In yesterday’s post, I referred to fr Timothy Radcliffe’s comment that the Hail Mary encompasses the only three moments in human life of which we can be absolutely certain : that we were born, that we must die, and now; and I observed that the effect of this truth on human aspiration, and especially on the current belief in human control of life, is often – perhaps perversely – seen as belittling, rather than empowering.
Now in one sense it is, of course, belittling; it makes us recognize that we are not omnipotent, and that in reality we have little or no control over anything very much at all (and certainly not the world in which we live – think Tsunami, think Haiti)) – but in another sense it is supremely empowering, if we can find the humility to accept it.
The empowerment it gives us, it seems to me, is that of understanding that God’s world is actually a very simple place, and one which does not require the cleverness and complexity which we as a human race love so much.
A friend made a powerful point to me recently : that ultimately there’s only ever one choice for any of us – is it ‘Thy will’, or ‘my will’ be done ? – and surely, there can’t get any simpler choice than that.
Jesus said that we had to become like little children if we wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven; and what He means, of course, is that we much cultivate just those virtues which, in a child, do not need to be cultivated, because they are inherent – but in most people disappear all too swiftly, and finally, as we grow older.
Dom Hubert van Zeller explains it thus : ‘The aim for us who are grown up will be twofold. On the negative side it assumes the avoidance of tendencies not normally associated with small children : suspicion of others, double dealing, taking malicious advantage, giving scandal and rejoicing in scandals, resentment against God’s will, gloating over the failures of others, pride, self-pity, despair. Infants who showed such inclinations would be monsters. On the positive side it tries to develop habits, instinctive in children, or trust, undiscriminating love, acceptance of life as it presents itself from day to day, taking happiness for granted and not questioning it, looking out for the good which is enjoyed with unselfconscious pleasure.’ 1
He continues that Our Lord is not seeking to make us imagine ourselves back into the state of innocence which we had before we reached the ago of reason : ‘it is not innocence so much as integrity that has to be aimed at’.
Ultimately, he maintains, the problem is that we are cluttered up with the ‘complexity of secular, rationalistic, hedonistic thought’; and that freeing ourselves from that will give us a great advance in simplicity, which in turn will lead us towards God, Who is ultimately simple.
S. Therése of Lisieux, who was an introspective child, ready to burst into tears at the slightest snub, real or imagined, might have become a hypersensitive woman who lurched from breakdown to breakdown, had she not entered Carmel. There, taking herself in hand, she found the famous ‘way of spiritual childhood’ – a way founded in increasing simplicity of life and prayer : the self subjected to the will, the will subjected to, and dependent upon God – exactly that ‘spiritual childhood’ of which Our Lord makes mention.
Children depend on others : it never occurs to them not to. They willingly – indeed naturally – depend on their parents and relatives, their teachers, their friends . . . indeed, in recent years, the readiness of children to depend on adults in particular has been the cause of problems, as pædophile ‘grooming’ has abused exactly this willingness.
When Jesus tells us to become as little children, this too is what he means : not only simplicity, but also dependence – and yet dependence is in its own way a part of simplicity, because dependence is, essentially, simple . . . it creates no concerns, and arouses no fears – in children. Adults fear dependency, because they fear what might go wrong : children have no fear, because they ‘know’ that all will be well.
If we love God, we need have no fear, and we can depend on Him entirely : ‘in love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear’. 2
So : if we simply accept that we aren’t so clever, depend on God, and then enjoy the wonders of the world He gives us, rather than trying to control them – which we can’t’ do anyway – we shall not only have a happier and more fulfilling life here; we shall also, by God’s grace, share eternity with Him in His kingdom.
1 Leave Your Life Alone : Dom Hubert van Zeller (Sheed & Ward, London, 1973)
2 1 John 4 : 18