Sunday, July 3, 2016

Faith Like A Child

"'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.'" (Mtt 18:3)

             It was a Wednesday afternoon and we were in the organ loft of the church. I had a dozen seven and eight year olds with me, and trying to get them to pay attention to Father Andrew on this church tour and not to wander away felt a lot like herding cats.

            It was my first week as a Totus Tuus summer catechetical teacher for a diocese a state away from my hometown. I had been assigned to work on a team with three other young Catholics, to travel to a new parish in the archdiocese every week to minister to elementary and high school students, to share my faith, and teach supplementary catechesis.
            While only a week in, I was already feeling the demands that the job had placed on me--- mild sleep deprivation and a growing fear that I was nowhere near qualified for this job.
            But as we stood in that organ loft and gazed at the church below, the pastor of this parish pointed to each stained glass window in turn and told my students the story behind each. I listened as best I could while also corralling my students, making sure none of them leaned too far over the balcony or decided to play on the spiral staircase that lead up here. But as I paced behind my row of students, I realized that two of them were missing.
            Turning, I realized that two of my kids had wandered away, to the back of the organ loft to where a tall crucifix stood beneath the stained glass window of St. Cecilia.
            One little boy, aged seven, knelt below the crucifix, eyes closed, head bowed, hands clasped in a perfect picture of prayer. A little girl, the same age, stood next to him, her head tilted as she looked at the face of Jesus.
            My heart swelled.
            I walked back to where they stood and the little boy didn't so much as twitch as I drew closer, still wrapped up in his private act of devotion. As I drew near to the little girl, I noticed a delicate frown on her face.
            "I feel bad for Him," she whispered, her eyes still on the crucifix. She reached out and placed a thin finger in the wound in Jesus' side. "That looks like it really hurt."
            I stood there for a moment, breathless. Unsure what to say. The little boy raised his head and looked at me too. I nodded. Swallowed hard.
            "Yes," I said. "He did that for you."
            A look passed over her face, then. A look I couldn't quite identify. She nodded. And suddenly Father was telling all of my students to line up at the staircase as we descended into the main church area below.

            There have been several times so far this summer that I have been struck by the faith of children.
            How easy it is for them to trust in God. How confident they are of His love. How they long to show any form of devotion to Him no matter how small.  How much they take delight in being pious.

            I have taught a wide gamut of students so far this summer. From students in low income areas, to students in some of the richest suburbs of the city. I have taught students with a disheartening lack of Catechesis, to seven year olds who could explain the complexity of the Immaculate Conception to me.
            But I have noticed something in common no matter the age or demographic of the students: when I tell my kids how much Jesus loves them--- they believe me. They believe me without hesitation.
            When, for a warm-up exercise, I asked my room full of third and fourth grade students what they would most like to have as their last meal on Earth and several of them without hesitation responded 'The Body and Blood of Christ', I was struck again by the purity of their faith. If I was asked that same question, would I say the same thing? Certainly not at that age.
             When teaching about saints, I am struck by the eagerness in which these children wanted to pursue sanctity. They want to be saints with ferocity.
            Not to say I don't have difficult children. I always have children who think they are too cool for the Church. I have kids who think it is boring. Who don't care. Who are already saturated with the culture. And while none of my kids are ever truly present at the Mass we celebrate each day, I notice how eager they are to help in the liturgy in some way. How, as a general rule, they desire to be good.
            Which made me wonder--- when did I lose that same eagerness? Surely I had it once. I remember thinking to myself when I was nine years old that I was going to become a saint someday. After all, I had reasoned to myself, how hard can it be?
            But now, at the age of twenty, jaded by the secular world and my own concupiscence, I still long for sainthood but see it as a much more formidable goal.
            While I am still a practicing Catholic who desires Heaven very much, I don't have nearly the singularity of mind that my students have. As one of my little ones prayed aloud asking the Virgin Mary to help get her to Heaven, I realized that some of these students trust in prayer far more than I. I realized that they want Heaven perhaps more than I do now. How easy it is for them to see what matters.
            I found myself wondering as I observed my students--- when did I lose it? That childhood eagerness. The certainty of God's love. The certainty of my own calling to greatness. My own desire to please the Lord. When did it fade? When did my priorities become filled with other things? 
            I am still searching for those answers.
            But what I know, more than any other one thing, is that I have much to learn from my students this summer. From their innocence. Their unrestrained joy. Their trust and hope for the future. They are the ones teaching me.

            That same day at the end of our church-tour as I watched my little ones kneel before the tabernacle and say good-bye to Jesus as we left the church, as I watched them all concentrate so earnestly in prayer, I prayed something of my own:
            Jesus, give me a fraction of faith and innocence that these children have. Let me be like them, Lord.
            No wonder Jesus told us to be like the little children. No wonder He told us to guard them from sin. We need to make sure that they keep the faith. That they don't become lukewarm. They they don't lose the way they are now. Because their innocence is inspiring. Their faith is uplifting.
            Let us all be like little children.
            They sure have a lot of wisdom to impart.
            Totus Tuus Ego Maria Sum. Amen.

[Please keep me and the other Totus Tuus teachers in your prayers. We still have two more parishes to travel to this summer. Please pray for our success and endurance. God bless.]

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