Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Like a Child

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” Matthew 18:1-5

There are several passages in scripture that encapsulate what it means to be a Christian; John 3:16 immediately comes to mind for most people. For me, the verses above are a powerful reminder of our role in the Body of Christ- we are to be children of God most high.

To me, this aspect of our faith is the most challenging, not only in the very personal sense of these words, but also in how the world may view the “child-like” in Christ: simple-minded, naïve, ignorant, anti-intellectual, etc. But, do those words necessarily describe a child? Certainly not, unless that child is forced by the circumstances of their upbringing to become as a tortoise in it's shell.

I would like to proceed by examining some ways that we can be healthily child-like to Christ; this is by no means comprehensive, but will hopefully serve as a reminder (to me, first and foremost) of the conduct we are called to have.

1. A child is humble:

I have discussed humility in some previous posts (see my post on “Indiana Jones...Faith”) but want to examine it here in brief.

To be humble, like a child, is to become a good listener, and to recognize the legitimate authority of your parents. As parents, we ask our children time and again to heed our advice; often, our children may not heed our advice until they find that their current way of handling a certain issue is insufficient. Often, we say “if you would have listened to my instruction in the first place, you would have had much less trouble” or something to that effect. Yet, we demonstrate the same behavior with Christ by not inviting Him into our daily struggles. Perhaps, we find these items too mundane, or maybe that we deserve hardship for our wrongs. I don't know if either point of view is helpful, or accurate.

When thinking that our troubles are minor compared to starvation, war, abuse, corruption and so forth- we are undoubtedly correct. Thankfully, most of those reading these words are probably doing very well in that their lives are not full of major catastrophe. But, to suggest that we only pray for these things and not for the “small matters” seems to suggest something rather insidious: that Christ does not have the time or energy for our venial needs. Dare we say this about the one who has “numbered all the hairs on our head(s)?” We must bring all of our concerns to Christ in prayer; even if we do not see immediate effects, we cannot underestimate, or even doubt, that those prayers are heard and answered in the way that Christ intends. After all, “thy will be done” may not always exactly align with “my will be done.”

Backtracking for a moment, a word about being a good listener; a question, really:

Has a single thing changed about the way you live, those of you who live in Christ? If you answer “yes,” then you have probably taken heed to that “still small” voice and amended, or have started to amend the parts of your life that need to change. If you answer “no,” then have you really been converted? When an issue arises between you and accepted Christian wisdom, do you seek that “magical verse” or verses to maintain your point of view? Is that how we were intended to use the scriptures, as our own encyclopedia of personal interpretation? But, that is another can of worms for another day of fishing...

2. A child is curious:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” -Galileo Galilei
As a school teacher, I love when a child asks the question “why” or “how?” I love even more when that same child, through their diligence, finds the answer. Children are curious by nature; they have these great brains that hunger for knowledge about the world around them as much as we hunger for food at breakfast, lunch and dinner. In and of itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with curiosity, but like the other parts of our lives, it must be kept in right order. I should not be more curious than I am loving, or discipline more than I educate... I should not seek pleasure in one thing too much, lest I become a glutton. In other words, my curiosity should be taken into perspective with the other duties I have as a Christian, namely to love and serve all. Sometimes, I may love and serve someone by teaching them something about the Catholic faith that they previously didn't understand, or clarifying/refuting something they have heard or read. Other times, I may love and serve by being a good listener (of course, all of these roles are connected) or a good companion. These next two paragraphs are a bit divergent, but try to bear with me:

For a long time, I made it a point to mention my faith to all of my friends, no matter the subject of conversation, location or event. To their credit, many of them were patient with me, even when we disagreed, or at least seemed to listen. Now, I can feel the glaring looks right now, so let me clarify- I am not saying that you do not share your faith, but that faith is shared not only through the flapping of your lips about it.

Some people have been hurt by other faithful before, and need to see a competent, patient, active Christian living their faith before they are privy to your personal “lecture tour.” When I was converted, it was not because some hot-shot apologist making me feel like an idiot, but by a simple mass at a small Catholic Church in Milan, Indiana at about eight on a cold, Sunday morning. The mass, and my finally grasping a piece of the enormity of what was happening in front of me was all I needed.

Now, back to the matter at hand; namely- curiosity. I want to answer the charge that Christianity is too structured to allow for intellectual scrutiny: first, a few names- Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, The Venerable Bede,
Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Roger Joseph Boscovich, Marin Mersenne, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, Nicole Oresme, Jean Buridan, Robert Grosseteste, Christopher Clavius, Nicolas Steno, Athanasius Kircher, Giovanni Battista Riccioli, William of Ockham, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Louis Pasteur, Blaise Pascal, André-Marie Ampère, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, Pierre de Fermat, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Alessandro Volta, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Pierre Duhem, Jean-Baptiste Dumas, Georgius Agricola.

These men, though some in lesser degrees, worked within the framework of Christianity, but their work provides the foundations for modern scientific thought, which, ironically, often seeks to shut the door on the God many of them professed every day of their lives. Admittedly, this does not answer the question of “Why even bother with a Christian framework in the first place?” While I cannot probe any one of these great minds, I can say that I personally find a Christian foundation to be a nice landing point, a runway to which I can safely return when my mind takes flight. The laws of science may govern our understanding of the universe, but Christian morality governs my understanding of life, and its divine value. I choose to violate neither, and to respect them in light of how they can inform each other.

3. A child is affectionate:

When a child likes you, they desire to have physical contact with you. When Luke sees me after school each day, he runs up and hugs me; often he wants me to hold him. Some students at school also do this very thing; children are our ultimate earthly example of love. Sometimes, when Luke is sitting on my lap, or holding my hand, or grabbing my hair, or rolling around with me on the ground, I think of how I've treated him. Some days, I think “yeah, I can see why the little guy loves me so much,” but on others, I'm thinking “If I were him, I'd want to be far away from me.”

I think this component is the hardest for adults; even when we are married, we do not often run to our spouses and embrace them on first sight, nor do we understand how to do the same towards a God who is not part of our physical existence (well, excepting the Eucharist).

Something that has always fascinated me since I became Catholic is the monastery; men, grown men, dedicating their lives to serving God, praying seven times a day with the community, working together to support the community, taking part in charitable giving, accepting people from all walks of life. I once thought “well, they have
all day to pray, I have to work!” Lord, forgive me for my ignorance. First of all, they are expected to support the monastery through their labor, and hold jobs in addition to their responsibilities to pray together. So, are we to pray the Divine Office as they do every day? It is not unheard of, but it may be impractical for many people. What can one do instead? Some suggestions:

A. Get up. Early.
Get out of bed. Do not hit the snooze, do not waste the quiet of morning. In our noisy world, this may be your best time all day for prayer or scripture study. Try 15-30 minutes early at first, drink some cold water- maybe even take a shower immediately. You may be shocked at how alert you are.

B. Meditate.

There is a long tradition of Christian meditation, and it is sorely neglected by most (even this author). This is not the meditation of the East, but one that focuses the mind on Christ, and uses scripture as a starting point. The Psalms and Proverbs are especially fertile ground. Choose a passage, and read it. Slowly. Do this until you feel that you have a firm grasp of what is being said. Find a quiet place (perhaps your early morning will be the best time- before the kids are awake, if possible) and dwell on the passage. Relax. It is at this point where my mind begins to wander through the scriptures, through my life and my family's life. Sometimes, I have trouble focusing; if you find the same is true for you, try to remember one line of the passage in particular, and use this as a “centering prayer”- one that will place your mind back on the right track. At first, this may only be five-ten minutes, but you may desire to do more in time. The prayers of the Church for each day can be found here, if you wish to use them; they are a combination of psalms, proverbs, and readings throughout the Bible:

C. Aspiratory prayer

This is a prayer that you repeat throughout your day. It is a very short form of prayer, easy to memorize. Having this prayer may help you to center yourself on Christ in times of need. It also establishes a more realistic relationship; one that lasts throughout your day, everyday, not just at certain times. Think about it: we don't just tell our children we love them, abandon them for hours, and then return, only to tell them you will spend time with them tomorrow at the same time! When you are in love, your beloved knows they are loved; it is not a scheduled thing. To me, this is the importance of aspiratory prayer- it makes the connection with Christ a relationship, and not just some celestial candy store with all of your favorite treats. Try tomorrow imagining the face of Christ, and saying “I love you” or reciting part of a verse of scripture or perhaps a psalm/proverb. In brief, nurture your relationship with Christ in even the most ordinary moments of your day, like you would with a family member, a close friend, or a loved one.

-Pax Christi

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