Suffer Little Children

Suffer Little Children

Suffer little children.
Suffer punishment and pain.
Suffer poverty, starvation and thirst.
Suffer drought, disease and death.
Suffer famine.
Suffer war.

“Suffer little children to come unto me
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Suffer little children.
Endure their existence.
Endure their snivelling, their whinging and their dirty little faces.
Suffer little children.
Tolerate them.
Tolerate their tears for food, for shelter and loving embraces.
Suffer little children.
Stomach them.
Stomach them when they appear on your tv screens from far flung forgotten places.

“Suffer little children to come unto me
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

So the people were bringing their children to see Him.
Dirty, snivelling, whinging children.
Second class citizens!
(No wait. Not even second class citizens.
That’s far too great a compliment for these scrawny, not nearly human, extra mouths to feed.)
And His body guards rebuked them.
Too right! Who do these kids think they are?
But when He saw this He was indignant, outraged, furious!
And He said to them “let the children come to me.
Do not block their way to me.”

“Suffer little children to come unto me
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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Mother and Child

Someone rang my doorbell the other day.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed during these recessional times (besides my much lighter purse and bank account) it is the number of businesses and charities that are calling door-to-door.  Anyhow, this time it happened to be a representative from a charity who asked me if I’d be interested in supporting the charity by signing up to a monthly direct debit.  I explained that I sponsor a number of charities that are particularly relevant to me and my family and that I couldn’t really afford to sponsor any further charities at the moment.  I told her I was happy to give them a one-off donation and that I certainly would not pass them on the street if they were collecting outside a store or a Church.  It was the next part of the conversation that has stayed with me and prompted me to write this post.  The woman said “I believe you because you’re very religious.  Thanks for your time and thanks for listening.”  I asked “how do you know that I’m religious?” “Because of the cross that you’re wearing, the picture behind you, and the cross on the wall” she replied.  Our conversation continued for a little while longer and then she moved on to ring my neighbour’s doorbell.  I closed the door and smiled at how observant she had been when I first opened it to her.

This encounter got me thinking about how much religious imagery was, in fact, in my home.  It also got me thinking about how trusting some people are when they see religious symbols but that’s for a different post.  I walked through my home and, to my astonishment, discovered over forty religious symbols, icons, and images.  To be fair, some of these were very small such as miraculous medals that my grandmother had given me when I was younger or a set of rosary beads that my late father brought back from Lourdes for me.  I have bibles, crosses, door icons, candles, a holy water font, a mezuzah and many other pieces that I will most probably write about at a later date but the piece I want to share for now is the picture behind me on the wall that caught my caller’s attention.

ImageThe picture is a tapestry of the Mother and Child that I bought a number of years ago when I was in Rome.  I bought it in the shop on the roof of St Peter’s Basilica along with some other things to bring back home to family members and friends.  I loved this picture the moment I saw it.  I am not quite certain how I should say this but I am not the type of Catholic who has a devotion to Our Lady in the same way as those who travel to her shrines around the world.  My devotion to Mary is a devotion to “Mary as Mother” and this is one of the few images I have discovered which has not divinised her to the point that I can no longer find any tangible connection to her as a mother myself.  The babe in her arms looks so comfortable and content in his sleep.  Security, restfulness and tranquillity are all present in the figure of the sleeping child.  He reminds me of my own son who would fall asleep in my arms, cushioning himself on my breasts.  I would watch him sleep soundly there.  I would watch his tiny head rising and falling with each breath that I was taking and I would wonder if it was the sound of my heart beat that had rhythmically sent him off to his sleep.

The child in this picture sleeps safely but the child in this picture would later be gruesomely bludgeoned, whipped, and beaten then stripped naked, mocked and paraded through the streets carrying a one hundred pound weight patibulum.  Nearing death, the child in this picture was then nailed to the cross with the aim of making his death as long and as agonising as possible.  The nails would have been driven through his bones so they would not rip through the flesh of his hands and free him from the cross.  They would have been carefully placed, avoiding all his major blood vessels so he could not bleed to death and avoiding nerves so he would feel every single agonising moment of his crucifixion.  The child in this picture would have found it more and more exhausting to support his own body weight.  He would have struggled to breathe with the crushing pains in his chest and his heart would have increasingly begun to fail him as death slowly approached him.

The mother in this picture is a young Jewish brunette.  She is nothing like the statues and images that are more familiar to us as Our Lady.  I love the rusty brown and straw-like headscarf she is wearing and the richness of the Persian blue shawl.  The Virgin Mary is more often represented in clothing of sky-blue and pure white.  There is a far-away look in this young woman’s face.  Each day, when I pass her in my hall, I am reminded of the passage in the Gospel of Luke when the heavenly host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2: 16-19).”  Is it pondering that I see in this young woman’s face?  Perhaps I am merely projecting onto her the thoughts and fears that I had as a young mother.  I cannot count the times I panicked and wondered how on earth I was going to raise my child in a world that’s far from perfect.  Is Mary holding her child safely and wondering how she’s going to raise her child in a world that’s far from perfect too?  I think so.  I think this picture shows a mother who is concerned for her son’s future.  I think it shows a woman who pondered and accepted the Word and Will of God but now ponders what this might mean for her son, her own flesh and blood.  I’m not saying that Mary could have known what suffering awaited her son in Jerusalem but she did know that the child she accepted in her womb was to be named “Emmanuel” and that he would be “the Son of the Most High.”  I see a worried mother when I look at this picture each day.  I see an anxious and apprehensive look in her face and I see the same anxious and apprehensive looks on the faces of mothers everywhere.  I see a mother who will, one day, cradle the lifeless body of her son and envelop him safely in her arms once more.

Dublin, Frankfurt, Tel-Aviv. A Young Pilgrim’s Journey

Today’s post is a guest post and the guest is my 12 year-old son, Daniel.  After our recent trip to the Holy Land during March of this year, Daniel put together his own words on what he thought of it all.  The only edits I have made to this post is some spellings and some punctuation but the content is all his.  I hope you enjoy it.

I recently travelled to the Holy Land with my Mam and fifty other pilgrims from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Our Lufthansa flight left Dublin Airport on Thursday, 15th March and we all made our way to Frankfurt, Germany.  Frankfurt airport was huge.   It had a monorail system and some of the staff even had bicycles for getting around.  Our plane to Tel-Aviv was also Lufthansa but much bigger.  It had built in TVs, headphones, pillows and blankets, and I got a free football magazine in German.  We arrived in Tel-Aviv at 3am on 16th March and got the bus to our hotel in Tiberias.  We slept for three hours and were back on the bus with Abraham our guide to visit Ein Gev, a Kibbutz (Jewish community).  Then, we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and I got a chance to steer the boat.  As we sang a hymn which included “rolling thunder” a storm actually happened with thunder and heavy rain, which was amazing.  To finish this day we had Mass back in Tiberias.

Saturday, 17th March was my birthday.  I was twelve.  We took the bus to Mount Tabor and I had a choice to climb it or take the taxi so I climbed it with my Confirmation sponsor.  When we reached the top, the view was stunning.  We had Mass in the Church of the Transfiguration and we met with an old friend, Yousef, a Maronite priest who celebrated Mass with Fr Michael.  After Mass we took the bus to Nazareth where we got to eat what would have been a meal at the time of Jesus.  We toured a replica village of Nazareth where we saw a 400 year-old olive tree, Joseph’s workshop and a tomb like Jesus’.   I was first to go into it.  We visited the site where Mary heard the message from Gabriel and the home of Joseph.  We returned to the hotel in time for dinner, dessert and my birthday cake.  I shared my birthday with another woman on the pilgrimage.  Then we watched the rugby match: Ireland v England, which we lost with a shocking result of 30-9.

On Sunday we got on the bus and headed for the Mount of Beatitudes.  At the top there was a garden and a Church.  Inside the Church a security guard walked by me and spotted my Ireland jersey.  He told me he was from Mayo.  After that we went to the Primacy of Peter site at Tabgha for Mass.  A few yards away from the site was the Sea of Galilee and I had a small paddle in it.  When I dried off I collected some shells as there were millions of them.  Next we visited Capernaum where Jesus performed most of his miracles.  Over the ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house was a spaceship-like Church with a glass bottom to see the debris of the old Church underneath.  We also visited the Jesus Boat, which was 2,000 years old.  The river Jordan was the last site of the day and when we arrived, people were being baptised.  We saw ducks, big catfish about a metre long, an animal like an otter and some seagulls.  While my Mam was occupied I went to Fr Michael and asked him to bless her birthday medal I bought for her.  It was going to be her birthday in three more days.  That night we went to a spectacular water fountain and light show in the town.

On Monday we left the hotel.  We got on the bus and the first place we visited was Qumran where we watched an audio video and then went outside to see the ruins.  Of course, this was the desert so the sun was beaming and it was a scorching morning.  We had lunch beside the Dead Sea and then went swimming.  There was muck everywhere and walking in it was impossible.  When lying in the sea you couldn’t get up.  Our next stop was Jerusalem.  We went into a tunnel and the driver started a CD with the song Jerusalem on it and when we came out the other side we saw the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Garden of Gethsemane, meaning oil press.  We had Mass at Dominus Flevit and paid a quick visit to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Last but not least we went to the Western Wall where men were separated from women to different parts.

We got up early on Tuesday to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It was packed but we got to see the tomb of Jesus.  I knelt down and said a prayer while touching the stone Jesus was laid upon.  We visited the Zion Gate, which was huge and the Upper Room where the Last Supper and Pentecost happened.  We also visited the Dormition Abbey, King David’s tomb and Oskar Schindler’s grave.  Abraham asked us to guess which grave was Schindler’s so I guessed it was the one with loads of stones on it left by other visitors and I was right.  Then we walked the Via Dolorosa meaning the Way of the Cross.  I was one of the Cross carriers.  Along the way we did Stations one to ten and then arrived back at the Holy Sepulchre for stations eleven to fourteen.  After dinner back in the hotel we went back to Gethsemane for holy hour, which was very special.

Wednesday was my Mam’s birthday and we went to Bethlehem with a different guide because we were entering Palestine.  First we visited the Shepherd’s Field and the cave where the shepherds heard the message about Jesus.  Mass was in the cave and I was glad to get out of the scorching rays of sun.  Next we visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.  I was at the front with my sponsor going into the cave but before we went in there was an Angelus procession which we got to watch.  Then we saw where Jesus was born and the space where his manger was.  After that we went to the Milk Grotto where we saw a painting of Mary feeding Jesus.  Last was the Bethlehem University where we got a presentation about Palestine and a tour of the university.

The next day, Thursday, we went to the Israel Museum where we saw a model of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  The model was gigantic and took fifteen years to complete and here was I thinking it would be small as if we were giants to it.  It was hot outside but we went inside another building to see the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Along the tunnel were archaeological discoveries like pots, coins, oil lamps, knives and parchment that were found with the Scrolls.  Our next visit was to the Yad Vashem memorial, the Holocaust Museum.   We entered a tunnel and inside you couldn’t see anything so you had to hold a railing and feel your way.  Children’s names were being called out.  They were the names of over one million children who had been killed during the Holocaust.  Only children over 14 were allowed into the main memorial so I waited with some others who didn’t want to go in.  In the afternoon we visited Ein Karem, the birth place of John the Baptist where we had Mass and the site of the Visitation.

Friday was a free day to do what we wanted but we all got on the tram to go to Mass at the École Biblique with Fr Brendan.  A few of us went back to the Holy Sepulchre and it was packed.  We walked through the Armenian Quarter to the Zion Gate and to the Dormition Abbey for lunch.  My Mam and I separated from the others for the afternoon and decided to walk the outskirts of the city, where we looked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane; we visited the pools of Bethesda and then returned to the hotel.  It was a great day with my Mam.  Saturday was our last day and we went to Jaffa, where we had Mass.  I had so much fun with all the other pilgrims and will never forget my trip to the Holy Land.