New children’s book spins Christmas tale about spiders

Catholic News Agency

There is an ancient legend about Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and a spider.

After Jesus was born, the Holy Family fled into Egypt, while baby boys were being slaughtered by order of King Herod. The legend says that one night the family stopped to sleep in a cave. There was a spider in that cave, the story goes, who knew the infant Jesus was a special child.

According to the legend, the spider felt called to do something unexpected— something that would save Mary, Joseph, and Jesus from soldiers sent by King Herod on a terrible mission.

The legend of that spider — “The Spider Who Saved Christmas” — became well-known in some parts of the world. In fact, some people say that tinsel is placed on Christmas trees to remember the web of that spider. The legend is now told in a new children’s book, released this month by children’s author and television host Raymond Arroyo.

“The Spider Who Saved Christmas,” Arroyo told CNA “fills an important gap in the Christmas story, one we don’t often consider.”

“I discovered this Legend in a footnote of a Bible commentary,” Arroyo said, and “was intrigued.”

“My telling of the legend is really all about motherhood, sacrifice, family, and overcoming fear to recognize the hope that is often all around us. I expanded the spare tale, created some characters and got to spend some time with the Holy Family. It actually made me appreciate them and their struggle in a new way,” the author said.

Arroyo is well-known as a television host on the EWTN network and on Fox News. He told CNA that “in my heart, I have always been a story teller. I’ve told stories on television, through music, and with the written word. A well told story is often more true than assembled facts, and they often stay with audiences longer.”

“The Spider Who Saved Christmas” is not Arroyo’s first book for children. The author has also written three installments in a series of adventure stories, and is working on a fourth.

“I started writing for younger audiences because of my own children,” Arroyo said, adding that he intends to write more illustrated books based upon legends of times past.

“I think these old stories have survived largely because they contain a bit of wisdom that we need for living. I’ve always thought that every good story is a guide for life. The series will likely contain forgotten, or discarded stories that I think need a bit of attention. They won’t all be origin stories. But they will give a wide audience an opportunity to look at figures they thought they knew, or consider stories they thought they understood in a different light,” he said.

“I’ve always loved the first books I read. I don’t really consider them children’s literature, but great literature. ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ can be enjoyed by children, but the deeper themes and the truth contained in them are quite adult.”

“When I wrote my Will Wilder series, I decided to write for both young audiences as well as their parents and guardians. I love books that you can return to later in life and find a different story. I also love sharing these stories with young audiences. They hold a book closer than adults. So though I will likely write for adults again, I’ll never stop writing what the world condescendingly calls ‘children’s literature.’ It’s actually better termed ‘human formation literature.’”

Arroyo told CNA he appreciates the “challenge of writing for young audiences. They won’t tolerate the artifice, deceptions, humorlessness that adults will. Kids are actually quite clear-eyed. They expect truth, understanding, and fun. I try to bring all that to them, even when writing about a spider named Nephila.”

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!