Young Barnaby was a juggler. That was his profession, and he was quite good at it. His father before him had been a juggler, and so had his grandpa.
His father had taught him how to juggle and how to dance, how to tumble and how to sing. Barnaby had loved to watch his father performing in the streets of Paris, and there were times when they were very merry together.
In those days, they had even travelled the land together, amusing people high and low. Sometimes they juggled in the market places, sometimes in local fairs. But their best days were when they performed for special feast days and weddings. Then people were most generous and showered copper and silver coins on their little worn rug.
But when Barnaby was about ten years old, something very sad happened — his father died.
Now, you can imagine how terrible that was to young Barnaby. But Barnaby was a brave little fellow, and life had to go on. And, he now had to earn his own bread every day. He would continue to do as his father had taught him, wherever he was welcome.
So, he gathered up the little treasures his father had left him — his two sticks, a couple of hoops, some brightly coloured balls, and some apples. These he wrapped up in the old rug, which he strapped to his shoulders like a turtle’s shell. Then he set off to find some work.
On His Own
He set out every morning for the town, spread out his rug and leaped, danced, and juggled as best as he knew how. People stopped to watch his tricks, and laughed and smiled. Young as Barnaby was, he had been taught his trade very well indeed.
While spring flowered into summer, Barnaby tramped all over the countryside to earn his daily bread. The sky was his roof at night, and during the day people were kind to him.
All went well until winter began to creep in. The warm breezes turned into chilly blasts, and fewer and fewer people stopped to watch the little juggler on his mat.
People hugged their warm cloaks and hurried past Barnaby without even a glance. His little purse of coins grew thinner and thinner until, at last, it was totally empty.
One day, Barnaby sat shivering and lonely at the foot of a big oak tree, trying in vain to keep back his tears. Snowflakes fell all around him in silent piles, and the cold seemed to freeze even his thoughts.
Just then, he heard a muffled step and, looking up, saw a monk looking down at him.
“Where is your home, young boy?” he asked Barnaby kindly.
Barnaby stared down at his frozen toes and shook his head miserably.
“Would you like to come with me?” the monk asked him. “Come, you will be warm.”
So it happened that Barnaby found a new home. For the next few weeks, he was kept warm and well-fed in the abbey kitchen.
Now Christmas was fast approaching. The monks were preparing gifts to present to the Infant Jesus and His Mother on Christmas Eve and were very busy.
Brother John was composing a new chant as a gift, for which Brother Matthew was writing lyrics. Brother James was carving a gorgeous new manger, and Brother Juniper polished the altar candlesticks until they gleamed like the sun. Other monks were working on beautiful manuscripts, and still others painted lovely frescoes for the little abbey chapel which enthroned a statue of Our Lady and the Christ Child.
Barnaby, watching the monks as they worked, grew increasingly sad. “Oh, how worthless I am,” he cried to himself, “What right have I to stay here in this abbey when I don’t know how to do anything useful? I don’t even know how to pray right!” With these sad thoughts, he hung his head and cried.
Sweet Virgin, Watch me!
One day, while the monks were attending Mass in the abbey church, Barnaby knelt in the chapel and stared up at the statue. “Oh, sweet Virgin,” he sighed, “how can I serve you as do the others?” Suddenly, the bells of the church began to peel and great lovely waves of sound filled the air.
Barnaby jumped up in excitement. “Oh!” he cried, “I know what I can do for you, Blessed Mother. Watch me!!”
He spread his thin rug on the floor before the statue. Then he laid out his two sticks, his hoops, his balls, and his apples. He gave a deep bow, then suddenly began to leap and tumble in the air. He gave great somersaults, forward, backward, and sideways. He grabbed his sticks and hoops and tossed them in the air at all angles. He juggled the balls and apples in a great rainbow of colours, behind his back and under his feet. He dropped to his hands and lifted his feet in the air, then leaped and somersaulted happily again.
At last, half an hour and many tumbles later, the little juggler collapsed in a heap at the feet of the statue.
“Oh, sweet Lady, I have given you my best performance. I don’t know how to do the things the monks do, but I shall come here every day while they are at prayer and juggle for you and your Son.”
Many days passed, and Barnaby spent many an hour tumbling and somersaulting for the Mother and Child. Of course, after a while, the brothers began to wonder what he was doing so secretly while they prayed.
Barnaby’s Secret Discovered
When Christmas was but two days away, Brother James decided to discover what it was that Barnaby did in the chapel by himself. He quietly followed the boy and peeked through a crack in the door. He was amazed at what he saw!! There was Barnaby grinning from ear to ear, juggling merrily before the statue.
“Why, this is scandalous!” exclaimed the monk to himself. “While we are tending to our souls, this little fool is capering about like a little goat in our chapel! I must inform the Abbot!” And he did.
The Abbot, however, was a good and wise man and never made ill judgments of people without proof or reason. “Now, now,” he said to Brother James, “do not act hastily. Let me see the boy for myself. Next time he begins his juggling, call me without telling anyone else.”
The next night was Christmas Eve. All the monks presented their gifts to the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus, and Barnaby thought he had never seen such a beautiful array of works!
“Oh, sweet Mother,” he sighed, “how I wish I had something as exquisite to offer you.”
When the ceremony was over and the monks had all returned to their cells, Barnaby stole softly back to the chapel. He thought himself alone, but there were two sets of eyes following his every move from behind the confessional in the dark side of the chapel. Barnaby laid out his rug and bowed low before the statue. The Abbot and Brother James stared as he tumbled merrily from step to step, standing first on his hands, then on one foot, then on the other. He danced and juggled as he had never before done in his life, for this night was the birthday of the Christ Child and he wanted to do his best for his Infant God.
It was a lovely and lively performance, and at last he dropped to the ground, exhausted and gasping.
Suddenly, the Abbot’s and the monk’s eyes almost popped from their sockets. They watched in awe as a dazzling Lady descended daintily from the niche where the statue stood.
Her robes shimmered with precious stones, diamonds, and sapphires. The air around her vibrated with the hum of angelic voices.
She drew close to the prostrate little juggler and wiped his brow with a silken handkerchief. She blew softly on his hot little face, then bent down and kissed it gently. Before anyone could stir a hair, she returned to the niche above the steps.
On Christmas day the Father Abbot called for the little juggler. Barnaby went to him trembling, thinking, “Surely he has found me out and is going to send me away for tumbling in the chapel.” But, to his great surprise, the Abbot hugged him and said: “Barnaby, my son, do you wish to stay here at the monastery with us?”
“Oh, yes, Sir!” answered the boy all aglow.
“Then we want you to stay also. But from now on, you must tumble for Our Blessed Lady and the Christ Child openly and no longer in secret. I believe They like your tumbling very well.”
by Maria Becker