In this beautiful season of Advent, I am perpetually reminded of the need to embrace Jesus with the heart of a child. Sacred scripture is replete with Christ’s admonitions to approach Him with child-like faith. In Luke 18:16-17, Our Lord states: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter into it (NAB).”
Living with eight children makes it abundantly clear how often Our Heavenly Father “hides things from the learned and reveals them to mere children (MT 11:25).” It is in their eyes that I most often find the glow of faith, and in their hearts that I find a pure love that humbles me to near spiritual envy.
During Advent, we try to offer additional acts of sacrifice. This year, our family is initiating a new tradition. The kids and I are writing our sacrifices on small strips of colored paper, and leaving them in the Christ Child’s crib. The tiny crib is located in our family shine, under the table which holds our Pilgrim Virgin statue. Like many pieces of straw, we hope to provide a warm place for Our Savior to rest His infant head. When the kids first began leaving their sacrifices, I smiled at their efforts, but thought myself a bit above the need to do the same. However, at the prodding of my 7-year-old, I too have begun to offer my little trials in the same manner. The first time I left a slip of paper, I realized that to place it in the crib under the table, I would have to get down on my knees to do so. God has a wonderful way of providing humility as an antidote to pride! As the week has passed, I have found this little exercise to be spiritually fruitful. Amazing what one can learn from a 7-year-old!
The same spiritual progress that I have to actively work to achieve seems to come almost instinctively to children. Over the years there have been many new arrivals in our home- some via St. Joe’s Hospital, and others via American Airlines and the adoption agency. The eager anticipation that accompanies the arrival of a new child is familiar territory for my children- even the really little ones. They seem to instinctively transfer the same joyful expectation to the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas. The glow of the lights, the glimmer of decorations, violins softly practicing for Christmas Eve Mass all add to the atmosphere of Advent bliss. The rhythm of the daily Mass readings and those of the Divine Office provide a backdrop against which our Advent days pass in advance of Holy Christmas. There are still (many) moments of anxiety, sibling squabbles, and homeschool headaches. However, Advent has afforded us the opportunity to present these as straw in the crib of Our Infant Savior. He gives us so much; the kids teach me how to return it all to Him.
One of my favorite saints is St. Therese of the Child Jesus (1873-1897). In humility, this Carmelite saint understood that austere penances and bloody martyrdom of the great saints were beyond her capabilities. Instead, the Holy Spirit lead this, the youngest Doctor of the Church to develop a path to Heaven, her “little way,” based upon childlike love, confidence and sacrifice for her Beloved Spouse. A few days before her death, St. Therese was asked about the “Llittle Way,” that she hoped to teach souls, to which she replied:
“It is the path of spiritual childhood, it is the way of trust and of entire self-surrender. I want to make known to them the simple means that have so perfectly succeeded for me, to tell them there is but one thing to do here below: to cast down before Jesus the flowers of the little sacrifices, to win Him by caresses. That is how I have won Him, and why I will be so well received (The Story of A Soul, Ch. XII).”
I love St. Therese! I too, am well aware that the martyrdom of saints like: Philomena, Agnes, Felicita, Perpetua, Cecelia, Margaret Clitherow, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and so many others is well beyond my grasp. After years in healthcare I’m o.k. with other people’s blood, but the sight of my own still makes me ooogy. Thus, St. Therese’s “Little Way” is a path to sanctity that I can embark upon. I easily recognize my littleness- my imperfections are too glaring to ignore- thus, with St. Therese’s guidance, I can offer them as straw in the crib, and likewise hope to attain the sanctity for which I long. In God’s profound goodness, He has given me eight little professors in His school of child-like sanctity- all I have to do is pay attention.
In this week’s Angelus Message for the Second Sunday of Advent, Pope Benedict exhorts us to: “find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives.” In my home, quiet time for contemplation is rare; thus making our Holy Father’s directive a bit of a challenge. Yet I find that in His Providence, God supplies those moments of enlightenment through the noise and chaos that is our busy home. It is in listening to children, and observing the care with which they prepare their hearts, that my own heart is indeed transformed. In Sunday’s Angelus Message, Pope Benedict went on to say: “May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is “the Greatest” and made himself small, he who is “the Strongest” but became weak.”
I am beginning to realize that it is in the small and weak around us, in their tiny voices that I can best hear the Infant Christ. Lord, speak, Your servant is listening!
Blessed Second Week of Advent.
Ad Jesum per Mariam