Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Innocence, Purity, and Trust of a Child

This is my homily for Monday, September 30, 2013, the Feast of Saint Jerome.

The disciples are debating who is the greatest, and so Jesus embraces a little child, and says “Whoever receives this child receives me.”  Jesus equates himself with a child, echoing what he says in another Gospel: “Unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God.

Now I was having a problem reflecting on this the other day as I was waiting for a plane in an uncomfortable chair in the Philly airport.  Across from me a three old was providing the entertainment.  He repeatedly waited until his exhausted father would just begin to fall asleep and then scream and jump in his lap.  Then, when he had finished shrieking with malevolent laughter, he grabbed a juice box and squeezed it with such force that its juicy-juice became airborne and soaked the hail of the lady sitting behind him.  Unsatisfied that his performance was being sufficiently appreciated, he broke away and ran screaming down the concourse waving his arms above his head, while his harried father scrambled behind him.

Is this the kind of child God calls us to imitate?  Hardly.

But there is something about a child worthy of all imitation.  Three things really:  innocence, purity, and trust.

Innocence.  Is there anything more innocent than a little child? And what is innocence?  Innocence is the absence of guilt.  It is the verdict for which the accused waits with baited breath.  It is the utter amazement of one so good in the face of cruelty.  It is the goodness so tangible that it cleanses you just by being near it.

In the Worcester Art Museum we have a beautiful painting of innocence, based on Isaiah’s vision of the Lion and Lamb, lying together in the peaceable kingdom.  In the lion and the lamb strength and innocence naturally live in peace, and a secret is revealed: innocence is the source of real strength and, as Mahatma Ghandi once wrote: “The greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory.”

The real solution to all life’s problems is in restoring the innocence of a little child.  And what restores lost innocence is contrition, confession and turning away from all that eats my innocence alive.

The second quality of the child is purity. Pure is not, and never has been, the most sought after of titles.  This is because purity is often equated with prudery, and that’s a real shame.  For purity is one of the fastest ways to heaven.

Purity is the absence of vices and the abundance of virtues.  The opposite of purity is filthiness.  I’m either pure or I’m dirty.  

One the day of your Baptism, the priest clothed you in a white garment and said: keep this garment unstained until that day when the Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. Your soul is that white garment.  And all through life you have a choice of keeping that garment clean, abstaining from filth, frequently washing it in the blood of the Lamb, or letting it get dirty, polluting it, and failing to keep it clean.

The real solution to all life’s problems is in restoring the purity of a little child.  And what restores lost purity is contrition, confession and turning away from all that eats my purity alive.

Innocence, purity, and Trust.  No one trusts more completely than a child embraced in his mother’s arms, trusting entirely that he will be take care of.  He trusts that there is someone bigger than he is who loves him with a love and a power beyond his imaginings.  Trust means that I don’t spend much much time worrying, because I know God has it all under control.

As a wise Benedictine once wrote, paraphrasing the Lord: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Give me those worries, I’ll carry them. Keep your perception clear by letting me be God for you. You don’t need to be God. I’ll be God.” (Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB)

So welcome a child, be like a child, like Jesus: In innocence, in purity, and in trust.