“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
These words are the reflection of the Apostle Paul as he approaches the problems in the Church in Corinth. He calls upon the Corinthians to remember that they are no longer spiritual children. They are, indeed, called to be spiritual adults. The life of every person, of every nation, of every epoch of history shares the same stages: infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity.
Infancy includes dependence, lack of awareness, inexperience, the inability to understand. The transition from infancy to childhood comes with growing pains, both physical and intellectual as well as experience gained through trial and error and the need to begin defining ourselves. This self-definition comes through distinguishing ourselves from those around us.
Childhood is a time of learning about the world surrounding us. This period in our lives includes becoming mobile on our own (we learn to walk rather than crawl), as well as learning our limits, what we can and cannot do. We need to have rules for life and behavior in order to allow us to grow in relationship with others. We have authorities in our lives, our parents, our teachers, our pastors that help us to learn the virtues of self-control, of charity toward others and responsibility.
Adolescence is a time of confusing changes in our lives. We try to find our way in our relationships. We are looking at leaving the safe environment of home, parish and school and going into the world. We often have the conflicting experience of anxious expectation of ‘freedom” and nervous unease at leaving what we know and are comfortable with. Hopefully we have gained enough experience and self-knowledge which will allow us to move forward, to enter adulthood in search of our vocation in the world.
The same is true for our spiritual lives. If we stop advancing in our knowledge, practice and growth in wisdom when we are confirmed, for instance, our spiritual life becomes stuck in early adolescence. We don’t mature in our practice or understanding of God or of the faith that we receive as a gift. We can continue into adulthood with a concept of God that doesn’t grow beyond the very thin surface of our childhood and teenage experiences and knowledge. We can’t see God for who He is!
Clarence Day Jr. was able to look back on life in his father’s house with nostalgia, humor and affection. He knew, from the perspective of an adult, that his father really loved his wife and children. He knew that everything he said, did and required were geared to shaping his children into the men they later became: self-sufficient, caring and able to get along in life.
The People of God also had to pass through these stages, needing to be led along by a kind, loving and wise Father. Discipline and parental requirements assist in forming the conscience of the individual and the nation. In order for us to realize who WE are, we have to define ourselves as being APART from others, including our beloved parents. It was the same for Israel. God had to lead first His People Israel and then all of humanity as a loving parent guides and assists in forming their children.
Pope St. John Paul II comments on this action of God in a catechesis on God the Father in 1985:
“The mystery of the divine paternity [God’s Fatherhood] within the Trinity was not yet explicitly revealed in the Old Testament. However, the whole context of the Old Covenant was rich with allusions to God's fatherhood in a moral and analogical sense [that is, through analogy]. Thus God is revealed as Father of his people, Israel, when he commands Moses to ask for their liberation from Egypt: "The Lord says: Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you 'Let my son go So you shall say to Pharaoh: Thus says the LORD: Israel is my son, my first-born. Hence I tell you: Let my son go, that he may serve me...'" (Ex 4:22-23)…This is a fatherhood of choice, on the basis of the covenant, and is rooted in the mystery of creation. Isaiah wrote: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands… You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.” (Is 64:8; 63:16).
In the next meditation, we will see how God our Father cares for us and leads us to salvation.