“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
This past Friday I had two experiences of children putting their faith in action. A child’s faith can be much more trusting and unquestioning than the faith of adults. Not that I haven’t had children ask me some very profound and sincere questions that get to the heart of what we believe as Catholics. Have you ever had to deal with fourth graders who want to know how Jesus can be God and a human at the same time? Just how do you explain the hypostatic union, the dual natures of Christ to 4th graders? I struggle with finding adequate language to explain it to adult inquirers. But younger children can so easily accept that Jesus loves them and will take care of them, that heaven is real and that prayer will have an effect in the lives of others.
I arrived at Holy Trinity Catholic School, the school our parish co-sponsors with Holy Trinity Church in Fairview Heights, on Friday morning to preside at the school’s Eucharist. There, on the steps of the sanctuary were half a dozen Rubbermaid bins, and some baskets. “Hmmm,” I thought, “there must be something going on besides the usual routine.” Shortly I found out from the teacher coordinating the child liturgical ministers of the day that there would be a special procession of the gifts. Every child would be in the procession of gifts. They would be bringing their offerings of a canned good for the local food pantry. Also, the children would bring to the altar a monetary offering for their “brothers and sisters” in Joplin, MO at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Grade School whose church and school building were destroyed by a tornado so that they could start rebuilding their school. The kids also had made cards to comfort the child victims of Joplin’s natural disaster. I have to admit I was moved and felt a tear well up in my eyes as I watched over 150 children process and fill the bins and baskets with their offerings, trusting their small offerings could make a difference in the lives of others. It was the day’s assigned Mass readings (Friday, 5th Week of Easter) in action; the calling of the first deacons of the church chosen to feed the hungry and care for widows (Acts of the Apostles) and Jesus’ command to his friends “love one another and I have loved you” (Gospel of John). I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the children got a “free dress day” (they didn’t have to wear their uniforms) if they brought a contribution. Still, the children were sincere in their desire to help those in need and were an example to us adults to remember the risen Christ will be visible to the world, through the sacrament of the Church his Body, when we unselfishly sacrifice for the sake of others.
Later Friday morning, the principal of Holy Trinity School, deacon from Holy Trinity parish and I represented the school at the funeral Mass of the 32-year-old mother of a student in our school’s third grade. As you can imagine this was a truly heart wrenching liturgy. The pastor, a wonderful Franciscan Friar who obviously has the heart of a man who loves his flock, fought back tears throughout the Mass and his homily. It was so sad to see the son of the mother we were bringing to Lord sitting in the front pew, being brave. The spirituals that were sung (this is a predominantly African-American parish) touched the heart with their honest faith questioning why this death happened but expressing complete trust in God’s power to save us. But the moment that was most moving for me came during the Final Farewell portion of the liturgy. The first “tribute” given by members of the assembly was read by the third grade child of the mother whose funeral we were celebrating! I sat in amazement and was humbled. A nine-year old bravely, calmly reading a poem (I don’t know if he wrote it or if someone else helped) about his love of his mother and how he will not forget her. I recalled that I barely held it together when I preached at my own mother’s funeral. Here was a child witnessing to our faith in the resurrection, trusting God to make right this terrible tragedy in his life. His action preached more effectively than I think I ever have at a funeral. A child shall lead us and help us find the way to the Kingdom of God.
Remember, adults, don’t dismiss children as if they don’t have something to teach us because they don’t have our adult sophisticated minds. Sometimes, our adult minds keep us from opening our hearts like a trusting child to the love of God which is beyond all understanding but very real for his children born from the font of the Church, you and me.