The process by which the human personality is formed is the hidden work of incarnation.
The helpless infant is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he is an enigma, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do. His helpless body contains the most complex mechanism of any living creature, but it is distinctly his own.
Man belongs to himself, and his special will furthers the work of incarnation.
Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp32-33.
Do we accept that there is more to being human than flesh and blood? That there is a will, soul or spirit animating each one of us?
We could say that parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers are charged with enabling the work of incarnation to take place in the child; not to break the child’s will but to provide a fertile ground for it to grow.
Of course we refer to the Incarnation especially in regard to Jesus. His humanity was shaped in his relationship with Mary and Joseph; we have to thank them for their part in his development, his incarnation.
In this statue from the church of Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam, Mary is supporting her Son as he reaches out into the world, to you and to me. Let us pray for the grace to perceive how to support the children we live and work with.
We are looking at some of Maria Montessori’s ideas on The Child in the Family in the light of Mary and Joseph’s experience of parenting. Bearing in mind our own experience and observations, how do we feel about this statement? (p25).
Clearly it is useless to correct defects that the child will no longer have when he is an adult.
How did Mary react to the ‘misbehaviour’ of Jesus stopping to listen and talk with the wise men in the Temple? A gentle reproach, and she stored all these things in her heart. Let us pray for discernment in all our dealings with children and young people.
Another extract from Maria Montessori’s ‘The Child in the Family’. Mary and Joseph had to treat Jesus in a less than ideal way, born in a stable, then a quick flight into Egypt. Parents should not feel too guilty if all is not ideal when the baby is born. But we should all feel guilty that we do too little to help and receive so many babies, such as those born every day,to start their lives as refugees.
At birth [the infant] is ejected from his home [in the womb] to live in the air. Without the least transition, he is pushed from perfect repose to the exhausting work of being born. His body is crushed almost as if he had passed between two millstones, and he comes to us wounded, like a pilgrim who has journeyed from a distant land.
Death, like birth, is a law of nature, and one to which we must all submit. Why do we seek to ease that terrible moment of death in every possible way? Why, knowing that we cannot conquer death, do we at least want to render it less painful? Yet we never think to alleviate the suffering of birth. But what do we do to help and receive him?
Maria Montessori, ‘The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp20-21.
Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury
Of course we have no idea what date Mary’s birthday should be celebrated, she probably didn’t know herself. It was celebrated on this day in the VIth Century as an important stage in Salvation History; nobody is obliged to hold this feast, but we should always be thankful that Mary said ‘Yes’ to God, not just at the Annunciation but also in all those decisions a parent has to take when rearing a child.
Education Sunday is held in England and Wales by many churches. A time to pray for all involved in education, from Nurseries to Universities; indeed today’s writer, Maria Montessori, would have totally agreed with the Catholic Church’s assertion that parents are the first teachers of their children. Read her words and imagine Mary and Joseph’s parenting.
We must come to a full understanding of the state of being of the newborn child. Only then will the absolute necessity of rendering easy his initiation into life become evident, The newborn child must become the object of knowledgeable care. Even holding him requires the utmost gentleness, and he should not be moved except with great tenderness. We should understand that in the first moment, and even in the first month, he should be kept very quiet.
Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, p23.
When I was young and my beard was russet, I was trained to work effectively with people with disabilities. Openness and respect for other persons are fundamental, but so are analytical skills; skills that have to be learnt. As we read on June 19th, Maria Montessori saw a child as wanting to help himself, to co-operate with his parents in growing up, and ‘When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.’ I had to learn to be a parent, too.
There’s something of that determined resilience in all of us, very healthy too. Here is an occasion when the desire to help was channelled to success through disciplined reflection.
A blind man was walking with his long white stick outside the railway station as I went to buy a newspaper; he was still there, walking in the opposite direction, when I came out. He told the two of us who stopped to help that he wanted to ‘find his way into the station. No, don’t take me in. I’ll get there.’
But he accepted directions. With his back to the traffic he was facing the building but some distance from it. ‘Turn right, walk 4 yards, feel the gravel … find the paving stones with the raised bumps … straight ahead …’ Then something I’d not noticed before, the dull echo of our voices from the station building. Now he knew where he was, helped but not over-helped.
That dull echo might help me one day …
Let’s pray for the humility to ask for and accept help when we needed, and for the wisdom to know when not to overwhelm someone with our help. One blind acquaintance told about being helped across the road, ‘And now, please help me back across the road. I didn’t want to cross over at all!’
You may have noticed in these pages a degree of affection for young Abel and rejoicing in his growth in wisdom, and age, and grace; rejoicing as the parents of the Lord did, and no doubt his grandparents too. (Luke 2:52) It’s always good to remember that Jesus had to grow in all those ways.
Growing up did not happen by magic or instinct with Jesus, nor does it for any child. I was looking through old notes recently and found a teachers’ leader relaying what many of her members observed, that children were coming to school unable to use a knife and fork and these were by no means all living in poverty. Their parents were simply ‘not prepared to give time and energy doing that most difficult, but essential of jobs – raising children properly.’ (Mary Bousted, Report Magazine, May 2009 p11.)
As Maria Montessori reminded us, children want to grow up and want to co-operate with adults in the process. Feeding oneself is an important instance of this, so is helping grandad make that essential of modern living: flapjack, and again, so is sharing the result.
The shared table is the foundation for so much human goodness, it’s no wonder Jesus chose it as the foundation for sharing divine goodness in the Eucharist. To say that is not to deny that the Eucharist is a sacrifice: just re-read Dr Bousted’s remarks to see that the shared table is a place of sacrifice as well as of enjoyment.
Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.
If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence. p52.
We could also read this paragraph:
Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help. p124-5.
Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)
So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before receiving the Sacrament themselves.
Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.