Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 June 2013

Draw Near To God

The other day a young child, presumably accompanied by her grandparents, approached me on the way out of Mass and handed me three pieces of paper that looked like they were torn out of a reporter's notebook. Each piece featured a crayon drawing:
The girl explained the drawings to me: the first two were butterflies, while the third was a man in jail (the caption above him simply reads "bad"). She called him "evil."

She then asked me to "give them to God" (as the first one was addressed, along with her name) and had naught else to say. I thanked her, and devised a way to honor her request.

Later that evening, our Pastor, Monsignor Hartgen, would be offering Mass in honor of his fortieth anniversary of ordination to the Priesthood.

What to do with her offering was but the secondary question; the first, what to make of it!

This daughter of God (she couldn't have been older than 6 or 7) drew Him a picture, which He would hang on the refrigerator door with great delight. How many children pick a bouquet of flowers, make breakfast, or perform another small deed with great love!

It was also an example of intercessory prayer, which is at the heart of the Church's public and personal prayer. In the Liturgy, God Himself works in and through us, reminding us of the world's many and diverse needs, prompting us to "remind" God of those needs with humble confidence.

I can safely presume that this intercessor loves butterflies, but most of all that she loves God, and she showed that love for God by drawing a few butterflies for Him to look upon with delight in His winged creatures. Since human beings are the capstone of material creation, to my knowledge the only creatures capable of artistic representation, God delights in us and in the talents we employ for God's glory and for the edification of our fellows.

Somewhere in my research for a paper on iconography I recall reading that artistic expression itself is a kind of liturgical intercession. Human beings take pigments, parchments, marble, and other mute and mindless things, and do something with them for a higher end. They are doing something redemptive for them by acting on their behalf, adding a perfection, a reason, to their previous identities.

In his first epistle, Saint John said, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (4:20). Intercessors love people. That's why they pray for them. Knowing their own capacity for sin, their love for fellow sinners all the more increases, and finds continuous expression in prayer: prayer for their repentance, prayer for their health, their safety, and their salvation.

This child is hardly old enough to commit (grave) sin, yet she has heard of it. News programs show people being placed into police cars and hauled off to jail. At some point parents have the unenviable task of explaining the bad things people do--things far worse than the naughtiness that merits scarcely more than a few minutes in the corner or a pat on the behind.

Our darling intercessor is processing the reality of sin. She wishes it weren't so. When in time she joins the ranks of the culpable, she too will know what it's like to merit eternal damnation and perhaps even incarceration. She'd like God to take care of criminals and other sinners--but not in the way we'd often like to "take care of" them. In our pride we can forget our sinfulness in the face of someone else's, and easily lose our compassion for those who oppose us or do us harm.

I decided to shred her drawings and sprinkle some pieces among the coals that would burn the incense at Monsignor's Mass. (If you attended that Mass and wondered why the incense had a different odor, now you know.) There's more...always burn, and I'll save it for another day.

Quoth the Psalmist: "Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice" (Ps 141:2). Burning a sacrifice of livestock or produce was the Jews' way of giving it to God (and thereby rendering it useless to them). Adding incense to a holocaust was an attempt to mask the awful (offal?) smell, and it was a thoughtful gesture to God: if He had to receive it, at least it might smell a little better! It probably was as effective as air freshener in a stinky bathroom.

What else do we have, of our own accord (i.e., that God didn't give us), to give to God except our sins?   Yet that is precisely what He desires from us--and in a more concrete way than as snippets of paper in a smoking brazier fire pot. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is our spiritual latrine, where that most precious and foul offering is worthily made.

I was most grateful for this girl's colorful and thoughtful intercession, and you should be, too. Her prayer will reach maximum effectiveness if one previously unwilling person walks through his or her fears, headlong into the Sacramental Ocean of Mercy.

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