Adolescense

Thinking like a child pays off

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A current-events newspaper for elementary school children is called The Small Street Journal. I'm going to subscribe. I don't understand much of the news I hear on TV or read in the paper.

Maybe the young writers can clear things up for me. Children have a way of cutting through the underbrush. (I should mention that I frequently get more out of the children's sermon than the one the preacher has prepared for those my age.)

Five-year-old Jan is an example of how young people get straight to the point. In a letter to God she wrote, "I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had three stitches and a shot."

Four-year-old Michael was also in no mood for beating around the bush when he penned this note to God: "Instead of making people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you got?"

Explaining the creation of the world would be simple compared with answering those questions perplexing Jan and Michael.

One of the best preachers to children was Monsignor Ronald Knox, a Roman Catholic priest in England.

During World War II a convent school that had to be evacuated moved into the house in Shropshire where Knox was living and working on his popular translation of the Bible.

As chaplain at the school, he preached every Sunday to a congregation of young girls. The sermons eventually found their way into book form as "The Creed in Slow Motion," "The Mass in Slow Motion" and "The Gospel in Slow Motion."

Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons on God's forgiveness.

"We mustn't," said Knox, "get into the habit of thinking that God is a good-humored sort whom it's quite easy to talk around if you use a bit of soft soap so that you can spend your life doing things he has told you not to and then going and making it up with him every Saturday night at confession."

He went on to tell the story of Mary Jones, who told her mother she had met a lion on her afternoon walk. Her mother said it was wicked to tell lies like that, and she must go and ask God to forgive her.

So when the girl came down to tea, her mother said, "Did you tell God you were sorry?" and Mary replied, "Yes, I did, and God said, 'Don't mention it, Miss Jones, I'm always mistaking that yellow dog for a lion myself.'"

"If we get in the habit of thinking of our sins like that," said Knox, "it makes us careless about them."

One of Knox's sermons to the girls was based on something St. Paul once said: "Rejoice with those who rejoice." Knox acknowledged that was an admonition most of us find hard.

"Being sorry for people who are in trouble comes naturally," Knox told the girls. "But other people's birthdays and prizes and their good news from home are rather boring, aren't they?

"Don't be content with yourself," said Knox, "until you find yourself really pleased to hear about other people being happy."

Knox knew how important it is to young people to be popular, and he shared with them the secret of popularity.

"Make it a practice," he said, "to identify some admirable quality in other people and point it out to them. You will find that they will seek out your company, for we all like to hear nice things said about ourselves."

We don't have to wait for somebody to do anything great before we compliment them, Knox would have said. I imagine that God was very pleased with the letter he received from Ruth (as quoted in "Children's Letters to God" by Stuart Hemple and Eric Marshall).

Ruth told God, "I think the stapler is one of your best inventions." (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)

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