It’s been one of those weeks where the Lord hits me over the head with my blog post, more or less. You know, one of those occasions where I understand something from the Lord, and then He confirms it not once, but twice. It doesn’t always happen, but it makes me glad I’m listening when it does!
So, listening in mass on Sunday, I was amazed by the Second Reading – I didn’t recognize the verses, and though I’m sure I’ve heard it before, it was as if hearing it for the first time. Here’s a refresher:
Brothers and sisters,
You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed. (HEB 12:5-7, 11-13)
Those words very much rang true. In all the difficult things I face in my life, God has shown me again and again that when I turn to Him and trust His ways, and yield to His discipline, not only does my soul bear much richer fruit than I could have imagined, but my own experience of His joy and love is expanded, deepened. That is why the discipline is not a cause for pain, but rather for joy.
And again…Just as these thoughts were churning on Sunday, I sat down to night prayer and randomly picked up a book I haven’t read in years, a collection of meditations called God, My Father by Fr Joseph Kentenich (founder of the Schoenstatt Movement). And the themes from mass appeared again! Unexpected and seemingly random, that is how God subtly (or not so subtly) communicates with us! The reflections begin by talking about how anxiety is one of the most prevalent symptoms of our modern age, and that the answer is to “reconquer childlikeness.” He comments that the “loss of childlikeness…renders God’s fatherly activity impossible. God cannot educate us unless we are open to him and long to be his children.” If we do not long to be His children, we will not be open to His forming our souls, His educating our personalities or the discipline He offers out of love. But if we reject God’s attempts to educate us, if we put our security solely in ourselves or in this world, where does that leave us?
Fr Kentenich says, “Unless I am bound up in a personal God, life will drive me mad. It is necessary that I rest in God. The more we believe that we can find security through personal efforts and means, the more insecure we become. The more we realize this, the better we understand that childlikeness is the answer to modern problems.”
Fr Kentenich goes on to say childlikeness before God is not merely an intellectual surrender, but a “most tender, affectionate and loving communication with God.” And when we are faced with difficulties we feel are beyond us, he says that “the harder the times, the warmer and more gentle our souls should become toward God. The Holy Spirit must make us children again. We may not reject this warm affection as though it were below the dignity of a mature person…We are living in this world to make it warmer each day!” How he hits at the heart of things! The world rightly sneers at superficial sentimentality when it comes to religion, and distrusts arguments that come from unbridled or reactionary emotions. But woe to those trivialize the deep and steady warmth of being bonded as a child to God, who think that Reason is all we need, who try to put themselves above spontaneous affection! I really see the need for our modern, adult Catholic world to pray earnestly for the renewal of a childlike spirit.
Without this warm and deep connection to God our Father, and to the Mother of God, how else can we grow? We see this truth reflected in human experience in the wisdom that psychology offers us: when the child is warmly and securely attached to the mother and father, then the child feels safe enough to venture out, to explore, to learn and grow. And when the child trusts the parents because of this love, the strength of the bond endures through disciplines that the child may not yet understand. The way that such parents draw the best selves out of their children by disciplining out of and because of love is a reflection of how our Heavenly Father is with us.
Now to bring it home for a perfect third time, God gently brought these themes to my attention again the next day during daily Monday mass. The priest brought up Sunday’s readings again, and spoke about how God disciplines us out of love as His children, tying it in to the Gospel where Christ chastises the Scribes and Pharisees for being “blind guides” and hypocrites, who lead others astray. Christ was challenging the Scribes and Pharisees to be authentic, and surely calling them out, for they did not lead of out love. Now this is a priest who has often seemed to me very sad, and even bitter or jaded. So I was delighted when he began to preach on God’s loving way with us. His face lit up, and his voice took on a new warmth that I’d never heard before. There, I thought – I could see him becoming a child before God right in front of me.
And the best part is this – just as I was writing this blog in my mind Monday after mass, I pulled back into my apartment only to realize I’d locked myself out. And my roommate was at work. And I had to go to class that night! And turn in some important paperwork locked inside…Well?! Panic time!? I started to! But then, a deep breath, and laughter. Okay, God was saying – let’s put that little insight to work. This day will not work out how you thought. I have a greater lesson in store for you. Are you willing to lean in to this moment of Providence? Are you willing to let me teach you? Yes, Lord…turns out it was a pretty stressful day. But because of the bond of a child-like trust in God (which is always a work-in-progress of course!) life did not “drive me mad,” (though I did suffer some frustration!) and the day did bear fruit. Most importantly, in my tiredness and frustration, my heart remained open to Him, and warmly offered all that I went through.
Fr Kentenich concluded the reflection thus: “Childlikeness, as we interpret it, is something divine. It may take a while for us even to sense a little of the entire greatness and the immeasurable richness of the world which we, as images of the God-Man, possess by sharing in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. The Triune God dwells within us and, in a similar way, we may and should live in him…it should be our delight to communicate tenderly with him who dwells within us as our divine partner of love, who ardently longs for our love in return, and who has given us a new, supernatural power to love.” Fr Kentenich ends with a gentle prayer, a reminder that “we will not accomplish this by our personal efforts. We must fold our hands so that we may draw the Holy Spirit down upon us.“