Spiritual Childhood and Contemplative Prayer
One of the greatest joys in this later chapter of my life is an unexpected gift, his name is Noah. He is my grandson. He calls me Poppi. He is seven years old and so very wise. Noah continually confronts me with the utter simplicity, trust, openness and beauty of the spiritual childhood to which Jesus is pointing in this passage - and so many others in the Gospels. The way of spiritual childhood is a theme woven throughout the New Testament. In John's first letter he writes - See what love the father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - "Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After he placed his hands on them, he went away." (Mt. 19:13-15)
Nestled between the account of the Lord's response to the Pharisees who tested Him concerning the indissolubility of marriage and apostolic celibacy (Mt. 19:3-12) and the story of the young man whom he called to His service who, because he was possessed by his possessions, went away sad (Mt. 19:16-22,) Matthew inserts this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the children.
The connection is of great importance to anyone who wants to know, love and serve the Lord in real freedom. In the chapter which precedes the account, Matthew records these words of the Lord, "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."
One of the greatest joys in this later chapter of my life is an unexpected gift, his name is Noah. He is my grandson. He calls me Poppi. He is seven years old and so very wise.
Noah continually confronts me with the utter simplicity, trust, openness and beauty of the spiritual childhood to which Jesus is pointing in this passage - and so many others in the Gospels.
The way of spiritual childhood is a theme woven throughout the New Testament. In John's first letter he writes, "See what love the father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are." (1 John 3:1)
This passage points us to the truth of our divine filiation - a fundamental teaching of the Christian faith. We are inserted into the Trinitarian communion of love. We are adopted sons and daughters in the Son.
In and through Jesus Christ, we truly are sons and daughters of God.
St. Escriva often wrote of the way of spiritual childhood. In The Way he encourages us - Try to know the 'way of spiritual childhood' without forcing yourself to follow this path. Let the holy Spirit work in you.(The Way, #852)
When Jesus taught us to pray, He taught us to call God "Abba" (Mt. 6:9), the affectionate Aramaic word for Father. Before he ascended He told Mary to return and tell His brothers "I am ascending to my Father and your Father." (Jn. 20:17)
To become like little children, to be child-like and not childish, requires a change of heart. That is what conversion is about. Such a change of heart will transform the way we live because it transforms the way we love.
The great Bishop Ambrose, who baptized Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, on the Easter Vigil in 387, wrote concerning this in a commentary on Luke's Gospel (Lk. 18:17):
"Why is it that children are eligible for the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps it is because, ordinarily, there is no malice in them. They don't know how to lie. They don't lie to themselves. They have no desire for luxury. They aren't drawn to riches. They are uninterested in ambition. But the virtue herein lies, not in what they lack interest in, or know nothing about, but in what they don't want to do. The virtue lies not in their inability to sin, but in their unwillingness to sin."
I have a wonderful grandson named Noah. He teaches me. He shows me again the joy of play. He always trusts that his needs will be taken care of. He delights in the simplest of gifts and laughs out of the sheer joy of just being alive. He is wise.
He shows me the virtue called simplicity; a virtue which is harder to cultivate as life goes on. Yet, cultivate it we must, if we want to live in the kingdom.
One of my favorite writers is Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focalare movement. In one of her reflections on the Lord's teaching that we are all called to spiritual childhood, she offered this insight:
"Being at the start of life, the child is open to any adventure. So it should be with you. Don't put any obstacles in the way of your progressive union with Christ, a progress which should continue throughout your whole life."
As I grow older, things become simpler. Left behind with the years was some of my propensity to complicate things.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I have a long way to go. Having been with those preparing for death in my work as a Deacon of the Church, I have discovered that, in a recollected person of faith, prayer before death is the most revealing.
No longer burdened with the concerns of "this world", such prayer becomes simple. Simple souls see God. Simple souls live as children, trusting their Father.
There is an invitation to simplicity in Gods loving plan for each of our lives. Living simply can help us to see things differently. To those who voluntarily embrace it, simplicity becomes a means of grace, an invitation to love, and a school of sanctity.
All relationships, with persons as well as with the goods of the earth, are changed by its embrace. My grandson Noah teaches me this way. Oh, he does not do so with intentionality, but with the beautiful spontaneity of love so evident in children.
I have found that the admonition of Jesus, "Unless you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of God" (Mt. 18:13) is an invitation to freedom. In the light of simple faith, even painful experiences become the material for our personal transformation and enable us to open ourselves more to the fullness of life.
Through simple surrender to the loving plan of God, we are continually invited to go deeper into communion with God and respond to His loving gaze. In this communion with God, fear dissipates and everything is bathed in love. After all, when all is stripped away, there is only God.
In His Sacred Humanity, prepared for death, the Lord Jesus prayed for each of us "May they be one, as you Father are in me and I am in you." The words of this prayer reveal the simple heart of God. They also unfold the purpose and final goal of human existence; we are all called to love.
The way of spiritual childhood is the path to peace. It leads into an ever deepening, intimate, loving relationship with God the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. In this loving communion we enter into a new relationship with all men and women and creation itself. We now live in Him and He lives in us.
Contemplatives comprehend, or rather, are comprehended by this experience of communion. They literally fall in love with God. All Christians are called to contemplation, no matter what their state in life, their job, or their place in society.
The way of spiritual childhood is the way into contemplation. Let us walk the path and find the joy of divine filiation as sons and daughters of God. Jesus truly liberates us and makes us new, when we become like little children.
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.
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