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Let the Children Come to Me. The Way of Spiritual Childhood is the Way of Freedom
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Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt. 19:13-15)
To become like little children - to be child-like and not childish - requires a change of heart. That is what conversion is truly all about. Such a change of heart will transform the way we live and teach us the way of love.
Why is it that children are eligible for the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps it is because, ordinarily, there is no malice in them. They don't know how to lie. They don't lie to themselves. They have no desire for luxury. They aren't drawn to riches. They are uninterested in ambition. But the virtue herein lies, not in what they lack interest in, or know nothing about, but in what they don't want to do. The virtue lies not in their inability to sin, but in their unwillingness to sin. (St. Ambrose)
P>CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt. 19:13-15)
Nestled between the account of the Lord's response to the Pharisees who tested Him concerning the indissolubility of marriage and apostolic celibacy (Mt. 19:3-12) and the story of the young man whom he called to His service who, because he was possessed by his possessions, went away sad (Mt. 19:16-22,) Matthew inserts this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the children.
The connection is of great importance to anyone who wants to know, love and serve the Lord in real freedom. In the chapter which precedes the account, Matthew records these words of the Lord, "I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
One of the greatest joys in this later chapter of my own life is an unexpected gift, his name is Noah. He is my grandson. He calls me Poppi - and will soon be seven years old. He and his dear Mom have been with us since he was conceived. Noah has become one of the finest ongoing instructions in living the Christian life that a man of my age could ever ask for. He continually confronts me with the utter simplicity, trust, openness and beauty of the very spiritual childhood to which Jesus is pointing in this passage - and so many others in the Gospels.
In fact, the way of spiritual childhood is a theme woven throughout the New Testament. In John's first letter he writes, "See what love the father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are." (1 John 3:1) This passage unfolds the truth of our divine filiation - a fundamental teaching of the Christian faith. In and through Jesus Christ, we become sons and daughters of God. When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to call God "Abba" (Mt. 6:9), the affectionate Aramaic word for Father. Before he ascended, He told Mary to return and tell His brothers "I am ascending to my Father and your Father." (Jn. 20:17)
To become like little children - to be child-like and not childish - requires a change of heart. That is what conversion is truly all about. Such a change of heart will transform the way we live and teach us the way of love. The great Bishop, St. Ambrose, who baptized Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, on the Easter Vigil in 387, wrote concerning this in a commentary on Luke's Gospel (Lk. 18:17):
"Why is it that children are eligible for the kingdom of heaven? Perhaps it is because, ordinarily, there is no malice in them. They don't know how to lie. They don't lie to themselves. They have no desire for luxury. They aren't drawn to riches. They are uninterested in ambition. But the virtue herein lies, not in what they lack interest in, or know nothing about, but in what they don't want to do. The virtue lies not in their inability to sin, but in their unwillingness to sin."
Little Noah, my grandson, teaches me daily as he hugs me in the morning and shows me again and again the joy of play. As he always trusts that his needs will be taken care of - he uncovers my lack of trust and draws me to my knees. As he delights in the simplest of gifts - and laughs out of the sheer joy of just being alive - he reminds me that all is gift. In particular, he shows me that virtue often called simplicity; a virtue which seems so hard to cultivate as life goes on. Yet, cultivate it we must, if we want to live in the kingdom.
One of my favorite writers is Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focalare movement. In one of her reflections on the Lord's teaching that we are all called to spiritual childhood, she offered this insight: "Being at the start of life, the child is open to any adventure. So it should be with you. Don't put any obstacles in the way of your progressive union with Christ, a progress which should continue throughout your whole life."
As I grow older, things are finally becoming simpler. Left behind with the years was some of my propensity to complicate things. Oh, don't get me wrong, I have a long way to go. Having been with those preparing for death in my work as a Deacon of the Church, I have discovered that, in a recollected person of faith, prayer before death is the most revealing. No longer burdened with the concerns of "this world", such prayer becomes inspiringly simple. Simple souls see God.
There is an invitation to simplicity in Gods loving plan for each of our lives. Living simply can help us to see things differently. To those who voluntarily embrace it, simplicity becomes a means of grace, an invitation to love, and a school of sanctity. All relationships, with persons as well as with the goods of the earth, are changed by its embrace. My grandson Noah teaches me this way. Oh, he does not do so with intentionality, but with the beautiful spontaneity of love so evident in children.
I have found that the admonition of Jesus, "Unless you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of God" (Mt. 18:13) is an invitation to real freedom. In the light of simple faith, even painful experiences become the material for our personal transformation and enable us to open ourselves more to the fullness of life. Through simple surrender to the loving plan of God, we are continually invited to go deeper into communion with God and respond to His loving gaze. In this communion with God, fear dissipates and everything is bathed in love. After all, when all is stripped away, there is only God.
In His Sacred Humanity, prepared for death, the Lord Jesus prayed for each of us "May they be one, as you Father are in me and I am in you." The words of this prayer reveal the simple heart of God. They also unfold the purpose and final goal of human existence; we are all called to love. The way of simplicity and communion, the way of spiritual childhood, are the path to peace. They lead us into an ever deepening, intimate, loving relationship with God, and, in Him, into a new relationship with all men and women and creation itself.
Contemplatives comprehend, or rather, are comprehended by, this experience of communion. They literally fall in love with God. All Christians are called to this contemplation, no matter what their state in life. Simplicity helps to satisfy the hunger of our souls. It strips away only what impedes love. Those who walk in simplicity and communion find the path to peace and become lanterns for others seeking the way. They walk the way of spiritual childhood to freedom.
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