“Let the Children Come to Me”
I was reading an editorial in this month’s issue of Magnificat in which the author writes about the role that young girls and boys have played in salvation history. He specifically mentions the passage from Matthew when little children are brought to Jesus; however, his disciples try to stop them from approaching near. Jesus rebukes the disciples: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Furthermore, Jesus laid his hands on their heads in prayer before leaving that place.
One of the points the author of this editorial makes is that children have an innate sense of innocence and purity of heart. They are so naturally trusting of their mother and father and just know that they can place their utmost trust in their care. No matter what comes before them, mommy and daddy will be there to protect and comfort them. Should not we as adults, therefore, also be as eager to place our trust in our heavenly Father and in Jesus’s divine mercy?
It seems to me that we all start out basically this way. Since we are created in the image and likeness of God we do have an innate purity of soul when we enter this world and while we are just young children. Somewhere along the line, as we “grow up”, we allow the world’s influence to take root in us and begin to lose that purity and innocence. We find it more difficult to trust in God’s mercy and tend to place our trust in other things: our own abilities, the power of science and technology, or numerous other people or things in which it seems so easy to look for the answers to life.
Yesterday I attended the funeral mass for the 96-year-old mother of a friend and former coworker of mine. At the prayers of petition, four young children, the great-grandchildren of the deceased, came forward to read the intentions. Two of the children were barely of reading age. The purity of their voices lent an air of innocent trust to the prayers. The presiding priest commented, and it also seemed to me, that surely the Lord must have a special place in his heart for the prayers of ones such as these.
This past Holy Week Mary Jo and I visited our daughter Caitlin, her husband Steve and their two young boys in Rochester, NY so that we could all attend the Sacred Chrism Mass together. This was an extra special occasion for Mary Jo since it was being celebrated at the diocesan cathedral, which was her family’s home parish when she was a little girl. Additionally, Caitlin was singing in the choir for the mass.
Mary Jo and Caitlin both went off to the cathedral early so Mary Jo could save seats the rest of us. On the drive over later, Steve and I wondered how the evening would turn out as the young boys seemed tired already and it was sure to be a long mass and late evening. We both anticipated the possibility of a two-year-old “meltdown” at some point during the mass.
I am happy to report that no such meltdown occurred and in fact, both of the boys were perfect little angels throughout the evening. Mary Jo had secured seats for us all in the very front row from which the boys could see everything that took place during the mass. Four-year-old Stephen’s attention was riveted on every move that the bishop made and he was full of whispered questions, such as “why do they keep taking off the bishop’s hat?” and “why is he blowing into the container?” when the bishop breathed into the vessel containing the oil of sacred chrism. Both boys seemed entranced by the long opening procession of priests, which was accompanied by a guard of the Knights of Columbus and Knights of St. John, in full regalia and swords dangling at their sides. Even two-year-old Joseph seemed to be in a very calm, peaceful state the entire time, staring up at the mosaics on the dome and all the other beauty to behold in the cathedral. I have to admit that I have rarely seen that boy, who is normally so full of energy, so serene.
It was a beautiful and holy celebration for all of us. You could really sense the Spirit of God filling every corner of the worship space. And to top it off, at the closing procession the Bishop came down and proceeded directly over towards our row so that he could lay his hand on and bless both of the boys. We were all touched at such a beautiful sign of his pastoral ministry and I thought of how this reflected the words and actions of Christ as recorded in Matthew: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
For me, as a grandfather, the greatest gift of the evening was to be able to experience the beauty and majesty of the occasion through the eyes of young children, in this case, through the eyes of our two beautiful grandsons. Their eyes were in awe of the grandeur of the ceremony and of the house of worship; eyes full of inquiry and longing for the love of the Father; eyes, which sensed a special presence, the Spirit of God in our midst; and eyes which looked with wonder on all of the beauty which our merciful God has bestowed upon us.
May we all be blessed with the renewed gift of seeing life through pure and innocent eyes such as these.