Tag Archives: spiritual childhood

Jesus, the Teacher

This evening at our mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Irvington on the Hudson, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

Following Jesus to glory also means taking up our cross each day. Listen to Luke’s gospel: “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )

Listen carefully to what Jesus says. He speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. Jesus also says, “take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours. It’s not the same cross that Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)

He blesses us from his cross. He gives us strength to bear what we have to bear and to carry out the mission he gives us.

Besides taking up our cross each day, Jesus says also to become like little children to enter into his glory. Often in the gospel, Jesus points to children when his own disciples try to lord it over other people. Listen again to St. Luke:

“An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Luke 9, 46-48

One of the saints describes this teaching very well. Jesus doesn’t tell us to go back to being children physically. We can’t do that. This is what it means to be children. “To be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and to stand in wonder before all things.” (St. Leo the Great)

There’s great wisdom in Jesus’ teaching on spiritual childhood. No matter how old or young we are, we’re called to become like children. Rembrandt instinctively has a child prominently in his drawing of Jesus preaching to the crowd. Jesus opens his hands as he preaches. Can we see him teaching them they must bear their cross?

Jesus, the Teacher

 

This evening at our mission at St. Theresa’s Parish in Staten Island, NY, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

What does following Jesus mean? I spoke of two things. Jesus said to follow him we must take up our cross each day. He also said we must become like little children. He taught us about spiritual childhood.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday: 1st Week of Advent

A child stands a top  Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom in Tuesday’s first reading at Mass:

“The calf and the young lion shall browse together,

with a little child to guide them.”

“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,

and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11,1)

It takes a child to believe the astounding promises Isaiah makes. Adults, hardened by the experience of life, struggle with the prophet’s words. That’s why Advent invites us to become children, not physically, of course, but spiritually.

Become like little children. That’s what Jesus told his followers,  and he praised the childlike:

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,

for although you have hidden these things

from the wise and the learned

you have revealed them to the childlike.” Luke 10

Only the childlike believe his great promises.

What does being “childlike” mean? Here’s what St. Leo the Great said about Jesus’s teaching on spiritual childhood: To be a child means to be “free from crippling anxiety, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable and to keep wondering at all things.”

A little child in its mother’s arms has no worries. It’s a good place, free from anxieties and a mother’s voice promises all will be well. Advent brings that grace back  to us; a grace we can lose so easily.

Jesus experienced that grace in Mary’s arms. Herod’s soldiers, like Isaiah’s Assyrian armies, were on their way. It’s a poor place where he’s born, no room in the inn, but the Child in his mother’s arms has no fear. All will be well.

Injuries would come. The world can turn hostile. The promises may seem far away, but from infancy to his death, Jesus knew he was a child of God, his Father, in God’s caring hands and destined for God’s kingdom.

Look with favor on us, Lord God, who bless us with the presence of your Son, Jesus Christ. We wait for  his coming among us. Amen.

 

Monday Night at the Mission

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Last night at St. Theresa’s Church in Woodside, Queens, New York City, I spoke about the gift of prayer and the simple prayers we know, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father, which can be our teachers of prayer. God gives us, saint and sinner alike, the gift of prayer.

Tonight, I spoke about the saints as our teachers. What can we learn from St. Theresa of Lisieux, the patroness of this parish? A doctor of the church who was 24 years old when she died, one of three women who have that honor. St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena are the others.

Theresa added two titles to her name after she entered the Carmel. She was Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. I spoke about her spirituality of childhood this evening. She received a grace on Christmas night when she was 13 years old:

“Jesus, the gentle little child of one hour, changed the night of my soul into rays of light…On that night of light began the third period of my life, the most beautiful and filled with graces from heaven. What I had been unable to do in ten years, Jesus did in one instant, contenting himself with my good will, which was always there. I could say to him as his apostles did, ‘Master, I fished all night and have caught nothing. More merciful to me than he was to them, Jesus took the net himself, cast it, and drew it in filled with fish. He made me a fisher of souls. I greatly desired to work for the conversion of sinners, a desire I hadn’t experienced before. I felt love enter my heart, and the need to forget myself and pleasing others. Since then I’ve been happy.” Chapter 5, Story of a Soul.

In the gospels, Jesus told us to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. I reflected on a definition of spiritual childhood given by St. Leo the Great. To be a child means to be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable and to live wondering before all things.

 

 

 

Novena: St. Thèrése of the Child Jesus

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St. Thèrése of Lisieux was born January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France, the youngest of 9 children. She died in 1897, only 24 years old. Her father, Louis Martin, was a watchmaker; her mother Zelie, a talented lace maker. Pope Francis declared them saints on October 18, 2015, praising them as Christian parents who created “ day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Thèrése of the Child Jesus.”

St. Thèrése is one of three women doctors of the church, along with St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. A few months before her death September 30, 1897 she said, “I feel that my mission is about to begin, to make God loved as I love him, to teach souls my little way…It is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” From the time of her death, Thèrése has been teaching her “little way” to countless numbers here on earth.

We know a lot about her, thanks to her own writings and the witness of those who knew her. Her mother, who died when she was 4, wrote of her intelligence and strong spirit. As a little girl, she climbed  onto a swing outside their home and demanded to be pushed ever higher.

Therese described herself in a simple story from childhood: “One day, Léonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with a basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. ‘Here, my little sisters, take something; I’m giving you all this.’ Céline took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out my hand saying: ‘I want it all!’ and I took the basket without further ceremony

Thèrése wanted it all. Her “little way” “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender” let God be the creator of her destiny, for she knew God wanted her to have more than she could ever dream. God would give her everything.

She called herself the “little flower,” one among many flowers in God’s garden. God was the sun that gave her light and the soil that nourished her. She would grow as God willed.

 

The Lord led her and taught her,

and kept her as the apple of his eye.

Like an eagle spreading its wings

he took her up and bore her on his shoulders.

The Lord alone was her guide. (Entrance antiphon, October 1st)

Be Little Children

363px-Virgin_salus_populi_romaniOn Tuesday at Cedarbrake Retreat Center in Belton, Texas, I gave a presentation on the icon of Mary in Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest icon of Mary in Rome. Mary is a disciple of Jesus, as the Cross that marks her forehead indicates. She hold in her arms her Child who is our teacher.

He calls us to be children. According to St. Leo the Great, a child of God is free from crippling anxieties, forgetful of injuries, sociable and stands wondering at all things.

Her story is told in this great pilgrim church.

Becoming a Child

The mystery of Christmas is a call for all of us to become like the little Child. Is that what it means to be born again? St. Leo tells us in today’s reading it was the first act of humility that God’s Son made as he came among us and we need to renew this mystery in ourselves as we celebrate his birth.

“ God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, still today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

“In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

“Every individual that is called has his own place, and all the children of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time. Nevertheless, just as the entire body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so with him are they born in this nativity.”

Age, race, sex, social status, temperament, individual gifts separate us, but “the entire body of the faithful” come during this holy season to be born with him in his nativity.