Wednesday, 26 December 2018
All over the world nativity scenes are glowing with light. Millions of Christmas cards impressed with the visage of the infant Jesus. There is something about Christmas that touches the hardest of hearts.
There is something about the scene of a husband and wife and a newborn child in a stable, surrounded by animals and straw that awakens the deepest aspects of our humanity. Stirring us to secretly contemplate the divine, whether we know it or not, as we look in wonder at this now familiar, yet wonderfully strange scene.
Here is a child, a tender newborn that lies helpless in littleness. Relying on Mary his Mother, and Joseph as putative Father. Something draws us to this little baby. A mysterious divine power magnetises men, women and children of every age to come to adore Him, to behold Him, to marvel at the mystery of the God who has become so approachable and convincing in tenderness. What heart can really dare resist?
The angel told the shepherds, "You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). The angel did not say, 'You will find the child in the arms of Mary,' or 'In the arms of a man named Joseph,' but "in a manger."
For as much as Mary deserved to hold this child more than anyone else, and as much as Joseph held second and equal standing in the right to cradle this child in his arms, this child was no ordinary child. This child was God, and God belongs to all. Mary sacrificed extensive cuddles to set Him before all. Joseph stood back in wonder, leaving space for the shepherds to adore.
Spiritually we receive the message in this subtle gesture that Mary and Joseph do not want to hog this child, but they want to invite us to come to Him, to be with Him, to hold Him in our hearts and adore with grateful love. Smelly animals surround Him in the stable, so our sinfulness must not stop us from coming to Him. This Child is Jesus, Saviour of the World. This Child loves us and will melt away our sins, our fears, our doubts. We must only come to Him and say not a thing. We must only come. We must only close our eyes with longing, and we will be there beside our little God who lies within the manger of our heart.
Every mother and father will eventually have to let go of their child - to life, to growth, to change. So many people, for many various reasons, never have a child: men, women, priests, nuns, monks, ordinary people, couples too. Little kids often play-act as fathers and mothers, perhaps treating their doll like a child - such children are much too small and young to have a real child. Some have had a child, and indeed still do, but not on this earth, since their child died prematurely in the womb, miscarried, or died in unfortunate circumstances.
Yet whoever we be, this little child of Christmas - this child is all ours. Let us find consolation in that and marvel at the wonderful gift of Jesus, our Saviour, our God, our King, our Master, our Teacher - all these things, but who is also our child, our baby, and no one can take Him from us, "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). This is the meaning of the words, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given" (Is 9:6).
He is not far, our little child, but within. He is our true Inner Child. We feed this Child with our devotion of love. A simple silent pause, a smile of recognition, a word of thanks, is enough to make this Child within us glad.
But sin hurts Him. The devil makes us think sin doesn't exist. That sin is okay, that it doesn't hurt anyone. But this is a lie. It hurts Jesus. It wounds the presence and life of this Child within us. Let us not sin. Let us come to Him in prayer, sorry and resolved to live anew for Him like a responsible parent, a little friend, a loving sibling.
Let us live for Him. Let us worship this Child. The desire to worship lies within us all. No human child can measure up, but this one does. This one is also God. Let us worship Him in secret, in the stable of our heart. There He lives and longs for us. Let us go to Him and learn what it means to live a life rich with meaning.
Come let us adore Him.
Sunday, 7 October 2018
Creation hums and whirls; moth, mosquito,leaf unfurl,Cricket-lutes, amphibian pipes—all bandto play.Who would guess He orchestrates,fiddles on the blades the cattle tend,dances on the hilltops as mountain lion,as antelope on plain, swan on lack serene.One can see why tribal men bent and bowed,pointing to the sky, the tree, the fowl,and naming each force as deity—grand,supreme.For Maker strolls through garden veiled,carrying molecules like chicklets in weavedbasket of his hand,tracing the galaxies like Christ-finger in sand,and all palm leaves, volcanic mounds and cedar polesvibrate at His Name;with soil and stones and tiny things panting for His step,since winds His way as Spirit-Breath in all that is—a Bee with heaven-hive and Queen, Who gathers pollen-moistand warm and rich upon the crests of land and lochs and seas,from Silva-Ecclesia—Flower-Field—He planted as Adam-seed;reborn as blossom from Jesse’s stem.For flowers ripe and many, a pollen flock He drawsand harvest-plucks through angel-bees that buzz and dart.And all that Wonderland above mirror-glows beneath,all warmed, caressed by Phoebus it’d seem,splashed and brought to life by Helicon’s wash,but all is wild and meekly-fierce with radiant bursts of Love,a Love Divine! sublime as wine, as milk, as honey from the tap—drip, dripping from celestial ceiling where Muse reclines;fair Majesty, the Mistress, Lady Empress, Mother of All-Living Things,sweet Virgin May, Mary of Galilee, Nazareth’s maid,crowned with petal-cups the childe-flowers made;and it is She who brought Maker nearand smeared honey on the globe.So is it any wonder why witch and Celt smell the roseand call upon the stars—the set, the fell, rubbed on toad?They twist the blade the Maker made, and play a different tune.O unaware, the rare, the raw, the bloody-paw,pierced by blade, mauled and stung;of Judah-Bee, that Lion free, Antelope, Swan, the Wordset free the globe,the honey-sphere, with nectar spread, bled on Bread,all universe unknowing feeds and fed.The Baker watched His rise,unchained the starches from the captive-dead,squeezed the udders of the world and tied all nature to His Mother,Eve Supernal cried, but tied, re-born, secured forever with umbilicallight the beam, the string He orchestrates,redeems.Unseen He walks and flies,grander than an elf, a fairy king,tickling the lyre—and Liar with his lies,that pointed to the sky, the tree, the fowl, doth flee—and whispers He sacred lullabies in garden green,in spots unkept, in shades, in moss, in mud and far outcrop:to every soul-flower—He smiles and sows and tries to tearthe eyes (mine and ours and theirs)—the pistil from its grip—to see as Francis saw, to worship no veil, no sail,but One that blows the stardust in their spheres;since mast-cloth tore, the bondage Christ broke and breaksand will break morethrough men grown tall stooping as tree that falls,that burns to ash, to dust, burning in that Loveand fanned by Bird, by Bee—blown awake as bloom:childes whose Spirit-Breath, honeyed perfume, is leaven for the world;that sweetens all nature for eschaton-leisure;Creator’s play;O He delights while snow-sugared creationis driven from decay.
5 / 10 / 2018
Wednesday, 26 September 2018
Looking at Mark's Gospel in the Aramaic, this article explores the 'Little Way' of St. Therese as the art of allowing Jesus to lift us up like little children unto the shoulders of His Holiness.
Setting the Scene
So Jesus is walking with His disciples. Earlier Jesus carried out some missionary work, and coming through Galilee He foretells about His pending death and resurrection. As they approach the fishing-village Capernaum, ironically in contrast to the self-sacrifice of Jesus just mentioned to them, the disciples are bickering among themselves— ‘Who among us is the greatest?’
Jesus is aware of this but says nothing while on the journey. He is patient. He lets them play ‘big shots.’ He knows full well that He will teach them a lesson which will sink in all the more because of the humiliation of been corrected. It’s easy to deny a sin when it’s hidden and swimming around in the mind and heart. But it’s hard to deny a sin once it has come out into the open in act or speech. By its outward manifestation one’s need for purification is made clear. Jesus wants to expose to His healing Light the remains of darkness within His disciples. He wants to purge them, as He wants to purge us, of the darkness of sin. He wants to make them “children of light” while there is still time (Jn 12:16).
They enter a familiar house to lodge, and Jesus baits them, “What were you discussing along the way?” (Mk 9:33). The Greek here is more direct—διελογίζεσθε: “What were you deliberating / debating / trying to reason-out along the way?” The disciples are sheepish. They know exactly what they were talking about, and they’ve been around Jesus long enough to work out they were in the wrong. So they keep silent. They say not a word. οἱ δὲ ἐσιώπων πρὸς ἀλλήλους – literally, “they were mute with one another,” or “dumb to one another.” And the verb used here for ‘to be silent, mute, dumb,’ typically infers involuntary muteness. Thus silence fell over them through the prick of their conscience. They were mortified for having been caught out! Caught out by the one they were trying to impress the most. Caught out in a fishing village mind you!
The Gospel of Mark goes on:
And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (9:35-37).
In The Greek
Mark’s Gospel account is subtly different to both Matthew’s (18:1-5) and Luke’s (18:15-17). Matthew and Luke record the aspect of Jesus’ calling the little child over to Him, while Mark records the gesture of Jesus in receiving the child.
The key Greek word here is ἐναγκαλίζομαι (enagkalizomai) and within the syntactic-context means, “having taken him in His arms,” or “having embraced him [in His arms].” The image is complimented by the Latin translation of the Greek, quem cum conplexus esset, that is, The child “whom when he had embraced / encompassed [with his arms].” There is a lot to draw from with this imagery—Jesus embraces the child in His arms and shows the child to His disciples, telling them they must imitate this child, and receive all people, especially the vulnerable, with an encompassing embrace of acceptance and whole-hearted love.
In The Aramaic
However, the Peshitta, written in Aramaic, paints a different image. A tiny minority of scholars argue for the Aramaic primacy hypothesis, at least for certain New Testament books, over the Greek. Putting this issue aside, Aramaic was the lingua franca of first-century Palestine. Its exegetical value can hardly be dismissed regardless of one’s stance. The text and its translation is as follows:
(Hebrew script): ושׁקלה על דרעוהי
(Estrangelo script): ܘܫܲܩܠܸܗ ܥܲܠ ܕܪܵܥܵܘܗܝ
and He took /lifted him on / upon / over his shoulders
The word ܕܪܵܥܵܘܗܝ / דרעוהי has the singular masculine third-person suffix, type two—the form used for plural nouns. Thus although the plural of the word ܕܪܵܥ / דרע can mean either arms or shoulders, the preposition ܥܲܠ / על means “on, over, upon, above,” and makes it most likely to mean “shoulders.”
The image is quite different to that drawn from the Greek and somewhat more powerful. Verse 36 would thus read, “And He [Jesus] took a boy-child and set him in the midst [of them] and he lifted him upon His shoulders and said to them…” Here Jesus is shown not to merely embrace the child, and this is arguably a part of the process, but ultimately Jesus lifts him up and places him on top of His shoulders, so that sitting or standing there, the child would rise higher than Jesus’ head.
The profundity of this gesture is realised within the context of Jesus’ lesson. He is teaching the disciples that if they want to be great or ‘big’ in the Kingdom of Heaven, they must become small like children, humble in service and simple in spirit. Jesus’ gesture of raising up the little child upon His shoulders highlights this truth: if you are little in spirit, God will lift you up to the heights of sanctity; if you make yourself last, God will make you first in His Kingdom; if you humble yourself in the eyes of God and men, God will exalt you in the sight of Himself and all men. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
St. Therese’s Lift / Elevator
St. Therese of the Child Jesus is a master of the art of decreasing. It has become known as spiritual childhood and the sanctity of littleness. Her ‘Little Way,’ expounded upon within her autobiography, Story of a Soul, contains a reference that ties in nicely with this theme of Jesus lifting the child upon His shoulders as an image of what perfect spirituality means. She writes…
You know it has ever been my desire to become a Saint, but I have always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds.
Instead of being discouraged, I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have elevators instead. Well, I mean to try and find an elevator by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. I have sought to find in Holy Scripture some suggestion as to what this lift might be which I so much desired, and I read these words uttered by the Eternal Wisdom Itself: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me.” Then I drew near to God, feeling sure that I had discovered what I sought; but wishing to know further what He would do to the little one, I continued my search and this is what I found: “You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you.”
Never have I been consoled by words more tender and sweet. Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.
St. Therese’s words open the Gospel to us and help us draw not just an intellectual lesson from this scene of Jesus’ lifting-up the child, but an applicable spiritual reality: Jesus wants to make it easy for us, He wants to make us happy, holy and to fulfil the deepest desires of our heart. He doesn’t want us to thrash around in the spiritual life, making things harder than it ought to be. He doesn’t want us to grind away in exerting our will-power to make ourselves holy—boy, what a botch job we do! He wants to do the sanctifying, and He wants us to learn to die to our grandiosity and to start to surrender to His Will, to His grace at work within us, and for us to simply fulfil our simple duties with great love and to constantly offer our imperfections into His hand, while we try our best. Above all He wants us to always retain the confidence of a child! To believe that God our Father loves us, and to trust in that love.
The simple fact is that Jesus wants to lift us up like children, He wants us, just as He wanted His disciples back then, to be little, secure in the self-knowledge of our ineptness to be spiritual ‘big shots,’ to put aside all such desires, and to simply rely on God for everything. He’ll do the lifting!
In the Gospel, the child for his part had to do nothing but allow Jesus to lift him up. Drawing from Matthew and Luke’s Gospel this was preceded by Jesus’ calling the child over to Him. Here we thus see two key steps that we must take—steps only made possible by God's grace of course!
The Call—The ‘Yes’
First is the call—Jesus calls us to Himself through so many means, but above all, in our hearts, our consciences, our souls. God in Christ has a plan for us, and each day certain duties and opportunities to love and know Him have been ordained for us. The child in the Gospel responded to the call of Jesus with a “Yes!” Maybe silently, maybe with a shout of glee, but most likely with eagerness, maybe even running into His arms.
Spiritually speaking, are we like that child? Maybe not. Maybe we’re zapped of childlike zest and are lounging around in the spirit, content to live in our little slot like a sloppy mush of mashed potatoes which some Cafeteria mama has slapped into the ‘designated place’ of a prisoner’s food-tray. Jesus is calling to us, “Come on over here,” and maybe we’re content to be blobs of apathy—not caring about our further conversion, or even anything spiritual at all. Or maybe we’re like one of those flimsy toothpicks that break too easily—too shy and timid with God and are ‘happy’ being misery-guts, complaining about how bad or ‘blah’ we are to ourselves, to others, or to God in prayer, or using it as an excuse ‘not to pray,’ instead of owning up for sins, repenting, and moving on to run and spiritually hug Jesus who should be our focus.
No one wants to be a blob of apathy or a flimsy-tooth pick! Who doesn’t want to find a way of life that makes everything easier? Not in a hedonistic or worldly sense—the cross is inevitable and necessary. But who doesn’t want to taste and see what Jesus meant when He said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:30)? That those who pick up their daily cross and follow Him can live life and live it to the full (Jn 10:10) just like a child who has no worries and finds the secret to true and inner happiness?
Jesus is calling us, “Come my child.” He sees us as we were made to be. He sees our inner child, who we really are, and who we’ve always longed to be. Yes, He sees our sins, even the most secretive, which hides who we are from ourselves and others, but unlike the world which fakes-it and pretends the dirt of sin is clean, and that our sins make us innocent, He sees our brokenness and shame for what it is and still unconditionally loves us. He calls us to Himself. We need not wait to be ‘perfect’ before we respond or else we’ll never get there. He wants us to come as we are, sorry for sins, but confident in His big love. We needn’t worry about how dirty we are, if we’re willing to say “yes” to His call of love He will wash us, He will give us strength, guidance, the faith we need, the trust—we need only say “yes.”
We can even ask for the grace that we might want to say “yes” and mean it. The difference between been a spiritual ‘big shot’ try-hard, an apathetic blob, and a timid-flimsy-tooth-pick-of-a-soul is the “yes.” It all begins and ends with “yes.” “Yes,” to whatever God is calling us to, wherever that might be, and whatever that might involve. God doesn’t care much for pious and holy experts, He only values the unconditional “yes” of the soul, because with the “yes” of the weakest, most sinful, least virtuous, least polished, roughest, crustiest and most inept soul on the planet, He can do infinitely more than He can with the strongest, most mortified, pious and well-endowed soul who says “no,” and wants to live the spiritual life according to his own way. Our “yes” is everything to God. He loves it!
Allowing Jesus to Lift Us Up in Our Littleness
The second step of securing spiritual childlikeness or littleness follows on from this. It is to allow Jesus to lift us up into His arms and upon His shoulders. That is, to lift us up into His Holiness and Greatness, even while we remain little and fumbling in our weakness. How do we allow Jesus to do that? There are two key elements to this.
Not Bolting! A Constant ‘Yes’
Firstly, like the child in the Gospel we mustn’t run away from Jesus and head into the hills! Maybe a little tentative squirming is going happen, but we mustn’t bolt for it by our “no”. We mustn’t withdraw our “yes” to Jesus and His plan for us: His plan for our life in general, and His plan for our sanctity.
Both Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ ‘setting the child in the midst’ of the disciples. The Greek verb translated as “he set” is ἔστησεν, which also means ‘to make stand, to set in place, to establish, to make halt.’ ‘If one reads closely it is Jesus who is taking the child and setting the child in their midst—it is the action of Jesus, not the child, which establishes the child in such a position and makes the energetic bundle stay put. Likewise, it is Jesus who will establish us ‘in the midst’ (ἐν μέσῳ) of His disciples, that is, ‘in among’ His disciples, adding us to the ranks of His chosen ones and close followers, or in the terminology of St. Therese, adding us to the host of ‘little victims of God’s love’. It has nothing to do with how good or bad we are, or how perfect or imperfect—but it has everything to do with how good He is, and how perfect He is. Jesus can do it, and He will do it, He will establish us in His intimate company if only we say “yes” and keep saying “yes.” We must trust that He can do it—obviously, since He is God! We need only say “yes” and trust that He will say His “yes” in us.
Perhaps we might say to Jesus, “I say ‘yes’ with your ‘yes’ Lord.” Or, “I want what you want for me, and I surrender myself to Your Will for me.” This kind of talk is the prayer of a child of God and Jesus loves it, the Father loves it, and the Holy Spirits loves it. By means of such constant “yeses” - daily acts of surrendering trust - constituting a single ongoing “yes,” we allow Jesus to set us before Him, as He establishes us in a state of being where we are supple and docile to His sanctifying actions carried out by means of the Holy Spirit. Sanctifying actions at work within our inner life and outer life. Everything will serve to lead us nearer to Jesus, nearer to God. For “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom 8:28a).
This is the first element of allowing Jesus to spiritually lift us up upon His shoulders, instead of trying to grow to His stature in vain. It is the means by which we allow God to dispose us to be lifted up. The second element of allowing Jesus to lift us up can be framed positively and negatively.
The negative requirement isn’t something bad, but rather, a negation. It is detachment from all that is not God. Thus it is detachment from ourselves, from our own supposed virtues, from our way of trying to grow spiritually, from our life plan, and from the world and the trappings of material life. It is to remain content and happy in one’s nothingness—one’s littleness, ineptness. It doesn’t mean one stops trying to do their best, but simply, that one remains detached from themselves so that despite their feeble efforts and enduring imperfection, one is content to rejoice in their weakness because of the space it leaves for God’s Strength to dwell, and the necessity it sets up to rely even more on God and not on oneself. “Therefore,” writes St. Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9).
A key to such detachment is self-knowledge about our human limitation. We are imperfect, we are not saints in ourselves, and nor can we make ourselves as such. Nor are we able to do everything, and in fact, we cannot really do anything to moral perfection. By detachment we accept this fact, embrace it, and let go of that spirit of ‘bigness’ which inclines us toward thinking we’re alright on our own. By such detachment we know our need for God and cling to Him. Such detachment makes possible “the freedom… of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).
The thing is, we cannot inculcate the detachment we need except imperfectly. Still, grounded in this truth, we must do the little we can, the best we can, in our imperfect way, to detach ourselves from all that is not God. Essentially it means having a balanced life that includes prayer, the Sacraments and deeds of service—even to those nearest to us.
When it comes to carrying out harmless things we like doing in life, detachment means moderation and doing such things from a higher motive—to do it out of love for God, as an act of ‘offering it up’ and thanksgiving, instead of just doing such things without any deeper motive.
When it comes to our loved ones, detachment doesn’t mean cutting ourselves literally off from them or putting an emotional blockade between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ but it means putting God first and loving them not because they’re ‘loved ones,’ or ‘flesh and blood,’ or ‘favourite friends,’ but because God wants us to love them. Such detachment means we don’t put our faith and hope in our loved ones, expecting them to be gods who complete us and fulfill our every existential need. Such detachment thus frees us from burdening others with overly-high expectations. We’re thus free to love for the sake of love, and love is God. Such detachment makes us free like children, docile to God’s Will, to even leave ‘loved ones’ for the sake of the Kingdom if necessary. It is a detachment which cuts us off from our plans for our ‘loved ones’ and leads us to accept God’s plan for them—even if it seems to be a very slow work in progress. It’s a detachment grounded in the confident hope of joining them in the ‘forever after’ of eternal life.
As mentioned, the irony is that such detachment cannot be had except imperfectly if we try to be detached in our own strength. Our own feeble cooperative efforts to be sanctified must be set within the broader expanse of our surrendering our imperfect efforts into His hands, without even looking and bothering about the progress of our sanctification, for that is God’s concern. Our detachment must include detachment from ‘seeing how we’re going’ and ‘how we’re measuring up’. To focus on these things is to lose our littleness and slip into becoming spiritual ‘bigshots’. Our only concern should be to repent when we fall, to do what we must with love, and giving it all to God, the good, bad and in-between, trusting that He’ll sort us out and sanctify us.
Such blind trust in God’s greatness at work within our soul is at the heart of spiritual detachment—a detachment which constitutes ‘littleness’ and the simplicity of spiritual childhood. This detachment is alluded to in the Gospel by the phrase, “And he took a child”. For Jesus will take us away from what can threaten our ‘littleness’ and so in drawing us to Himself He will be able to lift us, being as we are small and light as a child, and not some big heavy ‘adult’ who doesn’t give Jesus this permission because of our attachment to our own stature of holiness.
We can’t make ourselves perfectly detached but Jesus has given us His Mother, and through trust in Her, combined with our feeble efforts given over to Jesus and Mary, we can possess Her perfect detachment. For Mary is the one who “took (λαβὼν) the child” or “received the child” Jesus from the Father in Heaven, and through Her perfect detachment, allowed Her human nature to be lifted-up to be attached to the Godhead, and so God was able to be attached to Mary and in Her womb become man. The detachment of Mary thus made it possible for God to become a child; and our very own spiritual childhood is made perfectly possible through Mary and Her detachment which we must claim and use in faith. Simply speaking, to be perfectly detached we need to cling to Mary in true devotion so that all that She is and has, including Her detachment, becomes our own.
The detachment we need to become like little children is thus a grace from God, given through Mary. Detached with Mary’s detachment we are light and ready to be lifted-up by Jesus upon His shoulders, into the height of His Godhead. Yet it’s not enough to be light and ready in order to be lifted-up, so that Jesus can compensate for our littleness with His Greatness. Jesus works on love, and gives us freedom, and so we have to want to be lifted-up. We need to desire to be little and to be lifted-up.
Detachment is one necessary side of this coin, yet ultimately detachment is the underside of the more important positive side of attachment to God. Basically, such attachment to God is founded in our desire, our positive willingness to want to be lifted-up by God. This entails a desire to let God be God within us, to want God to be able to use us as He wants to, to complete His designs of sanctity within us. It means desiring that God would be our everything. It is desire for God’s Will—pure and simple! Such desire says, “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will,” (Ps 40). This is all a synonym for love—desire being the root of love. As Aquinas says, “Desire for a thing always presupposes love for that thing.”
The funny thing is, that even in trying to desire God’s Will—to desire Him to lift us up and carry us on His shoulders, and to manoeuvre us wherever, and in whatever way He knows best—we can fall prey to the spirit of bigness, as if it were up to us to conjure the perfect desire to make us perfectly disposed to God’s ways. We can’t do this, imperfection is our domain. So how then do we desire God perfectly? Mary.
It was the perfect desire of Mary, so ardent in its longing for the Messiah, that brought about the Incarnation. Not as the cause, but as the instrumental cause. For while God the Word desired to become incarnate as a child on earth, it was through Mary’s perfect desire for this mystery to be accomplished that God could finally realise His desire to lift-up human nature to an indissoluble union with the Divine. By our devotion to Mary, taking Her perfect desire as our own, we allow God to make us true little children of the Kingdom, lifted-up into the great holiness of His Divinity, just as through Mary’s desire He too became a child, lowered into the fragility of our humanity.
St. Therese highlights the essential role of desire in her ‘Little Way.’ “I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness.” God wants us to be filled with desires set on Him, namely, of becoming intimate with Him, and therefore of becoming holy. The thing is, the substratum of the Theresian logic of sanctity is ‘littleness’ and thus she says, “I am not trusting in my own merits, for I have none; but I trust in Him Who is Virtue and Holiness itself.” For Therese, God is her Holiness. Hence we must interpret the essential role of desires in the ‘Little Way’ as referring to little and imperfect desires on the part of the soul—however great they may be, but as deriving their greatness and efficacy in realising what is desired because of the faith placed in the corresponding desires that are found in God—desires which are perfect and efficacious. The unspoken medium here is Mary—so central to Therese and her personal Carmelite spirituality; whom the logic of Catholic faith tells us is the created treasury of God, perfectly disposed to Him. In Mary then, we will find the perfect desire we need to live out the ‘Little Way’. We will long and desire for God, yearning to be lifted-up into His Holiness—into perfect union with Him—with that perfect longing and desire of Mary.
The Arms of God: Mary and Joseph
We have covered something of what it means to allow Jesus to lift us up upon His shoulders, but what are the arms of Jesus? This sounds like a strange question. Well, He was both God and Man, and so the literal human arms of Jesus were the instrument of what we might figuratively call the Divine Arms of Jesus—signifying the might and loving strength of the Godhead. As in “mighty is Your arm” (Ps 89:13) and “your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great” (Ps 18:35).
|"14th-century fresco of the Flight into Egypt at the Decani Monastery in Kosovo." [Credit: Via His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh], source.|
Yet we must remember that the Incarnation, that is, that the Word’s taking on human nature was enabled to occur because of a God ordained Incarnational-context. This living context was a family and relied on two human persons and their marriage: Mary and Joseph. It was Mary and Joseph who in a sense gave the human nature to God, which is to say, God gave Himself a human nature through Mary and Joseph. Mary directly as Mother, and Joseph indirectly as ‘one in spirit’ with Mary, and as virginal father of the Incarnate Word.
This is why Fr. Andrew Doze in his excellent and compound book on St. Joseph, refers to Mary and Joseph as the arms of God—the two created beings through which God carries out His work. After all, we use our arms for work, and God uses Mary and Joseph as His arms to carry out the work of redemption and its ongoing process in the sanctification of the Church, including our own personal sanctification. It was through these two ‘arms’ of Mary and Joseph that God carried out the work of the Redemption—which begun with the Incarnation; and so too, through these chosen arms of the Body of Christ, God continues His sanctifying work in and upon us.
What does this mean? It means Jesus the Head of the Church will do the lifting—bringing us into the height of His own Holiness so long as we are little like children, but that this lifting and making us into children, is carried out by means of the Arms of Christ’s Mystical Body: Mary and Joseph. (Whether we realise it and/or capitalise on it or not). Our true devotion to them will secure us as little children of the Kingdom. For devotion to Mary and Joseph brings us into a participation in the Incarnation Mystery and while enfolded in their patronage they will teach us the art of littleness. Why? Because they’re experts of littleness—since they knew the Great God as a tiny infant and little child. Mary held Him in Her arms, and Joseph held Him on top of his shoulders. Now Mary and Joseph as Spiritual Parents, mediating the Parenthood of God, want to help us become little like Jesus. In this way Jesus as the God-Man will be able to embrace us as little children brought to perfect imitation of Himself, who became a child for our sake, and shall lift us up onto the shoulders of His Divinity, exalting us to the heights of His Godhead.
The Aramaic really gives us a beautiful image: Jesus lifting-up a little child upon His shoulders and presenting this child as the model of sanctity—as a model of the perfect citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. First Jesus called the child to Himself, then he took the child and placed him in the midst of His disciples. He then lifted the child up and placed him on top of His shoulders, higher than the stature of all the other disciples who had just been bickering about who was the ‘greatest’. Jesus makes a clear message by this gesture: this child is the greatest, and others who spiritually become like this child in littleness of spirit.
God doesn’t want spiritual ‘big shots’ who are great at being holy in their own strength, He wants little souls, humbled by their own weakness, yet who are on fire with the bold confidence of children that God their Father in Jesus, by the Spirit at work in Mary, will make up for their lack. That God will supply them with the strength they need to say “yes” to Him, will supply them with the trust they need to preserve in this “yes,” and will hand out the grace they need to be detached from ‘bigness’ and to desire the God of Greatness. These souls rejoice in their imperfect littleness, and armed with the perfect littleness of the Virgin Mary which they’ve made their own, they run toward God, certain that He will lift them up through the arms of their devotion to Mary and Joseph, unto the shoulders of His great holiness—one shoulder representing the might of His love, the other, the might of His mercy, and on these shoulders as their foundation stone, they stand secure, clinging to Jesus who is their Head.
 Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, chp. 10, accessed http://www.storyofasoul.com/chapters-9-to-11/
 Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, 27, iv, ad.2.
 Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, chp. 4.
 Andrew Doze, Saint Joseph: Shadow of the Father (Alba House: 1992). Cannot find our copy of the book, but it’s in there somewhere!