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“Let the children come to Me”
August 13th Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel reading is only two verses long, but it contains the key to attaining eternal salvation. Parents were bringing their children to Jesus for Him to “lay [H]is hands on them and pray.” When the disciples tried to turn them away, Jesus said, “Let the children come to [M]e, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
In the preceding chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had said something very similar: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3 DRB). The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children, a fact that can seem paradoxical in our modern society, which places such great emphasis on maturity. All too often, children and teenagers wish themselves older and more “grown up”; once they are grown up, they wish in vain that they could be children again. Adults may hear today’s Gospel passage and think in sorrow that they have lived too much to ever be a child again.
However, the key lies in the word “converted.” Becoming childlike in our Faith involves conversion. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, wrote about this extensively in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. Little children are reliant on their parents for everything; whenever a child is scared, hurt, sad, or happy, she immediately runs to her father or mother, knowing that she will be showered with loving affection. St. Therese wrote that we must strive to have the same attitude toward our Heavenly Father.
This involves a great deal of humility. Our society places a perhaps unhealthy emphasis on the importance of being self-reliant; to need help from others is often viewed as a weakness or flaw. Yet this is precisely what Christ is calling us to do in today’s Gospel: to love our Heavenly Father as a helpless child, relying on Him for everything and recognizing that without Him, we can do nothing for ourselves. St. Therese expressed this beautifully when she said:
Jesus has chosen to show me the only way which leads to the Divine Furnace of love; it is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing, in its fathers arms… If only everyone weak and imperfect like me felt as I do, no one would despair of reaching the heights of love, for Jesus does not ask for glorious deeds. He asks only for self-surrender and for gratitude.1
We must learn to love God the way a child loves her parents, recognizing our littleness and complete dependance on Him. We can do this, as St. Therese explained, by finding God in the little things of everyday life. Our daily activities are opportunities to please our God, if we imagine ourselves as a child trying hard to please her parents. Doing little things for others that we would not ordinarily enjoy doing, giving a smile or kind word to someone we encounter during our day, passing up an opportunity to gain attention or praise for ourselves — all these are ways by which we can become like a child.
This can seem mundane and unglamorous, but as St. Therese and so many others after her have found, it is a life filled with great love, and it leads to eternal salvation. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are little children at heart, so may we strive to follow in St. Therese’ footsteps in becoming like a child in our love for God, so that we may one day attain complete union with Him forever in Heaven.
Therese Martin, The Story of a Soul, trans. Michael Day (Charlotte: TAN Books, 2010), 158.