An empty crib! I remember when we were still young sisters, fresh from the world…Our first Advent and Christmas season in the convent was exciting – for me, especially. Everything was very solemn and surrounded by mystery.

At the beginning of Advent we were introduced by our Aspirant Directress to the practice of putting a hay on an empty crib whenever we’ve done some charitable act or we have made some little sacrifices, or have controlled our tongue and kept quiet at times of silence or we have kept patience in trying moments….and so on. We were told that the hay we will put there will represent whatever virtue we have practiced the whole Advent season to make a comfortable crib for the Baby Jesus. Of course, when we put our hay no one must see it, no one must know about whatever good we have done – we are not to parade and announce whatever sacrifices we have made…all must remain hidden and secret. It was exciting; it gave us, young sisters, incentive to do good and to practice virtue, to be charitable and forgiving etc.

For people outside the cloister it may seem childish – that is only for children. True. But we were then still children in the religious life – new comers, young and fresh from the world. Each of us brought with her her own habits (good and bad) and certainly, our mindset was still, more or less, needing refinement and a new focus.  This practice of putting hay on an empty crib was just one way of helping us shift into new focus our way of thinking, our manner of acting and doing things, of relating with others, and to adjust and really get into the new life that we have just embraced. Entering the cloister is like entering a new world – and it’s really a new world! We were to learn to live a life led by the Holy Spirit, a life that is more God-centered, and at the same time, more human, so that we may be able to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of our vocation. In short we were to “die” to our old selves so that we may truly live.

Now that I am 31 years in the convent, I have already outgrown this practice. But the lesson it gave and its purpose remained. That empty crib has become our hearts – my heart, which I prepare to receive Jesus in my life everyday and even every moment, not just on Christmas day. It is now a day to day response to his call, a moment to moment “yes” to his invitation to follow him “in-season and out-of-season.”