Today's Gospel gives me much to reflect on
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
We've been talking a lot here about children being a bit of a handful for parents at mass and indeed we all have had experiences of that being true. We've seen soccer moms who have all they can do to get their children to simply sit still at mass. We often talk a good game about passing on the faith to our children but don't really know the best way to teach them about Jesus.
It is Catechetical Sunday and we owe a great deal of gratitude to those who formally teach our children the Catholic faith, prepare them for their first sacraments and in general, provide them with spiritual guidance. But ask any teacher and they will most likely agree that it's these children who often teach us more about Jesus than we teach them.
A quick story...OK maybe not so quick...but I will do my best to condense each...
I was a camp counselor for 6 years and there is one story that I always remember.
Mark Kissell was a soft-spoken, introverted 5 year old who wasn't very athletic. A bit of a hothouse flower, he was afraid of playing anything with a ball. I even rolled the ball to him once and he ran away from it. He wasn't enjoying camp in fact, he was afraid of getting out of the car some days.
But Marc was such a sweet kid. He would always share toys and was polite to his counselors. In fact, his favorite words seemed to "excuse me." His brother, Andrew, a bit more outgoing, would try to get him to play more but Marc was just afraid.
So I decided that Marc was going to be my project for the year. A small victory would be to get him to play catch with me. Everyday I'd start to throw the dodgeball to him a little harder and he'd become more comfortable catching and throwing and even missing the ball wasn't such a big deal anymore.
He graduated to a heaver basketball. And began to learn to dribble and shoot. For days he got nowhere close to the basket. But a little practice got him to hit the rim of the basket on one afternoon. I knelt down to him and said "Marc, you are so close to getting that ball in the basket...just a little more ooompf this time and you'll do it!"
Marc closed his eyes, visualizing that ball going in as I had taught him. He took the ball and launched it towards the basket...and as the ball floated into the basket...swish!...his eyes grew so wide and his smile so bright that I don't think I've ever seen anyone look that happy again. I hoisted him on my shoulders and we ran around the gym. He hugged me so tightly and his mom was so proud at the end of the day. For me, it was a moment when I realized what joy really consisted of and what I had experienced was an opportunity not to experience accomplishment but to experience the joy of newness...of seeing things through the eyes of a child. The amazement of a child--the sheer pleasure of simplicity was a moment where Jesus was clearly present in a very vivid way. That moment for Marc and I was over 23 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The world seemed to slow down and God was indeed fully present...I just knew I was there because I needed to understand this gospel passage:
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me."
When we are with children we have a great responsibility to see the awe that they see, to recapture our own amazement for the mundane, to see world embued with God's grandeur. We often miss that. We miss the giggling exuberance of children in favor of our own jaded adulthood. We look for God's grace and often find it hard to find.
Until we see God all over again through a child's eyes.
Jesus destroyed death and includes us in his life...but do we ever have a child's enthusiasm for something so grand? When we get on line for communion do we have a childlike anticipation of receiving Jesus into our bodies, or is it just another "thing to do"?
Perhaps each time we hear a baby cry at mass, or a rambunctious child in church we might want to think that they cannot help their wailing because they can't understand why we too are not stirring in our souls!