LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN
Prayer for All Men
Lord, I find that Your words do not appear to agree always with the most edifying sayings of our wise men. Since the far off days of my childhood it has been dinned into me, in varying ways, but with the same insistence: “Don’t be a child!” “Let this infancy cease!” “Stop those childish ways!” And You have told us that unless we become as little children, we shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven... I have never met a colonel bidding his soldiers be as little children: and a bishop would scarcely be nattered if – as paying a compliment from the gospel – we told him: My Lord, what we find so edifying about you is that you are so childlike. Falling into second childhood is a polite way of referring to an incurable and ignominious mental state. We are advised to cultivate manly virtue, a tried courage, proved wisdom, well-thought-out calmness, wide knowledge, and resolute trustworthiness... Where there can I place that childish grace and the artlessness of youth?
Well, there must be a much deeper reason in Your divine words than ever with my superficial objections I can see: and when without prejudice I ponder Your words, there comes to me a longing for the wisdom of a child... I hear from afar the murmur of a brook under the soil, and I go at once to find its source.
It must be, O Lord, that in taking together age and experience and enfolding myself in a concise knowledge – as do adults – I become stupid. I know learned men whose heads are filled with their knowledge, so much so that other ideas fail to enter. As my life goes along I find myself more and more a prey to the past, and I take experience for inspiration: I act according to rule, as do the rulers, from “what has gone before,” and I stop at any intimation which is not according to my routine.
Against this insidious indolence You can tell us to become once more as little children; because they, hampered with nothing and not being slaves to “what has gone before” are able to put their whole intelligence into understanding the message of truth, and a lavish eagerness into an invitation for the present. I must throw overboard all my dead weight, my disbeliefs, my cunning, my cautious attitudes, and the innumerable brakes of all kinds which prudently slow my zeal.
It is remarkable that the concept of the Missionary Church should be so appealing to children that our propaganda often becomes puerile; and while the bearded father from the other end of the globe scarcely ever has an audience of intellectuals, he is always sure of an enthusiastic welcome when with magic lantern he appears in our schools. We might even conclude that missionary meetings and the work of the Propagation of the Faith are good only for children, as a hoop or a game of marbles. But must we not bear Your words in mind, and become as little children before we shall find the gate to eternal life? Vocations to the missionary life show themselves nearly always, like early fruits, in the souls of children. Our apostolic colleges are recruited from them. It needs a certain courageous simplicity to devote oneself to the extension of Your Church and to love with all one’s heart the Chinese and the Blacks. Yet we need this also to believe that the Creator of the world is held between the two fingers of a priest, and that He stays in the ciborium: we need it also to believe that a few drops of water upon the head of a baby cleanses from that mysterious sin, and that the words of absolution restores even a murderer to grace.
Restore to me, O Lord, the freshness of my childhood, and do not allow me to slide into the inaction of old age, which so often accompanies wiseness. I am so accustomed to be serious and methodical, and I choose to lay down conditions before admitting even the simplest truths which are placed before me: I refer them to varied tests, I admit them only partially: I reserve my judgment: and thus I show my jaded spirit. And when I am told of far off missions, and am asked to interest myself in Japan or in India, I reply that I must consider this at length, that Rome was not built in a day, that the best is often opposed to what is merely good, that there is no doing impossibilities, that one never regrets a certain prudence, that sleeping dogs should be let lie... and quoting these pleasant, trifling proverbs I maintain the dignified outlook of a grown-up.
Ah, Lord, I should have made a fine disciple, if You had called by a gesture or the single word “come” as I was mending my nets. To follow You would I have at once left my father, Zebedee, as it were the most natural thing to be done? Unhappily I am not alone; we are as a flock, Lord, a large flock of Your followers, very wise, very circumspect, full of inaction and always ready to raise objections – apparently with reason – and to discuss the previous question...
Heal me, O Lord. To hear Your appeal our hearts must be rejuvenated, and we must bring to the work a great unsullied love. You are the dawn, the twilight cannot comprehend You: it would place You in the past. Your Church grows, and my soul must remain young while all this growth continues. Oldness of spirit cannot exist: it is a fainting of one’s love for the work; and it is contrary to a willingness to be tired, against which You ask me to contend.