THE BLESSING OF THE CHILDREN
In Conversation with God
1. Christ’s love for children and for those who become like children.
Jesus loved with predilection the sick, the needy and children. This is the repeated testimony of the Gospels. He had a special affection for these groups of people because they are always in need of help. In addition, they possess the qualities which He set down as indispensable for entering into his Kingdom.
There are two occasions in the Gospels when Jesus blesses children and presents them as a model to his disciples. One took place in Capharnaum in Galilee while the other happened in Judea, probably near Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem. We read of this second event in today’s Gospel (Matt 19:13-15): “Then children were brought to him”, relates Saint Matthew. We can be sure that they were brought by women – by their mothers or their grandmothers or their sisters. They had entered into the house where Jesus was, probably nudging forward their little ones until they were right in front of Our Lord, “that he might lay his hands on them and pray for them.” It would seem as if it was Christ’s accustomed way with children. Perhaps the commotion this would cause had somewhat distracted the adults listening to the Master. And so “the disciples rebuked the people”. But the Lord intervened: “Let the children come to me”, He tells them, “and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them and went away”.
By declaring that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children Jesus teaches us, first of all, that children have a definite place there. As a consequence, great care should be taken in the preparation and guidance of children. More than anything else, they should be baptized as soon as possible, as Holy Mother Church has urged repeatedly in every epoch. “That this law extends not only to adults but also to infants and children, and that the Church has received this from Apostolic tradition, is confirmed by the unanimous teaching and authority of the Fathers. Besides, it is not to be supposed that Christ the Lord would have withheld the Sacrament and grace of Baptism from children, of whom He said. Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me ...” (Catechism of the Council of Trent) “Parents are obliged to see to it that infants are baptized within the first weeks afterbirth...” (Code of Canon Law, 867)
Through Baptism children receive the life of Christ. They become sons and daughters of God in a completely new manner, becoming heirs to Heaven. Our Lord looks with special favor on those mothers who have their children baptized promptly, and who make the effort to teach them the truths of the Faith, regardless of the sacrifices involved.
Our Lord also reveals to us in this Gospel passage that his Kingdom belongs to those who become ‘as children’. This means having a clean heart and soul, being sincere and uncomplicated, without pride or pretensions. Before God we are indeed as little children, and should act accordingly. “Being at the start of life, the child is open to any adventure. So it should be with you. Don’t put any obstacle in the way of your progressive union with Christ a process which should continue throughout your whole life.” (C. Lubich)
2. Life of childhood and divine filiation.
In the Incarnation the Son of God could have presented himself to mankind as an angel, or as an all-powerful sovereign. Yet he chose to present himself in the weak and fragile condition of a new-born babe. He chose to be helpless as a child, as if He needed protection and love.
God has wanted us to imitate his Son in this choice, to become what in fact we are – helpless children constantly in need of God’s assistance. “See what love tile Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) These few words capture the fundamental truths of our Faith. They show us how we should deal with our God. To become like children ... this requires a real change of heart that will transform all of our thoughts and actions. What must we do to become like children? First of all, we really have to want to be sons of God, ever docile to his Will, being of clean mind and body, humble and sincere. This desire is evident in the lives of the saints. As they have become more and more transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit they have increasingly seen themselves as sons of God. To become like children in the spiritual life is more than simply a beneficial and praiseworthy devotion. It is the expressed desire of the Lord. Although not every saint has manifested this attitude explicitly, this has been the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each and every one.
“A foolish child wails and stamps his feet when his loving mother puts a needle to his finger to get a splinter out. A sensible child on the other hand, perhaps with his eyes full of tears – for the flesh is weak – looks gratefully at his good mother who is making him suffer a little in order to avoid much greater harm Jesus, may I be a sensible child.” (Saint Josemaría) This is our request in this time of prayer – that we learn how to understand sickness, pain, apparent professional failure… that we shall find in such setbacks the providential hand of a Father who never ceases to watch over his sons and daughters. We will accept with a smile whatever life has to offer us, in good times as in bad, and we will see it as something sent or else permitted by Someone who is infinitely wise, Someone who is infinitely in love with us.
A life of childhood has nothing to do with behaving childishly. “A foolish child wails and stamps his feet…” childishness has to do with personal immaturity, with a lack of self-discipline, with an overall absence of personal struggle. Such behaviour can accompany people throughout their entire life. There are those who enter into old age, and even go to their deaths, without knowing that they are children of God. True spiritual childhood entails real maturity – supernatural vision, consideration of events with the eyes of faith and with the help of the Holy Spirit. This maturity brings with it sincerity and simplicity: its possessor has become a “sensible child...” In contrast, he who readily accedes to his whims, who gives in to his emotions and his every idea, who is constantly preoccupied with himself, this person will not make progress on the way of spiritual childhood. The man who is simple as a child is completely taken up with the glory of his Father God, just as his Master was in his earthly life. The true child, the true son, the true daughter, has a steady relationship with “Abba”, his and her Father.
3. Spiritual childhood and humility.
Our piety should be filial, full of love for our Father. How can we really serve God with love if we do not begin by recognizing him as a Father overflowing with love for his children? Many Christians live apart from God or have lost touch with God because they have not discovered the truth of their divine filiation. Spiritual childhood has been the first step in the interior life of many souls. Give us, Lord, this sense of divine filiation. Help us to meditate upon it frequently.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17) “Why is it that children are eligible for the Kingdom of Heaven?” asks Saint Ambrose, “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 here resides 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. Therefore, the Lord is not referring to childhood as it is, but to the innocence that all children share.”
In the Christian life we arrive at maturity precisely at the moment when we become children before God, children who abandon themselves completely into God’s loving embrace. Then we see the events of the world as they really are, with their true meaning. Our only preoccupation will be to give thanks to our Father and Lord.
The life of childhood requires in us the supernatural virtue of fortitude so that we may overcome our tendency to pride and self-sufficiency. Filial piety builds up our hope; it reinforces our confidence that we will attain our end. It gives us peace and joy in this life, for we are no longer facing life’s difficulties alone. No matter how great our problems may be, the Lord will never abandon us. This certainty will keep us going, no matter what obstacles lie in our path. Without it, no advance is possible.
We ask the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, to take us by the hand since we are her little children. We ask her to have even greater care whenever our age or our experience of life requires her guidance.