One of the things about the command to be as little children is that, at least from my perspective, I think I already am. I'm just not a child in the way Christ meant!
Nothing convinces me more of this that the arrival of Lent in the late winter. All I have to do is fast for two measly days, and the rest of the time, I can choose my own penance which might involve fasting, giving things up, doing extra stuff, praying more, or all of the above.
And yet what happens? What happens is that I usually behave like a child who has suddenly gone all floppy because he doesn't want to go where his parent is leading him. Yes, the knees become weak, the head goes back and a grimace alights upon the face. A sort of whinging sound begins, firstly because I have to do something I don't want to do, and then because I'm too naff to do the thing I'm supposed to do, and then something else distracts me ... something else other than what I should actually be focused on. Just like a child ...
I like to comfort myself with the thought that such capacity for standing on the outside of the process is indicative of my being able to master it, by God's grace and if only I make the effort. Perhaps. I was told recently it might also be a sign of burn out!!! Now, that is worrying. The old saying goes Omnis comparatio claudicat: all comparisons limp. In my case, we might say all comparisons go limp and refuse to cooperate. Be ye as little children ... but not like THOSE little children!
Here we are uncovering more of the profound meaning of today's gospel which invites us to wash our faces and not show that we are doing penance. This is not just a case of humility, or of not seeking human reward for what we do; it is also deep psychology. If we want to do some penance - as indeed we must - we'll do it more easily if we put on a brave face. Put a brave face on: the ancient wisdom is the best. And oddly enough, that's exactly the way to make a whinging child cooperate as well: if reason and a slap don't work, try amusing it. There is a capacity for cooperation buried in there somewhere.
A twelvemonth! well; befall what will befall,
I'll jest a twelvemonth in an hospital.
Well, perhaps not a twelve month but at least forty days ... with a few days off for good behaviour on a Sunday.
Thus, as a man shod in plimsols joins the road of Compostela, I enter Lent.
Misere mei, Domine, secumdum misericordiam tuam.