The Way of the Child


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); 9-23-12

Wis 2:12,17-20; Ps 54; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C.  Folsom Prison


         As Jesus leaves Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, he explains to them his mission:  “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31b).  This is a very succinct statement of the Paschal Mystery.

But, here’s the funny thing:  the disciples are totally oblivious to what he is saying.  Instead they are arguing which one of them is the greatest apostle.   Abstractly, they endorse Jesus’ mission of suffering love, but when push-comes-to-shove, they are not eager to walk it.  They are preoccupied with status and prestige.

And, so Jesus patiently tries to explain his mission again: “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me’” (vs. 36-37). Imagine that as Jesus Christ puts his arms around the child, he is proposing to his disciples that this child is a model for a Kingdom person.

This gesture reminds me of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose path to holiness is called the “little way.” Therese was canny, astute, and resourceful, and she often referred to the little way  as spiritual childhood—the path of being a child in the presence of the Lord; the path of the present moment and the path of trust.

Present Moment.  Children have this extraordinary capacity to find joy in the simplest of things and activities.  I look at my five year old granddaughter and see her play in the yard or in her room, inventing endless imaginary scenarios.  When I watch her, I don’t think she’s thinking about the past or the future.  She isn’t worried about what she doesn’t have or what she hopes to gain. She just seems lost in the joy of the present moment, delighting fully in what is right in front of her.

Anthony de Mello, one of the great spiritual masters, said one of his great teachers was a little dog who was looking up and seeing a monkey cavort in the branches of a tree.  The dog was smiling in that doggy kind of way, barking, visibly excited by the monkey’s activities, utterly lost in the moment.  What De Mello saw was something blissful, ecstatic as that little dog was completely given over to the moment.  Might also explain why folks are so attached to their pets.

Someone once said that you have right before you at this moment all that you need to be happy.  Wow—it seems so counter-intuitive.  I can be happy right now?  Happiness seems so elusive: yes, someday I might be happy if I get this or that, if I achieve this, if I get that promotion or get that job, if people pay more attention to me, if I have that perfect vacation or if I retire to Hawaii, and if I can control my life—maybe then I’ll be happy.

In fact, living in the future or living in the past is a surefire prescription for unhappiness.  Brothers and sisters, you have everything you have, you have everything you need to be happy right now.  Believe that because no matter where you are at any given time, you have the opportunity to love, to savor, and to be grateful by living happily and intensely in the Now.

St. Therese’s second great mark of spiritual childhood is trust.  The Little Flower often compared herself to a toddler, who raises her arms up, hoping to be lifted up—trusting that she’d feel security in the arms of her mother.  So are we, she said, vis-à-vis God.  Yes, we can control certain things in our environment, manage our lives to a certain degree—there’s nothing wrong with that.  But, listen: in the grand scheme of things, we control very little.  What happens to us, how our life unfolds, the suffering we endure—very little comes about by our calculating minds.  But, we can learn how to live in radical trust.

Again back to my granddaughter.  A couple of summers ago, we made an excursion to Wilmington, North Carolina.  As we were making the long trek back home to Greensboro, she had no idea how we were going to get back home or how long it would take.  But, there she was, talking with her grandmother and looking at the scenery flying by. Soon, she fell asleep, trusting that all was well.

We’re all spiritual children.  As Thomas Merton once said, “Lord, I have no idea where I’m going.”  In terms of specifics in my own life, I have no idea how my day is going to unfold although my day is very structured.  But, can’t I allow it to unfold gracefully in complete trust—can’t I “fall asleep in the backseat of the car, trusting that I’ll get home because God is “driving the car?”

Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  When we walk the way of the child–living in the present moment in gratitude and living in radical trust—we keep ourselves within  God’s reach.