Thursday, 19 January 2017

THIS I KNOW: A Child's Gift Of Prayer

The church stood alone in the middle of nowhere and, on a bleak January day, it looked fairly wretched and worn. The inside felt cold and inhospitable. It was hard to settle. The people gathered for the baptism milled around talking, hesitant to sit for fear of being gripped by the chill.

I noticed a little boy standing in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. He was mesmerized by the shimmering of the votive lights burning there.

"They're moving" he said to me.
"They do that" I replied and explained that people say a prayer when they light a candle. "Would you like to light one and say a prayer?" I asked.
"I would!" he said.
"Do you know any prayer?"
"I know this one", and he proceeded to say the prayer 'Jesus Loves Me this I know for the Bible tells me so,' It went from recitation into song! Beautiful!
"Would you say that prayer during the Baptism?" I asked. He said he would and his little brother standing near said "I know it too!" So I said he could say it as well.

When the time for the prayers of the faithful came during the ceremony I invited the two boys up and the other children as well. Some were too shy but a nice number gathered at the altar while we listened to the pure praying of the two boys. It warmed the hearts of everyone and the bleak cold was dispelled. We were graced by innocence and by joy.

Afterwards I told the mother of the boys how impressed I was and she told me that it was their father who taught them. He prays with them every night when they go to bed.

Two things caught my attention on the following day. The two are linked. The first is the request of Pope Saint John Paul II in Limerick in 1979 when he said, "Your homes should always remain homes of prayer. As I leave today this island which is so dear to my heart, this land and its people which is such a consolation and strength to the Pope, may I express a wish : that every home in Ireland may remain, or may begin again to be, a home of daily family prayer. That you would promise me to do this would be the greatest gift you could give me as I leave your hospitable shores." 

The second is the call of all baptized Christians to share in the priesthood of Christ. The father of these two boys is fulfilling both. By teaching his children to pray he is expressing the priesthood of Christ, the fatherhood of God and has given us an example to follow. He blesses all of us, allowing his children to be shoots of new life in our midst, pointing to a new springtime of hope and faith that is realized in the nurturing of the Christian spiritual dimension of our lives.

We neglect the importance of our own Baptism, forgetting that we were claimed for Christ to belong to Him forever and marked with the indelible seal of the Spirit. Neglecting this spiritual reality we live unbalanced lives and often go out looking for other things to give what is already within us by the gift of God in Jesus.

There's a very interesting example of this in Graham Greene's 'The End of The Affair'. Sarah was an atheist - living as though she were not baptized - all of her life until she found herself as an adult being mysteriously drawn to the Catholic Church when she became ill. And after she died people were shocked to discover that she had been baptized as a child, though she herself did not know it. "Graham Greene seems to make a case for the mystical and inescapable fact that baptism has made her God’s. She has been sealed." (Elizabeth Charlotte Grant)

And perhaps this is our hope, that what was given to us in Baptism as babies will ultimately win over all the other forces that drive us through life; that we will finally experience what Jesus Himself experienced in Baptism - the definitive knowing that we belong to God as His beloved daughters and sons, allowing that reality to be the force that forms and shapes our way of being and living in this world, preparing us to live it eternally in heaven.

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