Q – Jesus tells us that we need to “become like little children” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but St. Paul tells us that we should be mature Christians (Ephesians 4). Which is it?
A – It is both! But let us examine what Jesus and St. Paul mean, for the virtues of children and of mature believers are different yet complementary.
First, what are the positive characteristics of children? They are innocent and pure, they are joyful, and they love wholeheartedly.
The mother of a seven-year-old boy named Christopher told me of the time she was telling her son the story of St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney was so holy that the devil once appeared to him and told him that if there were three men as holy as he on the earth, the devil’s kingdom would be destroyed. Upon hearing that story, Christopher started to cry. When his mother asked him what was wrong, Christopher said, “I am sad that there has only been one person that holy on earth. I want to be the second!” This child-like wholehearted love is what Jesus calls us to imitate.
Children often laugh because they don’t take themselves too seriously. They can be silly because they are not self-conscious and proud. Jesus wants us to live with that same abandon!
Frequently, a young child will give me a big hug – even if I have never met them before! In their innocence and purity, they can love others unconditionally. This is how we are called to behave. Children don’t judge others by their clothes or looks; they see only a potential friend.
Jesus calls us to be childlike. But we must distinguish between being childlike and being childish, which means displaying the selfishness, ignorance, and fickleness that also characterize children.
St. Paul tells us we should not be children in the faith, but mature men and women in Christ. What does it mean to be mature in Christ? A mature believer has persevered through difficulties, walks in deep intimacy with Christ, and possesses wisdom.
I teach at a Catholic school called Cardinal Kung Academy, named after Cardinal Ignatius Kung. Cardinal Kung was a Chinese bishop who had been arrested by the ruling Communist party in 1955 and imprisoned for over 30 years, many of which were in solitary confinement. After years of imprisonment and torture, the authorities brought him to a packed stadium in Beijing where he was expected to deny the Faith. Instead, he stood up in front of tens of thousands and declared, “Long live Christ the King!” With great affection the people responded, “Long live Bishop Kung!” This infuriated the authorities, who increased their torture of the bishop, but he never abandoned the Faith.
Here is a disciple who persevered through intense suffering, forging spiritual maturity in the harsh crucible of trials and tribulations. After he escaped to the US in 1986, he testified that it was his daily, intimate prayer with Jesus Christ that allowed him to stand firm in faith. Through it all, he came out without any bitterness or anger, but overflowing with wisdom.
So, to follow Christ is to have the beautiful virtues of children –singlehearted, unconditional love; bubbling joy and wonder; innocence and purity – and the tried-and-true perseverance, wisdom, and daily intimacy with the Lord that characterize those who are mature in faith. May we follow Christ living a faith of childlike maturity!
Father Joseph Gill is a high school chaplain and serves in parish ministry. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Gill has published several albums of Christian rock music (available on iTunes). His debut novel, “Days of Grace” is available on amazon.com.
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
Want to be in the loop?
Get the latest updates from Tidings!