The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Are You a Child of God...or of Someone Else?

Anthony Esolen,who teaches Renaissance English literature and Western Civilization at Providence College, is one of those remarkable men -- a true Renaissance man -- without whom the world would be a duller and darker place. I got to know Professor Esolen and his lovely wife only casually when I worked at Providence College back in the mid-1990s, and I have been following his academic and literary career and enjoying his work ever since. I could fill this post with praise of him and his writings, but there's really no need. Let me just say I have never read anything he wrote that I didn't enjoy and from which I didn't benefit. I can say that about only a handful of writers. If you, too, want to share in this benefit, jump over to amazon.com and check out his books. I have been particularly enlightened by his remarkable translation of Dante's Divine Comedy and his wonderful book, Ironies of Faith.You might also visit his website: Anthony Esolen

I mention Professor Esolen because of his essay published today on TheCatholicThing.org. In this brief essay he protests against the world's view of the child as a thing lacking true worth and human dignity. Although this is nothing new, today it takes on new meaning because of its near universal acceptance among those who wield the power to spread this evil. I encourage you to take a moment now to read his essay.

He concludes his essay with a reference to Jesus' admonition to become like a child. As a deacon, I'm often asked about this teaching of Jesus, which for many seems to be one of the more perplexing, and consequently most ignored of His teachings. It occurs in a scene found in all three of the synoptic gospels. For example, in Matthew's Gospel we read:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" [Mt 18:1-6].
Mark describes a similar scene:
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea [Mk 9:32]...And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them [Mk 10:13-16].
...and in Luke, we find:
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" [Lk 18:15-17].
In the ancient world children had few if any rights. Indeed, a child was less a "he" or a "she" and more an "it". A child was totally dependent on the will of his parents and other elders. A child was in a sense unimportant in his present reality, and important only in his potential. We can see this manifested in the behavior of the disciples who rebuke those who would bring children to Jesus for His blessing. You can almost hear them say, "Why are you wasting His precious time with these unimportant children? He's got better things to do." Jesus, of course, will have none if it and not so subtly contrasts the self-importance of the disciples, who seem to have assumed a combined role of bodyguard and social secretary, with the enforced humility of the child.

The adults in the scene have active roles while the children are passive creatures, pushed forward by their parents and pushed away by the disciples. The child's humility is, in some sense, forced on him simply because of the nature of his relationship with adults. They have all the power while he has none. One translation of  Jesus' words does not use the word "humility" but instead reads, "Whoever considers himself of little account like this child..." And so Jesus is telling the disciples that they must become by deliberate choice what the child is out of necessity. This isn't a suggestion on His part, but a requirement: "...unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

The adults in the scene are certainly not acting as if they are "of little account"; rather, they are trying to control the children, each other, and Jesus Himself. One wonders if the disciples came away from this encounter with a true understanding of what Jesus was telling them. Probably not. Jesus was always turning the world of those around Him upside down, always taking the accepted wisdom and reversing it to reveal the truth. This did not make people happy.

This, I believe, is why these particular words of Jesus are so often ignored. Like the adults in this scene from the gospels, to obey Jesus too many of us would have to upend our entire world. "Unless you turn..." Unless you turn away from the wisdom of the world, unless you turn from all that you thought was right and turn instead to the source of all truth, unless you turn to Me with the same joyful heart of this child on whom My hand rests, unless you reclaim the innocence, the humility proper to your very being, unless you do this you will not enter My Kingdom.
The First Shall Be Last (James Tissot)

For many who listened to Jesus, and for many today, this is a hard saying. To reclaim one's childlike innocence in a world ruled by sin and materialism, is too much to ask. To accept voluntarily the humility that is proper to our nature, the humility we force on the child, is contrary to how we understand the world and its works. To become impoverished like the child, to become "poor in spirit", is to sacrifice our independence. It is to be like Mary, who prayed, "He has looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid."

And so, like the disciples, we watch perplexed as Jesus takes a child -- a real child, not some abstract notion of humility or innocence -- and places this little person, this real live human being, this child of God "in the midst of them." He then places this child above them, "for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Once again, the least becomes the greatest, and we are given a choice. This is what Jesus always does. This is His message. You have a choice. You can follow me and live, or reject me and die. You can live as a child of God or you can join forces with the devil. He never offers a middle-of-the-road alternative.

Today, as Professor Esolen eloquently describes, we have purged those in the womb who commit the modern sin of inconvenience. And those who survive? We squeeze their innocence from them, one drop at a time. Instead of turning and becoming like them, we force them to become like us. The guilt of the world is not a pretty thing to see, and we must pray that we heed Christ's warning: "...but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

No comments:

Post a Comment