reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

I had a strong devotion to St. Therese even before I was Catholic. She is a huge reason for my conversion. (You can listen to us tell that story, here.) When it came time to take a patroness, I knew it had to be her. But she has many titles: St. Therese of the Holy Face, The Little Flower, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. I was insistent that my Confirmation sponsor present me as “St. Therese of the Child Jesus.”

I love this photo of St. Therese cosplaying Joan of Arc

Relating to Jesus in his childhood holds a special place in my heart and the practice of my faith. The fact that our precious Lord was once a baby—swaddled in his Mother’s arm, held tightly by dear St. Joseph during maybe sleepless nights, his baby cries, his baby giggles. Did he have chubby little arms and legs like my babies? Did Mary put her nose right up against his head and deeply breathe in his baby smell until her heart overflowed and her eyes filled with tears?

Jesus was once a child, playing in the dirt he made. Did he have to go to Hebrew school and listen to rabbis expound on the very words he wrote in the creation of the world? What must that have been like? What kind of beautiful humility and innocence did he model for us? Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.” Psalm 139:6

It’s no surprise that I also have a devotion to the Infant of Prague (as did my beautiful St. Therese). This original statue (that actually originated in Spain in the 16th Century) resides with the Carmelites at Our Lady of Victories in Prague. Polyxena, daughter of Spanish Duchess Marie Manriquez de Lcara, who was gifted the statue as a wedding gift, gave it to the Carmelites and declared, “I hereby give you what I prize most highly in this world. As long as you venerate this image, you will not be in want.”

She was right. In my house you will see a big statue of him in the living room, a small one (that has seen better days) on my bedroom altar, and a folk icon by Seth Goepel hanging above, when it is not traveling with me. (You travel with your icons, right?) Tucked to the back of these you will find signs of our veneration and dedication to Infant Jesus–a quarter taped to his back, a symbol of his care of our family’s finances and wellbeing.

You can find this image from Seth Goepel here

Being committed to Jesus’ divinity demonstrated his whole life, is a passion of mine. I remember sitting down to a parish planning meeting years ago and January 1 was coming up. One of the priests present said how happy he was that it is now called the Solemnity of the Mother of God and not Christ’s circumcision. He chuckled good-naturedly that he was glad we didn’t have to celebrate the circumcision anymore. Everyone at the table laughed in agreement–everyone except me. Who said as meekly as I could, “That was the first blood shed for our salvation as Jesus fully participated in our humanity. I don’t think the Precious Blood is a commemoration we should skip.”

He stopped mid-belly-laugh and said, “Oh my gosh. I have never thought of that.”

Childlikeness vs. Childishness

 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Matthew 18:1-5

When people talk about imitating Christ it is usually in his grown-up piety, which is of course good and right. But what about imitating Christ in his childlikeness? His trust in his earthly parents and his heavenly Father? His humility? His very earthiness? Children are so gloriously earthy. They are tender towards small things and interested in the flowers and earthworms and how things work. They innately know that they are fresh from God. It’s like Dickens said it is no small thing when those who are so fresh from God love us.

Children usually think nothing of whether they are getting dirty and their hair messy, if only they are in the process of loving everything and exploring the world. They fall asleep when they are tired–regardless of whether conditions are perfect, they laugh when something strikes them as funny even if it not an appropriate time, they admit when they are angry and do not hide behind passive aggressive protocols of the modern adult world. Children, in their purest expressions, can be trusted.

Goals, amirite?

There is a little girl, a daughter of a member of school faculty, that audaciously enters the kitchen when I am at work. She walks right behind the counter, gives me a hug, and then says, “Can I have marshmallows?” She is not the least embarrassed about asking for what she wants. She does not demand or make a fuss. She is not rude. She simply asks with zero shade of pretention. Then she waits, expectantly, yet patiently, for a reply. Her parents sometimes come in as she is receiving her marshmallows in a little cup and apologize for her behavior. But, I always think, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) The way she just approaches and asks is a gentle sign of contradiction to my approach for the things I want and need. Why do I hesitate? Why do I make demands? Why does not my audacity and humility not come together in this tender childlikeness? I don’t know why, except that I was never really childlike, until I was quite grown up. My family used to joke that I have always been a grown-up. As an actual child I was far too serious, far too scrupulous, far too worried about things that most children don’t think about. A consequence of untreated trauma, I protected myself by never being vulnerable and never letting my needs or desires be known. I met the needs of others. I helped other people and kept the peace. I did not have needs that required attention. Never ask, never be disappointed.

And then I realized (through the loving Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother, and several years of therapy) that this was the ugly side of childishness and not actually childlikeness. This wasn’t trust and surrender to the Divine Will. This was not hopeful or charitable. This wasn’t even peacemaking–it was peacekeeping, which is an entirely different thing and not actually listed in the Beatitudes.

Hence my devotion to the Infant and Child Jesus, as I slowly lean into his humanity and in the process discover my own.

“Let your old age be childlike, and your childhood like old age; that is, so that neither may your wisdom be with pride, nor your humility without wisdom.”

St. Augustine

So maybe as I get older and more childlike I can worry less and trust more, let my hair down more without unnecessary guilt about productivity, try new things and fail without shame, love without calculation and burdensome expectations, ask for what I need knowing that Jesus is eager to meet what I need.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for me.

Infant of Prague, Have mercy on me.

2 thoughts on “The Child Jesus

  1. Ed Voll says:

    I think children can be the most selfish because people excuse them for not knowing “better “ . I also think the one child pattern of modern life promotes this self-centeredness.

    Like

    1. This post is about the child Jesus, the only child of Our Lady. (although the first born amongst many brethren) I think perhaps you missed the point, because there was nothing selfish or self-centered about the Lord’s earthly life.

      Like

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