All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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Becoming Like Children
 
By Kathy Coffey

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself…is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

The following scene captures the essence of this Scripture passage: A small blonde girl about three years old, totally naked, runs into the surf at a beach near Santa Barbara, California. Her parents cheer, the sun spills its liquid honey into the sea, the seagulls sweep overhead in graceful arcs. She spreads her arms wide as if to embrace the Pacific Ocean and squeals with delight as foam scallops brush tiny toes.

Huddled on a beach towel beneath a straw hat, I admire her free abandon, her unbridled joy. “Become like one of these,” says Jesus. At that moment, I can see why

When Jesus asks us to become like children, we adults get a bit queasy. We remember the bullies of our childhood, the sense of powerlessness, our dependence on caregivers who might or might not honor that trust.

When we relive the childhood experience now, it’s not always pleasant. Placing ourselves in situations where we’re clueless restores the pain of the lost child. Being the awkward new kid in the advanced class, or maneuvering in a strange vocabulary, we panic. When we’ve never heard of the disease we’ve got, or buy a house not knowing an escrow from an easement, we wobble as insecurely as toddlers.

But by the same token, when we respond to touching music, smell a hyacinth or see a cloud castle as if for the first time, we’re also in that magic childhood zone. When I give talks, it delights me to read a “bedtime story” to adults whose faces light up with remembered joy.

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The Real Deal

One more obstacle to understanding this passage might be the cute stereotypes of children that abound in the media. Those sweetsy types must be concocted by people who don’t know the genuine article. Contrast the saccharin with the Real Deal. Real children ask excruciating questions which adults deem “impolite.” They make us squirm when they penetrate our carefully constructed façades. They get wildly excited about stuff that leaves us blasé.

Jesus knew the Real Deal because he welcomed them. Children must have been drawn to him instinctively. They crawled all over him with snotty noses, grubby shirts and unedited ramblings. Furthermore, he knew childhood from the inside: his own, direct experience of being heartbreakingly vulnerable.

Jesus came to earth quietly, humbly, as a child, without fanfare or prestige. He matured as most children do, “in wisdom, age and grace,” and spent the greater part of his life in a family that to outsiders appeared ordinary. In doing so, he blessed all children, all adults who honor the child within, all bumbling, imperfect human families. Knowing that Jesus probably spilled some grape juice, we can forget the misconception that in family life, holy = perfect.

Parent-Child Bond

In modeling the finest parts of childhood, what we are ultimately trying to do is recapture that free abandon, that total trust that comes from knowing God as dear parent. If God loves us passionately and looks out for every need, can’t we throw ourselves into God’s arms? Entering that safe circle means inheriting the promised Kingdom.

If we become like children, we can leave behind our adult hesitations, not lugging the laundry list of our wrongs. We know all is forgiven. St. Thérèse of Lisieux spoke of casting herself on God as she would on her beloved papa: sleeping fearlessly in his arms, hiding her face in his hair.

One of the most devastating stories that surfaced following the 2004 tsunami described parents whose children were torn from their arms by the force of the waves. People around the world could relate to that tragedy and ache for such a loss. If we are separated from our children or our childlike selves, we are wrenched from so much: all that is best in us, our proper relationship to God and our hope for a future.

Carl Jung tells of a rabbi who was asked why people in olden days often saw God, but now no one ever sees God. The rabbi replied, “Now there is no longer anyone who can bow low enough.” Except, perhaps, for those who are short to begin with—children.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: Whoever Believes and Is Baptized…

Questions for Reflection:

• What childlike quality do you possess? What quality do you wish you possessed?

• How can these qualities bring you closer to God and the people around you?

FAMILY CORNER
Close to the Lap of God
By Judith Dunlap

When Jesus asks us to become like children (Matthew 18:3), I think the youngsters he has in mind are those wide-eyed tykes with faces that tell you just how they feel. There is no guile in their answers, and they leave no question unasked. You know the type—the little ones who pull on your hand and stretch your arm in their eagerness to get somewhere.

I think children like this must come from homes where they are loved and really cared for. They probably live their lives certain that comfort and safety are no farther away than a parent’s lap. They do not seem to know what fear and insecurity mean. And yet I know that childhood, particularly early childhood, can be a scary time—a time of almost total dependence. Left on their own, four-year-olds could find life extremely treacherous. But then again, left on our own, all of us find that life can be pretty treacherous—whether we’re four or 40 or 84.

Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that we are all children: children of God. We just need to acknowledge our dependency and accept God’s love. We are not alone. We are safe and secure, loved and cared for, always close to the lap of God. When we realize and accept our dependency on an all-loving God, we can let go of some of our fear and insecurity. We can let that wide-eyed, bright, smiling child inside each of us come out to play.

This summer, continually remind yourself of God’s promise to be with you always. Gather the family and spend time just playing together. Trust in God’s love, and then reach for your child’s hand and stretch his arms in your eagerness to share that love through your own laughter and joy.

For Family Response:

Take time to decide as a family five fun things to do this month. If possible, let each member choose an activity. Try to keep ideas not only practical, but also inexpensive.

Media Watch
Millions
By Frank Frost

If you win the lottery, how will you spend all the money? Millions is a mythical, metaphorical, funny and touching film about the value of money. Or is it faith? Or honesty? Or integrity? Or miracles?

The question comes alive in two young brothers, Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) and Damian (Alex Etel), whose lifestyle is already in transition after the death of their mother and their move to a spanking new house in a new development in England’s industrial west.

Nine-year-old Anthony is precocious about money, following the stock market and able to quote the exchange rate of the euro with Britain’s pound sterling. Seven-year-old Damian is fascinated by the lives of the saints. His world is populated by saints who visit him periodically to help him think things through—saints (each of whom he instantly recognizes) like Clare, Francis of Assisi, Peter and Nicholas. They always give him guidance, and he always asks if they’ve met a new saint named Maureen, who we soon guess is his mother.

Near the family’s home Damian builds his own cardboard house from empty boxes that have been dumped next to the railroad tracks. It provides a haven where he can read and meet his saints—until a huge bag of money comes bouncing out of nowhere and crushes his personal dwelling.

When he tells his brother about it, a series of events is set in motion that will force not only him, but also his whole family, to face up to the challenge money presents. It will lead each of them to a new understanding of true wealth.

Anthony knows exactly how to use his sudden affluence: He’ll use it to buy consumer goods, yes. But more significantly, he buys friends and loyalties that give him status at school.

Damian is more troubled. His encounters with the saints make him want to do something, well, saintly. He’s inspired by a woman giving a guest presentation at his school who teaches the practical value of money while seeking funds for a clean-water project in Africa. (She will become his father’s love interest.) Damian determines he’ll give his share to the poor.

This is not as easy as it seems, and humorous missteps help keep the film from becoming sappy. And when Damian discovers that the money actually is the fruit of a major heist, thrown off a train, he is crushed. “I thought it was from God,” he says. The thought that he has lost a miracle distresses him more than the danger he is in from one of the robbers determined to retrieve the money.

By the end of the film each of the four major characters has had to make decisions about how to handle the legal and ethical complications the money brings. The ending in a rebuilt cardboard house may not make perfect sense, but as Damian’s voiceover says. “This is my story and I can end it the way I want.” I don’t think viewers will mind.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Boniface (672?-754)

Born in England, Boniface found his life and eventually lost it in Germany, where he labored as a missionary for 35 years. He is known as the apostle to the Germans.

He was a contented monk for many years until, around the age of 40, he heard a call to become a missionary and spread the gospel among the Saxons of present-day Germany. Boniface made his first missionary journey at the request of Pope Gregory II—and immediately learned that monumental tasks lay ahead.

The Christianity Boniface found was mixed with error. The clergy were often uneducated and lax, and some felt no sense of loyalty to their bishops. Anti-Christian sentiment was strong enough in certain areas that he needed letters of safe conduct from certain rulers so that he could move about freely.

After reporting these conditions to the pope, Boniface was designated to reform the German Church. He was made a regional bishop, later an archbishop. His task was to restore the obedience of the clergy to their bishops and to establish houses of prayer.

Despite the uphill struggles he faced at every turn, Boniface was effective for many years. At age 80 he put aside his duties as archbishop so he could be a full-time missionary. He returned to the area where he had begun his work decades before. Boniface was distressed to find that many of the people he’d converted had fallen away from the faith.

More ominous were the hostile tribes who wanted no part of Christianity. During a mission, Boniface and 53 companions were massacred. His feast day is June 5.

Jim and Lucy Carney

Ask Jim and Lucy Carney how many hours a week they spend on their ministry to the imprisoned, and they can’t help but chuckle. The question is: How many hours don’t they give toward getting Scripture into the hands of the two million or more imprisoned men and women around the United States?

What began as Jim’s promise to God at retirement “to work for him for the rest of my life” has become an almost full-time commitment that also includes Lucy, his wife of 57 years.What motivates him motivates her; what tasks he takes on she takes on.

“I don’t golf. I don’t have a big title. This is my life. I try to steer people toward Jesus,” says Jim.

The heart of their ministry is a set of small books—small enough to fit in a prisoner’s pocket—written by Jesuit Father Mark Link for his Vision 2000 series. The booklets explore a range of topics: the Bible, the psalms, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Advent, Lent, Pentecost. But the format doesn’t change: a teaching followed by a contemporary story that relates to the contemporary world and that speaks not just to Catholics.

Since beginning their ministry more than a dozen years ago, Jim and Lucy Carney have made contact with hundreds of prison and jail chaplains around the country and shipped a total of two million free books to them from a warehouse in Texas. The fruits of Jim and Lucy’s nonstop efforts are evident in the enthusiasm of the chaplains as well as the prisoners and in the many conversions that have come about.

Mother Teresa assured the Carneys that their ministry, which depends on donations, will continue if it is God’s will. “We keep praying,” says Lucy. “So far, it’s worked!”

 

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