Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Part 6: Wisdom Beyond His Years

The fifth joyful event, from Jesus’ Childhood, brings us to meditation on His parents finding Jesus in the Temple after searching for Him for three days:

Each year, the Holy Family takes a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the High Holy Days of the Passover. Their extended family and the people from their village go in a caravan.

When Jesus is 12 years old, they make the trip as usual. However, after traveling for a day on the trip home, His parents realize that Jesus is not with the group.

Imagine the panic that seizes them. They return to Jerusalem, looking everywhere for Him.

On the third day of their search, they find Him in the Temple. He is calmly and patiently speaking with the elders and the teachers. These holy, learned men are amazed at the Boy’s wisdom and knowledge. He asks them questions which lead them to think about the subject they know so well in an entirely different way.

In that day, a boy was considered a man when he reached twelve years old. He began training in earnest for his career, often apprenticing with a family member.

Jesus’ response, when His mother chides Him for causing so much worry, logically explains that this place – the Temple in Jerusalem – provides the background for His future mission. She probably recalls the message of Simeon.

Then, He returns home with them to fulfill His place in His family as an obedient and dutiful son.

The second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel relates this story, and tells us that Mary pondered the events of His life. For this reason, we reflect with love on the mysteries and the details that the Bible gives us about the life of our Savior.

There was no question that Arif, and any other children we were graced with, would be brought up with faith in God.

One of the benefits of home schooling is that we can carry God throughout the curriculum. Arif and all his siblings were taught about their faith from their earliest years. We tried to instill in them a sense that they were created by God for a purpose. They each have a unique calling to do something that God planned for them from the very beginning.

Arif seemed to enjoy being in church and at Mass even when he was very small. At the Consecration, the highest point of the Mass, I directed his attention to the altar as soon as he was aware enough. He ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Later, he described ‘sparkles’ around the bread and wine at that moment.
As toddlers are wont to do, he got squirrelly after a certain time in the pew. I took him out of church and explained that he could go back in as soon as he calmed down. He calmed quickly and soon asked to return to the service. We only observed this ritual a handful of times.

Mom encouraged us to teach Arif his prayers starting quite young.

We moved to Virginia, Arif was 3.

The first time we attended our new church was Christmas Eve. The children were invited to come forward for the ‘children’s homily.’ Arif trotted right up there and plopped right into Father’s lap.

“Well, hello there! What is your name?” Father queried.

“Arif.” came the reply.

“Well hello, Reese.”

“No, Father, it is Arif: A, R, I, F.”

“Very well, then. Do you know what holiday comes tomorrow?”

“Yeah! It’s Christmas. It is Jesus’ birthday! Happy birthday to you....”

The parish offered ‘children’s church,’ taking the children into a classroom during the Bible readings and homily to instruct them at their developmental level. One day the following spring, the teacher of the preschool group called in the pastor. One of her pupils already knew the Lord’s Prayer. You guessed it. That child was Arif.

I never taught any of my children to read. They learned to read the same way they learned to talk. We read to them from the time they were babies. When they were ready, they picked up a book and read to themselves. Only then did I undertake to teach them phonics.

Joe read bedtime stories every night. As children were added to his audience, he read one story for each child. We used to tease him about getting taller: by the time Arif was in school, Joe was a ‘four story Papa.’

At a certain point, Joe switched to chapter books. His first venture was The Witch, the Lion, and the Wardrobe, first in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Arif grew impatient with stopping at the end of each chapter, so picked up the book during the day to read on his own. He was seven at the time.

“So, do I need to skip ahead to where you read?” Papa inquired.

“No, it’s all right. I don’t mind hearing the story again.”

Arif decided, when he was eight years old, to read through the Bible. Several months later, he announced that he accomplished his goal.

When Arif was in fifth grade, I tired of fighting him to do writing assignments. So I hit upon the idea that he publish a newsletter. He loved telling stories and sharing what he knew about his faith.

For almost three years, he and his siblings put together “The Mustard Seed Press.” We built a subscription base of about a hundred and twenty five. The addresses on our list included not only people from thirty four states, but three foreign countries as well. One was a missionary in South America who visited our prayer group, read the Mustard Seed, and wanted to see more of it.

Our prayer group leaders, the Buttaccios, published a newsletter with a circulation of over two thousand. When they saw the first few issues of “The Mustard Seed Press,” they felt it would be a harmonious addition to their publication.

We received accolades from our subscribers. A number of people wrote to us requesting permission to use Arif’s writings in Sunday School classes.

The diocese of Knoxville planned a trip to Paris for World Youth Day. Those who were too young to go petitioned the bishop to make some concessions. The bishop organized a trip to Rome and Assisi for them. Arif was 13. His heart was set on going. We scraped, begged, and did fund raisers to make it possible.

The trip was all he hoped for and more. Arif admired St. Francis from the time he first heard of him. As it turned out, two weeks after the trip. Assisi was hit by a devastating earthquake which ravaged St. Francis’ church. Arif felt he was blessed to be there before the destruction.

On Wednesdays, the pope gives a general audience. He stands on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Pope John Paul II used these sessions to teach key concepts about the Bible and about the Christian life.

After the general audience, our bishop arranged for the youth to meet the pope on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The youngsters and their chaperones lined up for the greetings. The pope shook hands with each one of them.

Pope John Paul II gave Arif special attention by touching him on the cheek after the handshake.

At first we figured that he recognized Arif’s Polish heritage. Perhaps the holy man we called ‘Papa’ knew Arif would be in need of special graces.

I prayed again that each person who came into contact with Arif, in whatever lay ahead, be drawn closer to God. It was something I knew Arif would want as well.

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