Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 42, “Unless You Become as Little Children”

Dear friend,

One of the many things I admire about Romano Guardini, writing in The Lord, is his refusal to shy away from doubt or controversy. If something Jesus said two thousand years ago scandalizes us today or sounds incredible to our “enlightened” ears, he looks straight at it.

If Guardini had written this chapter, “Unless You Become as Little Children,” at the beginning of the twenty-first century instead of the middle of the twentieth, I imagine that he would have looked at the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church. I would like to have his take on it.

I came to the Catholic Church after the worst was known in the archdiocese of Boston, where I worship. So I was spared the personal shame of walking the streets of my town with a scarlet C on my chest while the Boston Globe shouted Fie upon you! Ah, fie! and hurled tomatoes.

Today, I am accused of other things for my being Catholic. The whole Catholics are against gay marriage and therefore homophobic thing, for example, seems to have become more prominent in public discourse than child abuse, and in only ten years. Maybe that’s a function of short news cycles and attention spans. I suspect that it also reflects the values of our culture.

Yikes, I didn’t know this post was going to turn ugly. Let’s get back to children, shall we? And . . . smile?

Guardini pulls together two passages from Mark 9 and 10 to say that Jesus makes three points about children.

First, those who care for children are caring for Him, Jesus. Second, those who don’t care for children (“who cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin”) will be damned (“drowned” with a millstone around their necks). Third, the way to qualify for the Kingdom of Heaven is to become “like little children” ourselves.

The latter half of the chapter focuses on what it means to become “like little children.” Children are not completely innocent. (Ever hear the phrase “little devils”?) Though children are charming, that’s not what Jesus means either. Becoming like little children boils down to being “believers,” or being able to believe—an openness to reality, to listening without preconceptions to the Word.

This, sadly, brings me back to the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. What I have seen and heard from many people since I became a Catholic in 2008 is a refusal to listen to the Church because the scandal took away people’s willingness—not ability, but willingness—to believe. To come to the Church after the scandal requires becoming a child again oneself. I know that this happened to me, not because of my skills or abilities but because it just plain did—by grace, I guess you’d say, certainly not by merit. Something prevented me from letting anything stand between my desire to believe and what I found myself believing in.

Not just becoming a child (I did then) but staying a child (now) is what’s needed, and I know this, or have been reminded of it by Guardini.

A final note about our days in boarding school together, since that is a major theme of these posts. Do you remember any children around? I mean on campus? How many fac brats were there? I remember a few teenage children of dorm masters lurking behind closed doors—but little children running around playing? Our school was too serious for that then.

A graduation speaker of the early 1960s reportedly stated that no one ever called Exeter a warm nest. When my daughter was there forty years later, the school struck me as a university for teenagers, where a kid was expected to fend for himself or herself. Little children need not apply.

I hope that’s changing.

Your devoted friend,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 43.

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