As we approach the Christmas season, Catholic children’s author Anthony DeStefano offers a voice to a character in the Nativity of Our Lord through whom we can witness the birth of Jesus through new eyes.
The titular, yet nameless, ox is, as the title suggests, both grumpy and old, as well as blind and lame. His master mistreats him, which adds to the grumpiness. His master also happens to be the nameless innkeeper who offers the stable to Mary and Joseph when he has no other room to offer.
Here the ox begins to have a conversion, a spark ignited by an encounter with the Infant Jesus. The treatment the young family receives saddens the ox, who is moved by pity, then by the innocence of the Babe.
“This little babe, so humble and poor, is guiltless and precious and perfect and pure,” the ox says to himself.
He offers his manger for the mother to place her Baby in, then his drinking pail to bathe the Child. Slowly, the more familiar figures begin to arrive: the shepherds, the Magi, and fellow animals. Straining his eyes, the ox gets a clear look at the Infant, and at this point he recognizes in Whose presence he is. “He must be from God. He must be a king!”
The Grumpy Old Ox
Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New Hampshire
Dec. 16, 2020
Length: 36 pp.
Like so many whom Jesus meets in the Gospels, the ox finds himself converted by the encounter, swearing to no longer be grumpy and prideful. At this point, after eating the straw from his manger and drinking the water from his pail, the ox is healed of his blindness and lameness, again tying into the Gospels.
Through this scene, DeStefano offers an opportunity for parents to catechize their children about the Eucharist. In the same way the ox was healed after eating and drinking from something touched by the Lord, how much more will our souls be healed when we receive the Lord Himself in the Most Holy Sacrament?
It should be noted that artist Richard Cowdrey beautifully illustrates the ox’s gradual and subtle conversion and transformation throughout the course of the book. The details in the artwork highlight the ox’s expressions and convey the joy he slowly begins to feel while avoiding anthropomorphizing him into something unrealistically cartoonish.
Written in rhyme, the book, though long, flows easily, especially when reading to young children. The scheme allows for regular breaks to address the kids’ curiosity. The book also never mentions Jesus, Mary, or Joseph by name, as the ox wouldn’t know that information, truly offering the story from the beast’s perspective.
This fresh take on a classic story is not only entertaining and parent-friendly, but surprisingly serves as a wonderful catechetical tool.
Tony Gutiérrez is a freelance journalist based out of Cave Creek, Arizona specializing in religion. He is also the father of three small children who, like most children, do their best to drive him crazy. So far, they are succeeding.