During his recent trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis gave some advice to families. Speaking candidly, he told them:
Every mother and every father dreamed about their children for nine months. Am I right? You dreamed about how your child would be. You can’t have a family without dreaming! When a family loses the ability to dream, children don’t grow, love doesn’t grow, life turns weak and eventually shuts off.
His emphasis on dreaming is striking. At first, it almost seems out of place. Where does the Bible exhort families to keep dreaming? But Pope Francis has something important to say here, and today’s feast provides an avenue into this idea of dreaming.
Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord, when Mary and Joseph took their forty-day-old child to the Temple. In the Gospel, we hear of Simeon taking the Christ Child in his arms and speaking these prophetic words to Mary:
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Lk 2:34-35).
Surely, Mary and Joseph had dreamed about who their child was, but Simeon’s words may have come as a surprise. Most parents don’t dream of their child being a sign of contradiction. Simeon’s words can sound rather harsh, and yet, they are the Good News. They tell us of a different kind of dreaming, a particularly Christian way of dreaming—if you will—a cross-shaped dreaming.
Mary held Simeon’s words in her heart, pondering them. As she nurtured Jesus from his infant years into adulthood, these words remained in her heart. In Pope Francis’ language, Mary kept dreaming about her Son’s life, and her dreaming made room for the Cross.
This cross-shaped dreaming is part of every Christian’s vocation. We are called to contemplate God’s action in our life, and to do so with an openness to the Cross.
We can see a prime example of cross-shaped dreaming in the sacrament of baptism, though this may not be understood consciously by many people. To the untrained eye, baptism seems like a nice cultural ceremony, full of nice symbolic gestures, and effecting a nice acceptance into a community of nice people. But this is more pastel-colored daydreaming than cross-shaped dreaming.
Baptism, whether for adults or infants, effects a real dying of self by uniting us to the Cross. St. Paul writes to the Romans:
Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).
Now that’s cross-shaped dreaming! St. Paul’s words should hold a place in the heart of all Christians, especially parents and godparents.
Recall Pope Francis’ words: “When a family loses the ability to dream, children don’t grow, love doesn’t grow, life turns weak and eventually shuts off.” Now compare these words to Jesus’ saying: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35-36). If our dreaming is to give life, our dreams must include self-denial, taking up the Cross, and following Jesus.
But how do we go about this cross-shaped dreaming? A reliable answer is the Rosary. In this prayer we first contemplate the life of Jesus through the intercession of Mary, and then we gradually begin to contemplate Jesus’ life in ourselves and others, again, through Mary’s intercession. She, who pondered Simeon’s words and accepted her Son’s Cross, helps us to dream of what God will make of us and our loved ones, even helping us to embrace the Cross of our salvation. Mary does this with her motherly tenderness, lending her sweetness to the Cross of Love.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a closing prayer that nicely brings together this idea of cross-shaped dreaming. May this be our prayer today as we welcome the working of God into our lives, the working of the Father who welcomed the sacrificial love of His Crucified Son. This comes from Week II, Friday, Evening Prayer:
God our Father,
the contradiction of the cross
proclaims your infinite wisdom.
Help us to see that the glory of your Son
is revealed in the suffering he freely accepted.
Give us faith to claim as our only glory
the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Image: Caravaggio, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Detail)