And a little child shall lead them

images-1As a way to unwind in my last parish, I loved to walk along a disused railway line just outside Northampton. One day coming in the opposite direction was a young family: mum, dad and young daughter, maybe five or six years old. The little girl was running ahead of her parents so, not wanting to frighten her, I left the path to let her run past. Imagine my surprise when the little girl ran straight up to me. Enjoying my obvious embarrassment she asked, ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ She quickly took pity on me explaining, ‘I’m a princess!’ I laughed out loud! ‘Of course, your Royal Highness, how could I have been so stupid?!’

In that chance encounter I was overtaken by what never fails to charm us about children. That little girl put me in mind of someone whose statue I caught sight of when I first walked into your lovely little church in March. The one on the right hand side of the sanctuary as you look at it. The one of my favourite saint: Thérèse.

stthereseWhenever you look at that statue I want you to think of the child I met out walking that day. Like that child, Saint Thérèse has so much to teach us: about living in the present moment; about trust; and about our royal dignity as God’s sons and daughters.

Like that child, Thérèse invites us to live in God’s own time: today. Not paralysed by what may have happened in the past. Not fretting about the future. Now is the only world little children know. Thérèse teaches us that ‘now’ is the holy ground on which God wants to meet us.

And trust is the way we tread that holy ground. I’m sure that when the child’s parents caught up with her they probably told her off for talking to strangers. But for children trust is second nature. Such trust is the trademark of Thérèse’s spirituality. Along with love, it is one of the wings of her Little Way to God.

So why do children trust so instinctively? It’s because they know they’re precious. ‘I’m a princess!’ That little girl knew she was important, significant. Not a significance based on some achievement, mind you. She was far too young to have achieved anything. Her significance was a simple fact, a given, and not earned. That’s a child’s world, the one Thérèse inhabits. The one she wants to take us by the hand and lead us into. The one where, as she loved to say, ‘All is grace.’

images-2One evening, out walking with her dad, Thérèse noticed in the night sky a constellation tracing a ‘T’. ‘Look, Papa, my name is written in heaven!’ she said. Sheer precociousness? Surely! But isn’t that precisely what delights us about children? It’s certainly what charms God about his children. A line from the Scriptures comes to mind: ‘And a little child shall lead them.’ Let this little child Thérèse, the one you look at each time you come to church in March, lead you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

BY JOHN UDRIS

Surprisingly Christian

“Your services are quite nice really,” said a surprised visitor to my parish the other day as she left the Church. “Your parishioners are really friendly,” said a non-Catholic friend visiting for a weekend.

I wonder what they expected? A gang of grim and po-faced papists? A bunch of happy-clappy Christians out to convert the globe? A weird world of mumbled Latin Masses and autocratic clerics telling their congregations exactly what to believe and how to behave?

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Christianity – and especially Catholic Christianity – has moved on since then, but you can’t be surprised at such prejudices and stereotyping. I was trying to remember the practising Christians portrayed in the various soaps on telly. I can only think of Dot Cotton together with the odd wet vicar in Eastenders, and Harold Bishop and Mrs Mangel (now that’s going back a bit!) from Neighbours. We are portrayed, then, as bumbling and judgemental neurotics, not to be taken too seriously: hardly a positive presentation of the Christian community.

Recently I did a question and answer session with a group of ten year olds from a local school who were surprised to discover that, although a Catholic priest, I can still smoke (I don’t) and drink (I don’t anymore) and stay up past ten o’clock at night (I do quite a lot).

Their whole image of any organised religion was to define it from a negative viewpoint: religion is about what we can’t do, or at least about what we shouldn’t do.

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I accept that Christianity is often portrayed in a “Thou Shalt Not” framework. The Ten Commandments are an obvious example. But the “No” of Christian ethics is always and only ever the reverse side of a much bigger “Yes”. It is the “No” said to the persistent moth about the electric light bulb: no, because without it the moth will kill itself by its frantic hitting against the burning bulb; no, because instead there is on offer a bright and sunny day to be explored and enjoyed.

The season of Easter for Christians is a reminder of the radical “Yes” that is at the heart of our religion. Having fasted for the forty days of Lent and celebrated the gruelling and terrible events of Calvary, Christians now bathe for fifty days in the reflected glory of the Resurrection.

lenten candle shortEaster is overwhelmingly positive: it is about life’s victory over death, about the forgiveness of our sins, about a new beginning for each of us, and about our welcome into a vibrant and loving community which awaits the outpouring of God’s own Spirit at Pentecost.

Christianity, especially in this Easter season, should be a religion of enjoyment and laughter and life. It should be surprisingly fun. Our world is being transformed by Christ through us, but that positive message will never get across if we are content to play the stereotype: if we linger too long at the level of the gossipy, dour, and judgemental Mrs. Mangel.

BY SEAN CONNOLLY