WITH THE SIMPLICITY OF CHILDREN

Francis Fernandez

In Conversation with God

 

1. Spiritual childhood and simplicity.

On various occasions the Gospel relates how children approached Jesus, who welcomed them, blessed them and held them up as an example to his disciples. Today he shows us again the importance of becoming like one of these little ones in order to enter the Kingdom: “Trully, 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.” (Mark 10:13-16)

In these children whom Jesus embraces and blesses are represented not only all the world’s children, but all men; Our Lord is indicating how all men should ‘receive’ the Kingdom of God.

Jesus provides a lively illustration of the essential teaching about divine sonship: God is our Father and we his children; our behaviour as Christians is summarized in knowing how to bring to life the relationship that a good child has with a good father. This spirit of divine sonship implies a sense of being utterly dependent on our Heavenly Father and a facility for abandoning ourselves confidently to his loveable Providence, just as a child entrusts everything to its father; the relationship presupposes the humility to acknowledge that we can do nothing by ourselves; and it implies simplicity and sincerity, qualities that prompt us to let ourselves be seen by others as we really are.

To become childlike while remaining adult can costly: it requires courage and strength of will, as well great abandonment to God. “Spiritual childhood is not spiritual immaturity or foolishness or softness; it is a sane a robust way which, due to its ‘difficult easiness’, the soul must embark upon and then continue, led by the hand God.” (Saint Josemaría) The Christian who has taken the decision to ii spiritual childhood practices charity more easily, “because the child is a creature who does not hold grudges, who ignorant of duplicity or fraud, who dares not deceive. The Christian, like the small child; does not grow angry if he insulted, does not seek revenge if he is treated badly. More than that, the Lord even requires him to pray for his enemies, to give his shirt and coat to those who would wear them, to present the other cheek to those who strike him.” (Saint Maximus of Turin) A child easily forgets and does not store u grievances. A child has no real sorrows.

Spiritual childhood always preserves the freshness of love in a soul, because its simplicity keeps it from dwelling on adverse experiences. “You have become younger! You notice, in fact, that getting to know God better has made you regain in a short time the simple and happy age of your youth, including the security and joy – without being at all ‘childish’ – of spiritual childhood ... You look around and you realize that the same thing has happened to others: the years since their first conscious encounter with the Lord have gone by and; having reached maturity, they are strengthened with a permanently youthful happiness. Although they are no longer young, they are young at heart and happy!

“This patent reality of the interior life attracts, confirms be and wins over souls. Give thanks for it daily ‘ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem’ – to God who fills your youth with joy.” (Saint Josemaría) Our Lord truly gives joy to our perennial youth, both at the beginning of life and during the years of maturity or old age. God is always our greatest joy in life as long as we of live in his presence like children – small children who are always in need.

 

2 Manifestations of piety and Christian naturalness.

This spirit of divine sonship in the Christian soul gives rise to simple devotions, to countless little deeds honouring our Father God, for a soul full of love is unable to remain inactive. Since he has required all his strength to become childlike, the Christian can give small devotions their true meaning. Each of us must have “the piety of children, but the doctrine of theologians”, as Monsignor Escriva used to say. A solid grounding in Christian doctrine helps to give meaning to a mere glance we make at a picture of Our Lady, or to a kiss we give a crucifix; it helps us, moreover, to turn such a glance or kiss into an act of love so that we do not remain indifferent, for example, before a scene from the Way of the Cross. This denotes a solid and deep-rooted piety, real love, which has a need to express itself in just such ways. Then God looks upon us benignly, as a father gazes at his child whom he loves more than all the business ventures in the world.

A simple and deep faith always finds expression in particular acts of piety, whether collective or personal, which are valid for human and divine reasons. Some of them have become the pious customs of Christian people, passed on from generation to generation in the intimacy of the home and within the heart of the Church. So, along with the desire to improve our knowledge of Christian doctrine more and more – as much as our personal circumstances permit – we must also have the determination to live the simple details of piety which we have discovered on our own, or which people of various nations for generations have found useful and natural in their desire to express their love for God; with such expressions of piety they pleased God, because they in practicing these devotions had become like children. From the beginning of the Church it was customary, for example, to adorn altars and images of the saints with flowers, to kiss the crucifix or the rosary, to bless oneself with holy water…

Out of failure to appreciate the love that inspires these simple, pious customs of the Christian people, in certain parts of the world they are rejected by some who mistakenly consider them to be peculiar to a ‘childish Christianity’. Apparently such disapproving critics have forgotten those words of Our Lord: whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it; they are unwilling to recognize that, in God’s sight, we are all like little and needy children, and that in human life love is frequently expressed in small, unimportant ways. When observed by an outsider with detached and critical objectivity, but without understanding and love, these tokens of affection may well seem meaningless. Nevertheless, how often was our Lord’s heart moved by the prayer of children and of those who became like them!

The Acts of the Apostles have left us a clear record of how the first Christians used many lamps to light up the rooms where they celebrated the Holy Eucharist (Acts 20:78), and of how they liked to leave small oil-lamps burning above the graves of their martyrs. Saint Jerome eulogizes a good priest in these words: “He adorned both the basilicas and the halls of the martyrs with sketches of flowers, foliage and vine tendrils, so that everything attractive in the church, whether made so by its position or by its appearance, bore witness to the labor and zeal of the presbyter.” These little external manifestations of piety are fitting, appropriate to the purpose for which they are used, and come naturally to us as human beings. Our human nature employs the help of visible things to address God and adequately express its needs and desires.

At times simplicity will he shown in daring: when we are recollected in prayer or simply walking down the street we can tell Our Lord things which, out of embarrassment, we would not dare say in front of others, since they belong to the intimacy of our interior life. Nevertheless, it is necessary that we know how – and be daring enough – to tell him outright that we love him, even that we want him to have us love him ‘madly’, and that we are ready, if he so desires, to be more fully nailed to the Cross and to offer him our life once more... This daring of the life of childhood should issue in specific resolutions.

 

3. In order to be simple.

Simplicity is one of the principal manifestations of spiritual childhood. It is the result of having become defenceless before God, like a vulnerable and trusting child before its father. Either to disguise or to make a false show of our defects and mistakes is completely out of place when we are in front of God. We should also be simple when opening our soul to receive personal spiritual guidance, revealing what is good, bad or doubtful in our life.

We are living the virtue of simplicity when we maintain an upright intention in our love for Our Lord. This will lead us in everything we do to seek the glory of God and the good of souls with a strong, decisive will. If a person is truly seeking God he does not become entangled in a confusion of motivations or complicated from within; he does not look for unusual things to accomplish: he simply does what he should, and tries to do it well, facing God. He says what is on his mind clearly: he does not express himself in half-truths or habitually resort to mental reservations. He is not naive, but neither is he suspicious; he is prudent, but not distrustful. To summarize, he lives the teaching of the Master: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10-16)

“By following this route, my friend, you will arrive at great intimacy with our Lord; you will learn to call Jesus by his name and will come to love recollection. Frivolity, superficiality and lukewarmness will disappear from your life. You will be a friend of God; and in your recollection, in your intimacy with him, you will love to consider those words of Scripture: ‘God went to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ (Ex 33:11).” (S. Canals) Our prayer will be expressed throughout the course of the day in acts of love, of reparation and thanksgiving, in aspirations to the Blessed Virgin, to Saint Joseph, to the Guardian Angel…

Our Lady shows us how to get to know the Son of God, her Son, without resorting to complex formulas. It is easy for us to imagine her preparing a meal, sweeping the house, taking care of the clothes ... and in the midst of these tasks turning to Jesus with immense love and confidence, with delicate respect – knowing well that he was the Son of the Most High! To him she revealed her needs, or those of others – “They have no wine!”, she will tell him at the wedding of those friends or relatives of hers in Cana; she took care of him, doing him the little acts of service that are expected of a mother by her child in their daily life together; she gazed at him, thought about him all this was perfect prayer.

We need to show God our love. Frequently we will express it in the Holy Mass, through the prayers the Church gives us in the Liturgy, through a momentary visit made in the bustle of daily activity, or by lighting a candle or placing some flowers at the foot of a statue of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. Today let us ask her to give us a heart that is simple and full of love, so that we can converse with her Son – and also learn from children, who go to their parents and the ones they love with such overwhelming confidence.