One year for his birthday my younger brother got a “Stretch Armstrong” doll. I’m sure those of you born in the 1960’s and 70’s have fond memories from your youth playing with this elastic toy. For those of you who don’t know “Stretch” was a toy that came out in the mid-70’s, filled with syrupy liquid inside and a rubber shell formed into the shape of a muscular doll. Owners were able to pull, squeeze and stretch their little man in all directions to their hearts delight.
One particular memory sticks out for me. We used to have two brothers grab one arm each and pull in opposite directions to create the longest arms we could, then we would walk around with “Stretch” knuckle-dragging while we all laughed. One time we had just stretched the arms when a new idea popped into our heads. My baby sister had just been born, as caring older brothers we were very attuned to the fact that sisters need hugs, something foreign to us as “manly men” of 13, 11, 7 and 4. We all tittered as we went over to the crib to let “Stretch” give her a hug.
That’s the end of the story, I’m sure some of you were waiting for some hijinks of some sort. Sorry, I guess we were just too nice to our sister, she never got hurt, at least by us; after four boys mom made it very clear that sisters are different. No, I have another reason for recounting this story. I recently saw a picture with “Stretch” in it and started fondly remembering the fun we had. It then occurred to me how helpful the stretchable arms are in visualizing salvation.
Christ came within time yet His saving passion, death and resurrection have an effect that is timeless. In RCIA I usually use the example of a rubber band, but the “Stretch” doll adds a whole new level of visualization. If you pop his head off and throw on Jesus’ instead you have the incredible salvation doll, whose loving embrace stretches from the beginning to the end of time to hug all of creation next to himself.
Jesus’ death saves both those before and after His coming in the flesh, and no time is outside of His grasp. So if you put His body on a timeline and grab each arm, like my brothers and I used to do, and one goes back in time and the other goes into the future—you can kind of get the picture. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to actually swap heads and I’ll have a multimillion dollar idea. Just think about it, we could have Him complete with a cross and crown of thorns for a Catholic edition and a risen glory clothed in white for our Protestant brothers and sisters. Not only is it educational, it would solve any budget problems for the next three decades.
Prayers Always, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen