The gifted beat of the Little Drummer Boy

The gifted beat of the Little Drummer Boy

Fr vincent Sherlock

In life we meet joy and sorrow. Recently I shared sorrow with a family whose baby died in his fourth day.

I walked into the hospital and the father came to meet me. I was amazed at the strength of character displayed. He asked me if I’d baptise their son. “Have you ever done this before?” his older sister asked me, and, in truth, I hadn’t. Neither had I cried before a baptism. I told her we’d do our best.

I spoke of baptism and asked his parents: “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” “We do.” They truly did know. They’ve shown it through the years – not just with their two children but also with their other little daughter and son who didn’t survive beyond birth but whose memories are as real as the birthdays celebrated.

Their baby was baptised and, though none of us could hold him, the incubator was perhaps God’s arms around and beneath him. I looked at him, at his brother and sister, at his parents and I looked at the two nurses (one of them being his Godmother). I told his sister that we did it well. I was proud of them. Precious memories.

Next day, I was with the parents when their son was taken from the incubator and placed in their arms. His time with us grew shorter. I marvelled at his mother as she took her son in her arms, I would think for the first time. There wasn’t a hint of self-pity. Instead, the cradling arms of a mother. A nurse re-arranged chairs and the parents sat side-by-side with their son. An hour earlier, we watched his brother and sister play with him: “Round and round the garden – one step, two steps…” They accompanied him on all his steps.

We sang too and, when his brother was asked what I might sing, he said “The one you do at Christmas”.

On an October Saturday we sang ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. I thought of the baby as ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, bringing his gifts to us but later I realised we were all the Drummer Boy – desperately wanting to bring gifts to him and he, like the Christ Child, accepting all we brought.


I left the parents alone, that they be with each other and their son. When I returned, his short journey had reached its destination. Though our wish is that he’d have lived longer, he could not have been loved any more than he was during those four days.

His dad shared a short video clip with me. He took it while his wife was holding their son. In a wonderful moment, the little baby’s eyes open and he looks steadily at his mother and smiles. “That’s enough for me,” the father said.

“Then he smiled at me…at me and my drum”.

Then he smiled at them…at his dad and his mum.


November remembrance

l There’s something very special about our naming those who have died.  There’s a tradition of people writing lists of the dead and making an offering towards November Masses. Generally, I look at each of them, letting my eyes glance over the names. I am always pleased to see how people want to name those loved ones.

I also welcome, when included, the names of priests of the parish who might be long dead. There’s something consoling in knowing that one day, a pen might scribble my name amongst family members and friends. It’s good to remember. It’s wonderful to pray.


The music of our future?

l I read somewhere that when Pope Francis spoke to couples in the Pro-Cathedral, a mother got up to take her crying child out of the cathedral and he said she need not do so. “That’s the music of our future”, I think they are the words he used.  What a glorious response.

I heard once of a woman doing the same thing in a parish church and the priest told her there was no need to go, “that child is not annoying me”, he assured her.

She stopped for a minute, looked up at him and said: “Well clearly you’re annoying him!”