Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 7th, 2018

Deacon Blaine Barclay


Spiritual Childhood

There is a lot one could focus on in today’s readings, the one flesh union of man and woman in the gift of sexuality, and their one flesh union in the child, or, how Christ and us are made perfect in and through our experience of suffering. But I want to focus on the few verses found at the end of our gospel today.
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This well known gospel text is frequently read and commented on during the baptism of infants, in part as a kind of built in affirmation of the practice of infant baptism. A kind of, ‘If Jesus welcomed them, we should as well.’ My own choice to preach on this fragment of text was confirmed earlier this week when we celebrated the feast day of that great Doctor of the Church, teacher of the faith, St. Therese of Lisieux? Also known as the ‘Little Flower’, most famous for teaching the ‘Little Way’, or the way of ‘Spiritual Childhood’. Therese says, “To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices ,,, it is not to become discouraged over ones faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves very much.”
It is of course possible to misunderstand this little way, this path of spiritual childhood, to use it in such a way as to infantilize the people of God, to reduce the spiritual life to the practice of some kind of pure passivity in the arms of God. But by doing so we miss out on the heroic dynamite hidden in this teaching. Though she died very young, not far beyond her teens, St. Theresa was a spiritual powerhouse, experientially familiar with the way of Carmel, the dark night of the soul, one of God’s warrior saints.
But let’s get back to our gospel and what it says about spiritual childhood.
First of all it tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. What does this mean? Little children haven’t done anything to enter the kingdom. What little children do have in abundance, is the capacity for wonder and astonishment. The ability to be surprised by their experience of the world. As adults we sometimes lose this capacity. The kingdom of God is in this sense not something that can be accomplished, merited or earned. It is pure gift, a saturated overflow of God’s self-communication in grace. Where Jesus is present, there is the presence of the kingdom. So all we really need, the one thing necessary, is radical openness to the gift of this presence, a kind of playful delight in the presence of God in Christ. One author speaks of the decisiveness of the child and childlikeness, not only for individuals, but for civilization as a whole. Of course, given the plethora, the multitude of distractions, detours, and temptations open to us on every side, and perhaps more so in our pride, such simplicity is difficult for us, especially if we are prone to think of ourselves as ‘spiritually mature’.
We need to receive the kingdom of God as a little child or we will never enter it. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus holds up the child as the model of discipleship. He says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change (turn your life around) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “This is quite the warning to all of us.  Discipleship as the path of spiritual childhood. The disciple as absolute learner, apprentice to the childlike spontaneity of Jesus.
May the good God take away from us any spiritual pride, or sense of superiority and maturity, and fill us with the wonder and astonishment of the child, the capacity to be playful in the presence of God.