Monday, February 3, 2014

A Child Lights Up a Room

Opening Prayer (PS 24:3-4):
Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?
Who can stand in his holy place?
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain. Amen.

Nothing "lights up a room" quite like a child, as any parent or childlover will tell you! The occasion yesterday of the Feast of the Presentation (when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the temple to be consecrated as their firstborn (Luke 2:22-40), gives us reason as Childlovers to not only reflect on the message God is sending us about the sacred dignity of all children, but also about the "cross" we bear, often because of them (told in Simeon's canticle: Luke 2:33-35). At the same time we see God's humility as He doesn't so much enter His temple but allows Himself to be carried into the Temple (as we are when lead by the Spirit, like Simeon) in the arms of one of His creatures (Mary and Joseph), we also see His glory "lighting up the room" and all who are in it. It's therefore fitting that even in the mighty Temple of Jerusalem (the "throne of God on Earth"), all it took was one small, meek Child, to bring joy to all who saw Him with the eyes of faith. When we see the Christ Child in every child, we learn how we are to love children.

Readings and Homily: 

It's not insignificant to remind ourselves that God became a human child for the same reason He became a human in general (to teach us humility in a way only He could and about the dignity of human life, including childhood). In His Childhood, God teaches us at different stages about not only the dignity of children in general, but also at different times, the virtues and gifts of humility, trust, obedience, and ultimately love (as at every stage of His life) to show us how to live at every stage of our lives. In the Presentation, He shows us in particular the importance of humility just by sitting in his mother's arms and allowing her to carry Him into the temple (as are we to rely on each other and be for each other the crutch). He was also there in the midst of those worshiping, foreshadowing His later words: "For wherever two or three gather together in my name, I am there with them" (Matthew 18:20), and the Gospel tells us that despite His meekness and ordinary appearance, even then He didn't go unnoticed.

The gospel of Luke points out two elderly individuals in the temple who seemed to "know in whom they believed," and saw this Child for who He was. The first was an elderly man named Simeon, who the gospel tells us had been informed by the Spirit that he would not see death until his eyes had looked upon the Christ (Luke 2:26). He "came into the temple in the Spirit" (directed by the Spirit that is), and saw the infant Jesus and immediately took Him in his arms, and prophesied. We see in this man Simeon a type of "child-lover" as a man who was not the parent of the child but yet still loved Him for who He was, and we can draw a lesson from that and what follows. He first praised God, that he (like us) may "go in peace" after having encountered the Christ, and also called this meek little infant "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel" (Luke 2:32). Jesus, like many children before him and after him, had truly "lit up" not just the room, but eventually the whole world. The Temple at Jerusalem was often seen as the "meeting place" of the whole world.

Then Simeon blessed the Child, and the words of his canticle blessing were like a second Annunciation (the first one was when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bring forth the Christ), and while the first Annunciation brought about joy mixed with hardship, Simeon's prophetic words are no less joyful, but ultimately imply great a hardship not just to Mary (the first Christian for whom a metaphorical "sword would pierce" in this life of hardship), but to the whole of Israel (and later, the rest of mankind) because of this Child:
"...Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother:
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted—
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
LK 2:33-35
Of particular note in these words of Simeon for childlovers is the reflection we can take on the "cross," because already we see this theme of "redemptive hardship" or "salvation by suffering" which would underscore Jesus's entire life, ministry, teaching, and sacrifice. Simeon says that Christ will be a "sign that will be contradicted," or "a sign of contradiction," (also translated as "opposition" or "spoken against"). In the word "contradiction" we get the imagery of two opposing forces coming together at a junction, like a cross. This is what the "Cross of Christ" really is, and when we are said to "take up our cross," what we are really doing is"taking up our contradiction." What is our contradiction? It can be many things, but basically, the contradiction of our souls is between everything that draws us toward God and everything that pulls us away from Him. In other words, it's everything that rejects us from the Earth (the ground), and everything that rejects us from Heaven (the sky), so we end up "suspended" as it were between the ground and the sky or "between heaven and earth," like Christ was on the cross.

In more practical terms, the cross (or "contradiction") is the "war" between the flesh and the spirit, as St. Paul describes: "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want" (Galatians 5:17). For childlovers, this war between flesh and spirit can play out in many ways, but one of the most common is that between sexual desire and the desire to love children as God loves them (that is, with purity). As King David in the opening prayer psalm points out, "who can stand in [the Lord's] holy place? The clean of hand and pure of heart..." (Psalm 24:4). Obviously "clean of hand" can mean never actually harming a child or touching a child in an inappropriate way, and "pure of heart" means not just never deriving perverse pleasure even from appropriate touch (a handshake) but also not having perverse desires about children to begin with! Good luck with that!

Indeed, you may take the words of the disciples on your lips: "Who then CAN be saved??" (Luke 18:26/Matthew 19:25, emphasis added). By those terms, no one can stand in the sight of the Lord, for nobody is truly clean of hand, and certainly nobody is truly pure of heart (childlovers included), but that is what is required. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The Lord knows this conundrum and promises that we can made pure in heart, and in His mercy provides a way for us to become not only clean of hand, but also pure in heart (in Christ the Lord, our spotless sacrifice, the Lamb Abraham said "God will provide" (Genesis 22:8). When His righteousness was substituted on the physical cross for our iniquity, and when we join our continual sufferings on our spiritual cross (enduring temptations and loneliness) to His once-and-for-all sufferings, we achieve His continual redemption by His once-and-for-all action. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews: 
"Since the children [believers] share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested." HEB 2:14-18
Who is being tested? All of us. Each and every day of our lives we are tested like Christ was in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11), and we are basically to apply His answers to each of the Devil's temptations and in doing so rely on His perseverance in hardship. Sexual desire is one of the strongest temptations there is and leads us into all sorts of very sordid habits (not just childlovers, but everyone). Childlovers feel tempted to sexually perverse behaviors no more or less than anyone else, but often have no other outlet for these desires. But just because there is no sexual outlet for the childlover does not mean there is no spiritual outlet which is infinitely greater. The childlover shouldn't be thinking so much of what they are saying "no" to (desires of the flesh), but what they are saying "yes" to (a life of holiness)! They should see not just what they are losing (the sexual desire for children) but what they are gaining in the process (redemption, for themselves and for others, that the will of God be done). God takes everything that leads to death, but He does not take anything that He doesn't repay with even greater abundance in life.

God is therefore asking us, "can you endure it?" Those who do receive the assurance of "blessings" and "justice" from his "saving God." Life may be hard, but chances are it was going to be hard for a childlover anyways (with or without God). The cross is there on our backs whether we acknowledge it or not. If we ignored the cross and went and inappropriately touched a child (God forbid), the cross is now our jail sentence. If we knew the cross and abstained from ever inappropriately touching a child, then the cross is the desire we must endure. This is the "sword" that pierces our heart just as it pierced the heart of Mary (as well as the lance that pierced Christ's side, "near his heart"), as Simeon prophesied. It hurts to accept the cross, but there can be no healing without hurting. We can try to "numb" our wound with sexual gratification (sex or masturbation), or we can let ourselves feel it, and "tell Him where it hurts" (in prayer), so that He may "kiss it any make it better" (in His parental love for us, his "children") and say "it's okay, you'll live." For indeed, "it is not the healthy that have need of a doctor, but the sick" (Mark 2:17). Abstaining from sexual desire hurts, yes, but so did the cross. At the end of the cross though is total healing and peace, not just a perpetual "numbing" of the pain.

Whatever our situation, enduring the cross we are dealt, whether fair or unfair, is what produces perseverance, and through perseverance, Christian perfection: holiness. "...but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Bear your contradiction to console the heart of Christ, and allow your suffering and His to be one and the same, and ONLY then you will be "Christ-like" in this life and beyond.

Hang in there. 

Grace and peace be to you, in all your joyful sufferings.

Closing Prayer (PS 24:4-5):
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain.
He will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from his saving God. Amen.

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