A Collector’s Christmas
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
It all started on a wintry night as I and Jim Gavin, the president of The Friends of the Creche, walked over from our hotel in Salt Lake City to attend a rehearsal performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I had met Jim, but I did not know him well.
I was a collector of nativities, attending the bi-annual convention of The Friends of the Creche, a society of people who love the Christmas story and have a passion for collecting nativities. Jim asked where I was from and about my collection. I told him I had about 150 sets. I had never made an accurate count. During our conversation, he asked if I had ever exhibited my collection. I told him that I had never seriously considered doing a show. He told me that I most definitely should consider doing one. This is where the seed was planted.
Over the following weeks, the hound of heaven started to pursue me. I felt that I was being summoned. The “no” changed to an “I don’t know” and then to a “maybe” and finally to a “yes”. Once I had made the commitment in my own mind, ideas started to take shape. I became obsessed, and I thought of nothing else for hours at a time. There were so many decisions to make, so many details to work out.
Thirteen months later, in December 2010, the idea became a reality. This was no small undertaking. I had not experience. I had been to several exhibits and to a number of conventions. What I had learned was that putting together an exhibit took an enormous amount of work and could be a logistical nightmare.
The exhibit was called The Crib and the Cross. At the entrance, I set up a large outdoor set that had the appearance of stone, surrounded by a collection of crosses and crucifixes that I had also collected. A plaque at the front had an extensive quote from Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s “The Life of Christ”, describing the connection between the crib and the cross.
The exhibit was set up in my parish hall. I recruited a team of twelve family members and friends to help transport dozens and dozens of boxes in cars and vans and to help set up the nativities.
Members of the parish were invited to see the exhibit after all the masses on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, more than four hundred school children came over class by class to see the exhibit. In all, over one thousand people attended.
There was Christmas music playing in the background and the fragrance of burning incense candles filled the air. Of course, there had to be a Christmas tree decorated with all the nativity ornaments I had collected. The tree was flanked by a picture of Botticelli’s Madonna and Child on one side and Salvador Dali’s Madonna and Child on the other side.
I had a station for memorabilia from various Friends of the Creche conventions along with information about how to join the society. There was a station about the first nativity exhibit created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1221. On the next table, I had my favorite set, the one that started my collecting passion.
When my wife and I first got married, we realized that neither of us owned a nativity set. I was given the task of buying one for the family. I shopped for weeks and weeks but couldn’t find one that seemed special enough. Then came an inspiration; I would paint my own. I purchased a foot high, sixteen piece plaster of Paris set. For many months, every chance I got, I labored at the kitchen table, deciding on colors and then mixing paints, finally painting all the figures.
There was a touch table to small children, containing a number of inexpensive sets with which the children could play. This turned out to be a great idea, and it helped keep breakage of my other sets to a minimum.
I had tables grouping together nativities from different countries and a table with an explanation about stopkas, special sets from Krakow, the cultural center of Poland. Besides my first set which is my favorite, I highlighted my other favorite – one from the Vatican collection. It depicts the Virgin Mary kissing the Infant Jesus. Buttons were prepared with the picture of Mary and Jesus on them. The buttons read, “I saw Mary Kissing Baby Jesus”. The kids loved them.
I created questions abut the exhibit for the teachers to use with their students. All the questions could be answered through observation or by reading the various explanations displayed throughout the exhibit. I also donated two multiple-piece nativities for each grade, Christmas wrapped, that could be distributed as the teachers decided.
On the eve of the show, my niece (who is also my godchild), presented me with an exquisite framed needlepoint nativity scene. She told me that she had been working on the piece for several years. When she found out that I was going to be doing the show, she worked day and night to have it ready for the opening. Of course, I made this piece another highlight of the exhibit. A number of women told me it was a grand piece of workmanship.
I remember one little first grade by standing in the middle of the exhibit. With raised arms, he whirled around and exclaimed “This is awesome!” I remember thinking to myself that he was right; it was truly awesome. The son of God came down to earth to join us in our humanity and ultimately redeem the world.
To me, the Incarnation is the penultimate miracle. That the exhibit came off was a small miracle. How do you measure the success of such a show? After the exhibit, my pastor told me that a parish member I did not know wanted to contact me so I gave her my email address. He told me that she had some kind of religious experience while viewing the exhibit.
Here is a quote from her email: “That was the most influential exhibit in my life and it has made a positive impact on my faith. The Christmas season is often lost in the shopping, lights, and festivities, but your nativities and narratives and explanatory pieces were a beautiful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas and what it means worldwide. You showed how the important symbolism in Christ’s birth was just as important s the symbolism in His death.”
For my myself, if the exhibit could have such an impact on just one person, it made it all worthwhile.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14
I hope that each of you had a happy and blessed Christmas.
The Divine Catcher
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were sitting and waiting expectantly for our take-out delivery. Since the onset of the pandemic, no dine-in restaurant option was available. I told Father “Bo” I had just viewed a documentary about circuses. I had never realized what a great impact circuses had on entertainment in our nation from the turn of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century.
Father “Bo” said, “I was most fond of the clowns as a child.” I told him I was quite the opposite. I said, “I always found them a little creepy. I did like Emmet Kelly though. He was very sad.”
“What was your favorite part of the circus?” asked Father “Bo”. “I loved the trapeze artists,” I replied. “The ring master always said they performed death-defying feats.”
“Did you know that Henri Nouwen was fascinated with the circus?” asked Father “Bo”. “I did not,” I responded.
“Yes,” said Father “Bo”. “At one time, Nouwen became very friendly with the Flying Rodleighs and actually travelled with the circus. Nouwen was especially fascinated with a remark of one of the trapeze artists. The flyer told Henri, ‘the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything When I fly to the catcher, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me safely over the apron behind the catch bar….. A flyer must fly and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust with outstretched arms that his catcher will be there for him.’”
“I think that was why I so liked the trapeze artists, even as a young child. I marveled at that demonstration of trust,” I responded. “I still marvel at that absolute trust.”
Father “Bo” went on. “In the last months of Nouwen’s life, he had to deal with the death of Adam Arnett, a 34 year old whom Nouwen had cared for at Daybreak. Adam couldn’t speak, dress himself, or brush his own teeth.”
“Is there a place I can find out more about Adam?” I asked. “Yes,” answered Father “Bo”. “Adam, God’s Beloved was Nouwen’s last book. Nouwen wrote of Adam, “Adam was – very simply, quietly, and unquietly – there! He was a person who, by his very life announced the marvelous mystery of our God: I am precious, beloved, whole, and born of God. Adam bore silent witness to this mystery, which had nothing to do with whether or not he could speak or express himself…It has to do with his being. He was and is a beloved child of God.”
Father “Bo” said, “Henri wrote that Adam seemed to be talking to him. He said ‘Don’t’ be afraid Henri…Let my death help you to befriend yours. When you are no longer afraid of your own death, then you can live fully, freely, and joyfully.’ Nouwen wrote that dying was trusting in the catcher.”
I said that I liked the image of Jesus as the divine catcher. I think of the great prayers given to Saint Faustina was “Jesus, I trust in you.” Being able to develop that trust, to let go, is to fly into the waiting arms of the Divine Catcher is a lifetime journey.”
Jesus, I trust in you.
A COVID Reflection
by Camille Devaney, IVC Volunteer
It has been many weeks into our “Stay at Home” lifestyle. No contact with my nursing homes or the Domestic Violence Shelter where I normally serve. COVID hasn’t changed the status of the shut-ins; they still need food and some human contact. So, the Catholic Charities Meals on Wheels program continues and that’s how I can serve others.
I have been doing the same two routes, approximately 11 -14 clients. I know every client by name, and they know mine. They tell me about their families, their aches and pains, their neighbors and much advice on “medical” cures. Do you know that sleeping with a bar of soap in your bed makes many pains go away? Where else could I learn what is on sale at the neighborhood markets? Where else could I get hollered at for bringing the wrong meal even if I only deliver and not prepare? AND, where else could I find God every day?
Today’s presider of the livestream mass that I watch spoke about the many gifts we have been given. He made reference to an old movie “Chariots of Fire”. One of the runners knew he was being called to be a missionary, but he also was aware of his running ability. He said, “It makes God happy to see me run.” The point is God does delight when we use the gifts He has given us. Personally, I don’t like being home doing nothing and I do like speaking with people. The presider this morning made me aware that God is happy as I chat with the clients on my Meals on Wheels route.
Today, two different clients invited me in for a visit and a cup of tea or coffee. Of course, I can’t do this, but I did see God smiling. It is sad not being able to receive the Eucharist, the bread of Life. But I am reminded of a poster in the Jesuit parish in Peru. it shows a woman with a child and reads (loosely translated): “We cannot have the Bread of Life unless we have Bread for Life.” The Catholic Charities clients who receive their bread for life are also receiving the Bread of Life. I can find God when I go to mass literally or attend an adoration service, but currently I find Him/Her more profoundly in the face of the men and woman who come to the door.
Safe in Their Mouth
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were having a discussion about love. “Do you think everyone knows what love really is?” he asked.
“Probably not,” I responded. “There are some people who think love only has to do with the emotions. They equate love with infatuation. The culture talks about falling in and out of love. It is beyond your control. It just happens.”
“Yes,” Father “Bo” responded. “They often do not recognize that love is an act of the will. Your relationship with God is very much an act of the will. Yet there is an element of trust.”
“I think the love of a mother for her child is an act of the will. Have you heard the expression “The baby has a face only a mother could love?”
“Yes,” replied Father “Bo”. “But I must admit that I think all babies are at least cute, if not beautiful.”
“Young children seem to have an innate sense of love,” I said. “They have complete trust. It is quite beautiful, but sometime along the way we seem to lose that trust. The experiences of the world do the damage.”
Father “Bo” noted, “much of the development of the spiritual life involves putting our trust in God. Believing He loves you, imperfections and all, and trusting Him completely. It seems we have to learn that lesson over and over again.”
“I am afraid that is so,” I replied.
“Here is a bit of wisdom from a four-year old girl,” Father “Bo” said. “In response to the question ‘how do you know someone loves you?’ the girl responded ‘They say your name different. Your name is safe in their mouth.’
Wisdom opened the mouths of the dumb and gave ready speech to infants. Wisdom 10:21
As we face the COVID 19 pandemic, there is a great deal of fear. I see it at the grocery store as people, almost in a panic, are buying things like toilet paper. Over and over again, friends have been bidding me farewell with “be safe”. How often in the Bible are we told “be not afraid”?
I do not have to tell you what protocols to follow. This advice is everywhere. However, to feel safe we have to place our trust in God.
Entrusting Myself to the Hands of Jesus
I’ve come to think that the only, the supreme, prayer
we can offer up, during these hours
when the road before us is shrouded in darkness,
is that of our master on the cross:
“In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”
(Into your hands I commend my spirit.)
To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread,
that blessed and caressed, that were pierced; . . .
to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down
to the very marrow of the soul that mould and create
to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted
it is to these that it is good to surrender our soul,
and above all when we suffer or are afraid.
and in so doing there is a great happiness and a great merit.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ