Even in simple cultures, an independent adult faces a long spiritual journey before they can live in the heart of God as a child. In our current milieu, Catholics are preoccupied with many pressing issues, so preoccupied we often overlook some of the most basic facts of how to live in the Spirit:
“Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of Heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19: 14)
According to Jesus, the kingdom of Heaven belongs to those with a childlike heart. However, childlike spirituality is so simple it seems impossible to live out as a practical, responsible adult living in a complex world. As a result, rather than take Jesus at His word, most Christians think this verse simply tells them that Jesus likes kids. We completely miss Christ’s message. Thankfully God used my children to teach me He really does call all Christians to surrender and live as His children in, with and through the Holy Spirit.
Taught By a Child
Years ago, I was rocking newborn Mary, one afternoon, while eighteen-month-old Ann sat on her Dad’s knee, slowly waking up from a long nap. The topic of discussion for the last hour had been, ”How on earth can we manage to get to church as a family with three little children, all on different schedules?”
Every choice of a mass time presented difficulties which seemed insurmountable; grumpy, over-tired or hungry pre-schoolers are miserable and make sure everyone else knows it. This seemed an unsolvable dilemma so I simply resigned myself to staying at home on Sundays for the time being.
Suddenly, we were both startled as three-year-old Mark came running into the kitchen. He was still groggy from his nap but he literally yelled,
“Jesus says come! Jesus says come!”
My husband and I were both shocked as we looked at each other in wide-eyed silence. The deep discussion was over.
God took charge of this particular dilemma in our family by using the most open, articulate member of our family, a three-year-old to correct and instruct us. The Holy Spirit could not break through our pragmatic, logical mindset which trusted our opinion, viewpoint, and logic more than the heart of the Father. Although we believed we were spiritual, faithful Catholics, we were actually deaf and blind to God’s will in this situation. The experience was a blow to our egos, a dramatic demonstration of the truth of Christ’s word:
“In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
It is extraordinary that more Catholics do not take this verse seriously; it seems our very salvation is hanging in the balance, dependent on whether we become like little children. Of course, the more we think about it, the more this whole concept seems impossible.
Because No One Can Change Through Will Power
Instead of the word change, some Scripture translations use the word convert; some use the word turn. The Greek word for turn or change (στρέφω strephō) is in the passive voice (straphēte). This seemingly tiny difference in verb tenses has huge consequences because it means God must be the one who changes us. Christians cannot convert or change or turn ourselves and become like little children on our own. Spiritual transformation does not happen when a disciple of Christ grits their teeth and tries to force change. People can modify their outer actions; people cannot transform their inner spirit.
It is imperative that Christians acknowledge they are powerless to change. Our only hope is to ask the Father to convert our hearts just like a small child asks their daddy to help them. It is humbling to beg for forgiveness, to admit we have been blinded by worldly attitudes which value strength and independence. We have to repent and admit attempts to change our very nature through sheer will power is an exercise in futility. Trust me, I have tried. After years, reality finally shattered the delusional concepts of my own holiness and I threw myself at Christ’s feet. I had realized I was an utter failure in my self-prescribed role as a personal saviour and healer.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become “children of God” we must be “born from above” or “born of God”. Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this “marvelous exchange”:
“O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.” (CCC 526; cit. Liturgy of the Hours)
Children and Spirituality
Children’s spirituality is not simply taught, it rises from within their own spirits as they listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in their own hearts. Often what came out of our children’s mouths surprised and startled my husband and me. Yet both of us were often aware of the deep spirituality which flowed from our children to us.
Give up striving on your own and allow Christ to put your false self to death on His cross. It is a long painful process but we can choose to let God have His way with us by slowly surrendering to God’s love and the love of His mother, Mary, letting it saturate every cell of our bodies. Spiritual power is unleashed when we finally become who we are, children of God, no more but no less. This is a spirituality a child understands, a spirituality St. Thérèse of Lisieux understood.
Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire. (St. Catherine of Siena)