Speaking at his Grandad’s funeral my dear friend Father Jaimie speaks about the greatness of the child in the eyes of Jesus; how we have to forget ourselves in order to remember and in remembering to become a true child. A little child who is content with the little daisies of life, content to be a daisy rather than a big impressive flower. It reminds me of a woman spoken of by John Moriarty in his autobiography, ‘Nostos’ – he asked his father why this woman was so happy and his father replied that she is happy because she is not seeking to be a tree where only a bush can grow. Something like that. Meaning that she is content to be who she is.
On Mission Sunday I’ve been struck again about the place of the child in my life, the Mission of the child that constantly lifts up my heart, draws me closer to God and to my true self, simply by being the child they are.
Last Sunday after Mass a ten-year-old girl commented on my mask. It’s pale blue with white daisies. Probably not what I would have chosen but it was given me by a friend and so I wear it in fidelity to our friendship. The girl said, “I love your mask!” and immediately her three-year-old cousin said, “well I love your face!” He is of African origin and it was said with the emphasis and enthusiasm that only an African possesses. So, I was immediately lifted up in the joy of this innocence. And for some reason I go around singing David Bowie’s ‘Rebel, Rebel’ – your face is a mess! The emphasis is oddly the same, like there’s a particular joy in the mess.
This Sunday it was three-year-old boy from India. While his parents were doing the NHS Test and Trace sign-in at the entrance, the boy went alone into the church and headed straight to the Pieta statue. The notice says “please do not touch the statues!” (for safety in these coronavirus times). But, not being able to read English, he proceeded to caress the body of Jesus, stroking it gently, touching the wounds as he uttered soft groans, returning again to the wound on the side. And he then stood silently with his hand stretched upwards to the face of Mary. I was transfixed by this sight while his mother moved to stop him but I asked her to wait.Such a tender instinct for Jesus at such a young age is quite special and I’m struck again by the mystery of how this level of faith is pure gift, how important it is to nurture the gift in those who have received it. This is a delicate sapling that we must protect so that it can grow up to maturity in the presence of God.
It’ so long since most of our children have been to Mass, parents being nervous of indoor spaces, crowds and the risks of infection. But they are coming back slowly and, while we cannot have the life-filled, child-friendly liturgies that we are used to, their presence adds a very special flavour to our gatherings, they bring very special blessings with them. They represent the prophetic Word, the Wisdom eternally in the presence of God, “I was by God’s side, a master craftsman, delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in his world, delighting to be with the children of men.” (Proverbs 8: 30-31)
This is what I experience when I look out from the altar – some children sitting attentively, huddled in to their parents or the younger ones simply drawing on the liturgical sheets of paper that I give them. And always when I call on them to stand and pray out loud, they will join their hands reverently, doing their best to pray the Hail Mary and the Our Father. There they are two girls in the front row, or boys down the side standing tall for Jesus, simply because I ask them to! It’s what I ask of all of us and it is basically the Mission – that we stand with Jesus in prayer, stand for Him in faith. What joy they bring to the heart of God and to mine!
Sometimes I think the children must have forgotten me but occasionally parents will say how their little ones want to see me. So, during the week I was invited to a family table to fulfil the desire of their two young children. The routine in such moments is that I sit at one end of the table and the family gather together at the other so that there is a safe distance between. For the boy the distance is almost impossible because he has so much to show me, he so much wants to be near me and I feel a hint of disappointment in him. His younger sister looks at me shyly from the distance until she decides she will make a card for me and it is a lovely happy face, perhaps my face as she sees it or the gift of her own face to me.
It leaves me feeling like Elizabeth in the Annunciation, “who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:39–56). For surely as He came to her in Mary, He comes to me in the children.