Recently I became the proud owner of an i-phone. Of course it took basic tuition from my wife and daughter for me to make sensible use of it. But now, at the touch of a few buttons, I have access to the wonders of the internet. But, like all things, the strength of this electronic machine is also its weakness. I can easily become trapped in a closed, self-sufficient world of ever-increasing knowledge, in which spiritual and human concerns have little place.
Two thousand years ago, in a completely non-electronic environment, Jesus faced similar issues. As our Gospel reading tells us, he was continually rebuffed by the intelligentsia of his day: those of the religious hierarchy who considered themselves wise and intelligent. They lived in their closed world of human knowledge and divorced themselves from the needs of the people around them. Jesus makes the startling claim that, while his message is hidden from these people, it has been revealed to: infants, no less.
And in the last two weeks I have come to know directly what Jesus means by his claim. On Thursday 16 October my daughter ‘phoned me from Sydney to tell me that she had given birth to a daughter. She was overcome with grief because her baby could not breathe and was not expected to live. So here, in our lives, had arrived the most vulnerable of creatures: an infant who was expected to die. What messages did God convey to us through her?
The first message is the value of human life in itself, however frail, however small. My first thought to tell my daughter was that she should give her daughter a name, no matter what happened. Our baby had come into the world as a human being and was worthy of being recognised as such. My daughter ‘phoned back later to say that her baby was to be called Stella.
The second message from the infant Stella is the overriding importance of fundamental human issues – life/death and the quality of life- as opposed to all the other dimensions we put into our living. When my daughter phoned me, I happened to be studying for a Bachelor of Theology course. But without hesitation I put this to one side.
The third message is of the importance of tangibly showing love and support to those in our care, no matter the expense or inconvenience. I felt that Stella was calling me to go over soon to Sydney, to give support to her and her parents. The trip there was worth every minute and every cent. Comforting my daughter in the tumult of her emotions, and holding Stella against my heart, will live with me always as unforgettable experiences.
The fourth message that our infant conveyed is of the magnificent human spirit that lies within each human being. Despite all the odds, our little person fought her way back from the brink. Day by day she gathered in strength, despite the seizures that threatened to damage her and all the tubes and devices which must have caused her pain. Last Friday she came home to begin her life in the big world outside.
And the final message that our infant conveyed is of the abiding presence of God. I felt God’s presence on the day that Stella was born, when I went to mass. My mind was numb with grief and fear, but by the end of mass I felt God’s peace. In the days following, people whom I had not known were believers told of me of their prayers for Stella. And when I held Stella I felt blessed by the nearness of a pure soul. She looked at me with a look of love that came straight from God. As Charles Dickens said:
“it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us”.
I return to my i-phone. I know that, when I next need to learn about certain facts or carry out daily business, my machine will be a great help. But of far greater significance in my life is the infant angel that God has sent my way. Jesus says truly that God’s message is revealed to and through infants. Our infant Stella inspires me to be the best person I can possibly be, for the sake of myself, my loved ones and other fellow-human beings, and my God.
Kate Douglas Wiggin, the American educator, declared:
Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility.