September 23, 2018

Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin in the Book of Wisdom (a book that Catholics accept as Scripture but Jews and Protestants don’t). The author speaks of how the godless lie in wait for the virtuous. He says that they should attack this person for he has becoming an annoyance. If he God’s son, God will save him. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus told his followers that he would be put to death and rise three days later. The didn’t understand what he was talking about and were afraid to ask him. Jesus knew his disciples were arguing and asked about their disagreement. They confessed that they argued about which was the greatest. Jesus gathered the Twelve and told them that their leader should make himself last. Jesus then placed a child in his arms and said: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This weekend Catholics all over the world will hear that there is a difference between being childish and childlike. There is truth to this, but it needs to be understood in its context. When an adult tells another adult to “stop being childish” it’s a pretty serious charge: It means that the person is being self centered and cares only for himself.

But here’s the thing: children should be childish. They are new to this world and they spend their time figuring out how everything works; they are self centered because they need to find themselves in our world. They can’t become adults until they learn how the world works and where they fit in.

I’ve spoken about this before, but I find great frustration in seeing smart, talented adults clinging to a faith that stopped making sense when they became adolescents.

And while some do that, others go too far in the other direction. They see faith as so intellectual that most of us can’t understand it. Several years ago I got a job at a Catholic church. I was hired to replace a priest who needed to leave and didn’t want to. In his frustration he told me that he “knew more than anyone” on the board that we answered to. He was right in the fact that he was more educated than them (or me). But he falsely believed that this made him smarter and a better disciple.

I ended up succeeding him. In no measure was I smarter than him but that wasn’t my intent. I didn’t try to be childish and I didn’t try to be smarter. I recognized the virtue in being like a child. I recognized that my role didn’t call me to show everyone how smart I was, but instead to show how helpful I was.

Much of the time I tried to keep things simple. When we leave childhood we oftentimes think that we need to make things more more difficult or complicated in the false belief that it makes us better adults. But children, in their wisdom, have much to teach us. As they form an understanding of our world they also grasp concepts that we adults try to ignore.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gave his followers a roadmap for the rest of his earthly life. He told them that he would be put to death and would then rise on the third day. We know the end of the story, that he was crucified on Good Friday and rose on Easter, but they didn’t. And they were afraid to ask what he meant.

But if one, only one, of his followers had a childlike faith, he would have asked: “What do you mean?” They may have been afraid of the answer he would have given, but more likely they didn’t want to appear foolish in front of Jesus and their peers. A childlike faith doesn’t ignore education or status, but it does show the courage to ask the simplest of questions. It looks on an event without the fear of appearing foolish or fearful. It looks on an event in the hopes of finding the answer that nobody else had the courage to ask.

In my role as a hospice chaplain I’m often tasked with translating medical jargon to patients and families. When given the opportunity to speak with medical students I tell them about this. I explain that if they say something to a patient that the patient doesn’t understand they won’t ask for clarification. Instead they will think they’re stupid and an opportunity to teach will be lost.

A childlike faith would have given his followers the courage to see the arrest and execution of Jesus in a larger context. It would have given them the ability to witness his crucifixion with the understanding that he would rise.

It would have made all the difference.