14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 3, 2011 - the readings can be found http://www.usccb.org/nab/070311.shtml Thanks as always for reading and your feedback! God Bless - Fr. Jim
In terms of "little ones" in my life, I’ve been blessed with God-children, cousins and my two little nieces, one who will be no longer five but five and a half, as she corrected me in about 2 weeks and her little sister who is a year and a half... Lizzie and Gracie.
Thanks to them, my understanding of this Gospel passage has changed a great deal. When Jesus speaks of what is hidden from the learned and wise that has been given to the "little ones" - well in the past I sort of understood that as Jesus making a comparison of two "opposites"; that Jesus was contrasting two groups of people - The adults are the educated, the somewhat worldly or sophisticated... while the children, not to diss them, but understandably are not as educated, they’re innocent... It seems a bit demeaning to become like a "little one." Throughout our lives we’re encouraged to grow up, to be mature, to be responsible. Hearing this seems to contradict all of that. With this contrast I kind of imagined that Jesus was telling us we can be too smart for our own good when it comes to our relationship with God and that Jesus was telling us that if we wish to have that yearning within us fulfilled, that yearning for God that every human heart has, we have to be like the little ones... more simplistic - not over-thinking things, just follow along.
But as I’ve learned, little ones can be quite smart, they can be quite creative, and not for nothing, they’re hardly innocent! Watching 1 and a half year old Gracie who loves to eat, so much so that she’s learned where Mom and Dad keep a loaf of bread, she’s learned how to open the drawer all by herself and she might not know how to open the plastic bread, but that’s okay, she just bite right into it to get what she wanted – after she was told "no more" - well that was just one more example to me that you cannot simply dismiss the "little ones" as simple little people that are easily led. Gracie is also now into exploring things, so she likes to grab, feel, touch just about anything. Especially the family dog Buff. She grabs the poor guy’s ears, tail. Last week she went over to him and the dog is looking at me with this pitiful look like "please help me" - she slowly was petting him, nice and gently and I said "That’s nice Gracie, be nice to Buff" and she’s staring at me, watching to see if I was watching as she slowly in her little fingers started to grab hold of his hair, getting ready to pull it - and I just looked and said "NOOO, GRACIE, NO, DON’T DO THAT, BE NICE..." and she just stared me down and walked away.
I really don’t know how you parents do it.
I’m sure parents out there can give even more colorful stories. So what characteristic is it that Jesus is seeing in these "little ones" that he finds so essential in terms of growing in knowledge, deepening our relationship with God the Father? Trust. Because as I’ve seen, "little ones" might not want to listen all the time, but they always, always know who to run to. When my nieces don’t get the answer they want from their Uncle Jim or from Grandma or Grandpa, they run to Mommy and Daddy and try there. Or when they get scared or hurt or upset... they cry out for their parents. In their little hearts and minds, they might not always get what they want, but they know who to go to...They might not fully understand, the "Why" behind the "No Gracie you can’t eat bread all day" - but they trust that eventually, Mom and Dad will provide them the bread they need. They trust their parents. Which is why when that trust is hurt, violated or broken, it has such long term consequences beyond the moral failure of that one instance. It can warp a person’s mind for life. Maybe that’s why Jesus warns people about that saying if you do it, it would be better for you to have a stone attached to your neck and you were thrown into the sea. That trust is essential for each of us, that trust is what is at the core of what Jesus is saying will unlock our personal encounter with God.
To trust in God the Father, to trust that God is our Father. Trust that God the Father wants what’s best for us. That’s why our older brother Jesus is reminding us of that. And what Jesus tells us through word and example is that when we can trust in that childlike way, then the other theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Love make sense. We have Faith when we trust that what God reveals is true. We have Hope when we trust that what he promises will come to pass. We have Love when we trust that what He asks us to do is what we should do. If we put our trust in God - then we will find God. (The Better Part, John Bartunek - p. 163)
The other night, I heard a story on the radio of a woman some years ago who had given birth to her second son. One morning she confirmed a fear that she had, that something was wrong, as she took the child out into the bright sun light and those infant eyes didn’t blink or change at all. She realized her son was blind. They then discovered some other physical ailments. And the mother was devastated... she was solely focused on all the things that would make the child "different" or in her mind, "less than" every one else. The older son, retelling the story, said "then one day she walked into Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France with the infant in her arms and as she prayed the ‘Our Father’ and got to the words ‘thy will be done’ - she described it as the first time that she actually prayed those words and meant it. And the change in her heart was almost instant. It was as if the fears left and this peace came over her as she stopped looking at his deficiencies and saw this child as a pure gift, a pure joy and simply loved her child."
When she was able to go past her disappointment and trust God again, no her son wasn’t miraculously healed and able to see... but there was a miracle that was even more important for an even more important bodily organ – her heart was healed.
It would be hard to imagine anyone not sitting here today who doesn’t have some trials, fears, or sadness they’re dealing with. Suffering doesn’t seem to bypass any of us, it’s usually a matter of to what extent or degree. And the hurts we’ve suffered, the trusts that have been violated make us cynical or skeptical. To open ourselves up can make us vulnerable... and as adults we don’t really like to do that.
Jesus isn’t being pollyannaish here. Jesus knows true suffering... another reason that we always have a crucifix before us to remind us of that reality that he endured. And as we look at that crucifix, we are captivated by the trust that he had throughout his life and death in His Father. The rest of the story finds us here today - that trust didn’t stop Good Friday, but brought about Easter Sunday - and continues to make Jesus really present in His word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist here today. He’s making himself vulnerable to us, inviting us to receive Him, to trust Him, to come to Him - finding when we do, the peace that we long for. Suddenly, becoming a child, becoming like a "little one" doesn’t seem so demeaning.