Lessons from the joy of children

In today’s Gospel, the disciples are left speechless when Jesus asks them what they are talking about because they were bickering like children in a schoolyard.

The Gospel message today is about humility and, to illustrate this, Jesus uses a little child. He even links himself to children, saying that — by receiving “one child such as this in my name” — we will receive him.

This echoes another Gospel we are familiar with — which was read on Aug. 11, the feast of St. Clare: “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:2-4).

Becoming like children is a difficult concept to grasp, after all, didn’t we spend a lot of time becoming grown-ups? And not always all about saying we should become “trusting like a child is trusting.”

Look around at the children in church this week. Many times they are restless, unable to pay attention, bored and noisy. They sometimes bicker with each other in the pews, fighting for the best spot near Mom or Dad or Grandma. They want to hold the collection envelope or the songbook or the cereal snack bag. “It’s mine,” might be heard.
Sounds a lot like the disciples, fighting for the best spot next to Jesus, doesn’t it?

Maybe Jesus meant to play along with that theme — and push it to the extreme: “You’re already good at acting like children, so why not go all the way?”

What could he mean?

Well, look at the children in church again. At the chapel Mass I attend on weekdays, there is a little boy who doesn’t know the words yet or the proper tune to songs, but he enthusiastically belts out those sung “Amens” and “Allelulias” at the top of his lungs.

For those parishes with a children’s collection, watch how children act as they come up with their donations. Some run. Others dance around. Some sidle up, afraid to be noticed, but — once they make it up there — you can just see the smile break out from deep inside. Still others want everyone to see them — especially Father.

Their enthusiasm, shyness, hesitancy, and the pure joy some of them radiate, all mirror what many adults feel inside, but would never dare express. Instead, we could even end up speechless when it’s our turn to welcome Christ into our lives.

That may be the lesson to take away from the Gospel: Learn from the children.

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of two books: “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” and “Making Sense of Saints.”