up from talking to his train set
and looks at me. Then, without the faintest warning,
charges into my arms, believing without sufficient reason
that I will somehow be ready to catch and lift him
high above himself as his shadow falls across me.
He laughs, knowing he is somehow safe, though
my left arm hurts from sanding floors and lifting wood
in his father’s house, and the arthritis I have always
dreaded shoots once more across my right hand and wrist
to remind me once again how time keeps running out.

Advertisement

At last he finds someone who will let him use the stable,
a cave in the cold rocks, ripe with the dank smell of donkey
dung and hay. He covers his young wife with the tatters
of his cloak, stung again by what it means to be without,
here where someone with his blood was anointed king
a thousand years before, before the deportations, before
the shod boots of troops speaking in barbaric tongues.

And now the quickening contractions. Joseph the dreamer,
Joseph the shadow of the Father, the stand-in, here in this
backwater with the name God’s house. And only after
so much time has passed even Herod’s scribes will scratch
their heads, trying to remember where this quasi-mythical
Messiah will be born. Something reaches down and begins
again here on this threshing floor, like those waters from
the temple flowing east, a trickle of light only first, and then
the baby’s cry, as now the mother wraps him in her arms.
And the man, warmed by what he has been witness to,
swears he will do everything he can to cover both of them
in his failing, trembling arms, knowing it is that other Father
who keeps him grounded in the presence of so much arcing light.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Matthew MacFadyen (Henry Wilcox) Hayley Atwell (Margaret Schlegel) in 'Howards End’
E. M. Forster's masterpiece is a state-of-the-nation thesis in the guise of a real estate inheritance plot.
Rob Weinert-KendtApril 19, 2018
A beading session at Loom Chicago. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The report found that Catholic initiatives addressing the refugee crisis are marked by their commitment to a range of Catholic social teaching, including respect for life, a commitment to the common good, care for the earth and promoting the dignity of work.
Immigrants just released from detention via a U.S. immigration policy known as "catch and release" stand at a bus station April 11 before being taken to the Catholic Charities relief center in McAllen, Texas. (CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters)
The Legal Orientation Program, which President George W. Bush put into place in 2003, helps detained immigrants know their rights and legal options.
J.D. Long-GarcíaApril 19, 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron listens to speeches at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on April 17. (AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias)
President Emmanuel Macron scandalized secularists by praising Catholic contributions to French public life, but he has yet to work toward religious liberty.
Pascal-Emmanuel GobryApril 18, 2018