Christ loves the childhood which he first assumed in his soul and body. Christ loves childhood: toward it he steers the conduct of adults and toward it he leads the aged; after its example he fashions those whom he raises to the eternal kingdom. [Such childhood is shown in] …the rapid relaxing of inner tensions, the prompt return to calm, the total forgetfulness of offenses, the complete indifference to honors, sociability, and the feeling of natural equality.
St. Leo the Great (obit. 461; commemorated 10 November)
The above passage is very interesting to think about in the contemporary pre-Christmas context. All around us, we see a society which simultaneously sentimentalizes childhood while mocking innocence. St. Leo emphasized the centrality of a true childhood of holiness in Christ, not the selfish childishness of fallen humanity. Which sort of child are we becoming? As we journey through the Advent season, it is a good time to take St. Leo's "Childhood Test." The list of characteristics he says mark a true spiritual “childhood” include:
Rapid relaxing of inner tensions:
How often do we really take stock of the amount of tension we carry around? How much of this tension is truly legitimate, and how much of it is something we cling to for meaning, security, and significance?
The prompt return to calm:
Do we smolder with anger, find ourselves “wound up” all of the time? Are we actually afraid of letting go of our anxiety for fear of having nothing left to feel?
The total forgetfulness of offenses:
If we took the time to write them down, how many grudges do we hold? When we see people who have at one time or another hurt us, do we first see the injury or the person? Do we even consider moving towards forgiveness of others any longer?
The complete indifference to honors
How much does a title, a position, recognition from others, or our contributions mentioned really mean to us? When praised, do we simply say “thank you” and leave it there, or do we crave more praise than anyone could possibly give us, because of an immense empty gulf of personal value?
Being a child of God means being in healthy and life-giving social relationships with other children of God. When we indulge in childishness, we either suck the life out of others (always demanding to be the center of attention, judging others, requiring more and more of others, &c.) or we wall others off as we seek to live alone and self-sufficiently.
The feeling of natural equality
How comfortable are we in simply being equal with other people? Must we see others through the lens of “better or worse,” or can we see others as equal but different? Do we feel the need to compare ourselves to others rather than humbly come to understand them, learn from them, and share with them what it means to be a human made in the image of God?