“The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder…Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up.” So wrote Pope Francis in his Apostolic letter Admirabile signum in 2019.
On Dec 28, we also celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents. Do we remember when we were more holy and innocent as children?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14) What is it about children that make them model disciples of our Lord? Perhaps it is because children are:
C – curious: parents often get exasperated by the endless string of questions thrown at them by their offspring, but children are only seeking understanding and knowledge of the world around them, and will not stop until they are satisfied – or silenced. Are we that curious about Christ and our faith?
H – happy, joyful, spontaneous: children don’t care what people think of them, and are unafraid of exploring new places and taking risks. At a General Audience in November 2018, a six-year-old hearing-impaired boy playfully ran up on the stage where Pope Francis was giving his catechesis and Holy Father exclaimed: “He has something that made me think: He’s free! Undisciplined-ly free, but he’s free! It made me think, ‘Am I so free before God?’”
I – imaginative and imitative: children love fairy-tales, rhymes and stories, and dare to dream and create their own make-believe worlds. They role-play their favourite characters, be they prince and princess, or Mummy and Daddy, or priest and parishioner. Are we just as enthralled by the parables of Jesus?
L – loving and loveable: it is easy to love young children because they love so unconditionally. They crave and compete for our attention, time and touch. They forgive and forget easily. A four-year-old girl was asked about the meaning of love. She answered: “Love is when your puppy jumps on you and licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” God (like our parents) gave us the gift of life – do we give God (and our parents) the gift of our time?
D – discipline-able, teachable: little children are usually obliging and obedient, and accept discipline without bearing grudges. Our Father also disciplines us: “Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? He disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:5-8,10) Do we keep trusting in God when trials come our way, or do we throw tantrums instead?
R – receptive: “Children are like wet cement – whatever falls on them makes an impression.” (Haim Ginotti, child psychologist) They are very astute. “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you!” (Robert Fulghum, author) Similarly, faith too is caught first, and only taught later. Are we true fishers of men, catching others for the Kingdom by our life witness?
E – easily enchanted and eager to please: children find fun and endless fascination with just about anything. In the same way, St John Paul II said: “We must be pure and simple like children, capable of admiring, being astonished, of marvelling, and being enchanted by the divine gestures of love and closeness we witness.” Do we still have the capacity to be captivated by God and His creation?
N – natural and innocent: children are the most un-adulted, and hence the most unadulterated human persons. They state facts simply, without innuendo and with complete innocence and truth: Jesus gives us the example of “children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.” (Luke 7:32) Do we still speak Truth?
No wonder when Jesus was asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” he called a child into his presence and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4). In his 1994 Letter to Children, St John Paul II exclaimed: “How important children are in the eyes of Jesus! The whole of the Gospel could actually be read as the ‘Gospel of Children’!”
Prisms of faith
In the Beatitudes, Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) As sunlight passing through a glass prism is refracted into the myriad colours of the rainbow, so the Son Light shining through pure and child-like hearts will reveal the beauty of God’s loving presence in lives discoloured and darkened by sin.
If we allow the Light to pierce our souls, He will re-orientate our lives so that we can, in turn, become effective prisms of faith to the world. By doing so, we will be honouring our heavenly Father and our heavenly Mother – Mary is the prism of faith par excellence.
As a wise man once said: “Children are not people to be moulded, but persons to be unfolded.” As we usher in the New Year, may we become C.H.I.L.D.R.E.N once more, and let God unfold us into the persons He wants us to be.