A swiftly thrown baby-binky to the face provided a rude awakening from my daydreaming back into the reality of the mystery taking place before me. A million apologies from the veil-headed mother, and a brief over-the-shoulder glance from an otherwise unconcerned father later, I was listening to the rich liturgical language of the Eucharistic prayer. I was the lucky “somehow got stuck behind the large homeschool family at daily Mass even though every other pew in the place is open” guy. And, I couldn’t wait for the sign of peace!
In fact, that little guy had been keeping most of the congregation entertained the whole time with his persistent laughter and squeaky screams which made it difficult to interpret whether he had all of the sudden begun crying, or was simply still laughing. He was lighting up every face within ear range with at least a smile, if not actually affecting the classic bite-your-lip-to-keep-from-cracking-up face. Of course, the scene wouldn’t be complete without a few glares from the elderly.
For my part, he held my misty-eyed attention; he was the reality of everything I had experienced the night before.
I live in the mountains. I also happen to live on a lake. Combine the two and you get an awe-inspiring view which actually only gets better as the sun descends and you encounter thrice the amount of stars, with thrice the amount of intensity, that one experiences in the suburbs. This is convenient since I don’t mind, on occasion, having my breath taken away… and that night was no different.
Staring up at the stars, nothing offered but a clear mind, evoked a sense that we have all but forgotten today. It is that same sense we see painted on the face of every child encountering life - and reality can’t seem to wipe away. It is intoxicating. It is called wonder…
But, life changes. We grow up. Innocence fades, and the accompanying effect (just ask Alan) is a gradual stripping away of our childhood. The most sobering part of this (besides having to actually figure out what the hay is a 401K) is that very loss of encountering the world the way the child encounters it, encountering the world in all its mystery, encountering it in wonder. I know it may be stereotypical to critique the culture (some people don’t shut up about it) but the truth of the matter is we have lost this attitude of wonder. And, the clincher…this has profound effects on our view of God.
I have been praying a lot lately for childlikeness. But, why? Why does Christ tell me to become like a child? Why abandon all of my “life experiences” and return to invincible naiveté? Why would I want to look away from all that I have learned about God through what He has divinely revealed through Scripture and Tradition to simply look at the world like a child does?
Unless…that’s not the point. What if I’m not abandoning my life experience? What if the point isn’t to let go of what God has shown me of Himself or of myself through studying His Revelation, but to do the exact opposite? What if I am looking to the world like a child, to look at God with fresh eyes and to discover, ever deeper, the true mystery behind God’s choice to actually reveal Himself and its meaning for my life?
And this, my friends, is precisely where the Catechism begins its discussion about The Profession of Faith (Part I).
“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (CCC 27) and anyone who has the audacity to actually let their dang guard down in this day and age and look at the world through the eyes of a child, will find this desire pulsating through their entire being. Everyone asks religious questions: Why do I exist? What is the point of my life? What happens when I die? And everyone “throughout all of history, down to the present day has given expression to their quest for God” (CCC 28) –everyone, that is, besides the man of today who has lost his wonder.
But the man who has it, the man who dares look at reality in its mystery, will encounter this questioning, and he will discover the reality of a “personal God” Who is the “origin and end of the universe” (CCC 34) evidenced from change, the worlds order and beauty, the human longing for the infinite and happiness… (CCC 33) – he will see God’s handiwork everywhere! And, don’t we only know the great talent of an artist after we have looked at their artwork?
“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the
beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the
sky...Who made them if not the Beautiful One?” (St. Augustine, Sermons 241)
And when I sit on the dock of the lake, looking at the stars starring back over the mountains thrice as intense as in the suburbs, who could have put these here if not the Beautiful, all-powerful Creator? Who could know them all by name (Psalm 147) if not the all-knowing God? Who could set them in motion over the whole universe except for the “first cause”?
And, when I know Him as the omnipotent and omniscient Creator, how much more profound does God’s desire to experience real intimacy with me by revealing Himself (CCC 35) become? When I know Him as the omnipresent origin of the universe, how much more mysterious does His desire to become a tiny, screaming (laughing or crying?) baby in a manger seem? And, when I know Him as the “first cause and final end of all things” (CCC 34) what does His choice to become human say about the meaning of my life and dignity of my humanity?
“In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man's worth and dignity is the
Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity” (John Paul II,
Redemptor Hominis 10)
As, Alan said, growing up can strip us of our childhood. It can strip us of childlike innocence, which caused that young lad to bounce around on the Church pew laughing out loud while unknowingly distracting everyone. It can take away our sense of mystery. It can be sobering by stripping us of our childish wonder.
But, there is a reason the Catechism began The Profession of Faith section with a commentary on the “natural capacity for God” – at this is the point: even though the loss of childhood wonder can be sobering, rediscovering a sense of wonder as an adult has the potential to be even more intoxicating, because we see the world no longer through the naïve eyes of child wonder which doesn’t know exactly what it’s desiring, but we see, precisely in recognizing the Beautiful One – that there is a true object of our desire. We see in the omnipotent origin of the universe that has revealed Himself in a manger, that there is an answer to the religious questions that all men ask. And, we see, by looking at the stars, that the star-Creator’s desire to be in intimacy with us by becoming man reveals the true depth of my worth and dignity: in reality, the amazement at that worth is “the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity.”
So, I don’t desire to return to being a child. I don’t desire to chuck binkies across aisles and smack the unsuspecting young adult who is contemplating the mystery of his existence right in the face. I don’t desire to go back to that innocent stage where the person post-communion kneeling behind me will simply smile when I drool all over their folded hands. But, I do desire to rediscover, as an adult, the wonder of a child and look at the world in all its mystery, and I pray for it every day – I challenge you to as well!
“If this profound process takes place within him, man then bears fruit not only of
adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself.” (John Paul II, Redemptor
Stephen Estes is Missionary Formation and Base Leader for Life Teen’s Camp Hidden Lake in Dahlonega, GA, having previously served as a missionary, university campus minister, and a theology teacher. He speaks, he writes, and he makes weird faces at people in public – generally all warranting about the same response. Get in contact: @StevoEstes; stephenestes.org