Advent, Reflections

Poor and Childlike: Open to Reality

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

Who are the “wise and the learned” that Jesus is talking about?

They are those who have already made up their minds about how the world works. They have shut their hearts tight against the possibility of something outside their own expectations, outside their own philosophies, outside their frame of reference. And so the truth remains hidden from them. There’s no room for grace.

This reminded me of that beautiful last verse of this past Sunday’s first reading: “Oh Lord, you are our father! We are the clay and you the potter.” The truth of God is hidden from the “wise and the learned,” because they have unfortunately become dry and brittle clay. They are not ready to be sculpted by the Father.

Theologian Luigi Giussani proposed that the antidote to this brittle stubbornness is to become poor. He says that when Christ taught “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he was saying on a deeper level: “Blessed are they who have no personal agenda to promote and defend. Blessed are they who are totally open to the fullness of reality and are willing to conform themselves to it. Blessed are they who are ready and willing to be sculpted by a Father who loves them unconditionally.”

In other words, the poor in spirit are the childlike. Kids aren’t preoccupied by the kind of small-minded ideologies we find so often in the news and in our own hearts. Kids aren’t in this or that camp, this or that clique. They are simple. They are innocent. They are open to the truth of things in a way that nobody else really is.

We, on the other hand, like to think we’re in control, right? We like our pre-formed opinions of how things ought to work… how God should act… what direction the parish, the diocese, the entire Church should be going in! These pre-conceptions make us feel safe, and we will often defend them against anyone who would disrupt or expand them. But what if we’re only fending off grace? What if we are becoming “wise and learned” in our own eyes?  What if we start fighting off Christ and His Church?

We follow a very unexpected Savior. We have not promised allegiance to a God who overpowers us through wisdom and knowledge, but rather the Christ who became poor for our sake. Who became small. Who literally became “child-like” in the manger for us. This is what we are preparing for in this season of Advent — to welcome into our lives once more the all-powerful God who emptied himself and become powerless for you and for me. He more than anybody else shows us what it means to be clay in the hand of the potter, completely malleable to the Father’s will.

We need to follow him. We need to stop hiding behind ideological camps. We need to become small and poor — more child-like. This doesn’t mean, as some might object, that we have license to become child-ish… to become irresponsible and lax, or to be openminded to each and every idea, however opposed to objective truth. GK Chesterton famously once said: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

To be truly child-like means to learn how to see the fullness of reality simply for what it is. To be radically open, through the Holy Spirit, to the truth of God — a truth that is so much more beautiful and well-rounded than any narrow prejudice this world can offer.

Too often we hear that religious people are close-minded — that we are rigid. But this is a lie… or at least it ought to be. No, the sincerely religious person should be the most open-minded person around, because they are willing to stand before the whole of reality… not some limited and biased cross-section of it… and respond in faith to the God who upholds everything. They recognize most fully that they cannot become truly wise and learned without first bending their knee to the one who is himself All wise, all Knowing.

Perhaps Monsignor Ronald Knox put it best when he said: “There is headroom in the cave of Bethlehem for everybody who knows how to stoop.”

We are now on the way to Bethlehem again. If we are to adore the newborn Lord, we must become more child-like during this season of Advent. Only in child-like simplicity, in the poverty of a truly open mind, will we hear God say once more: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.”

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