Jesus uses an unusual prop to teach a lesson in this Sunday's
Gospel: a little child. His apostles had been arguing about
who was the greatest among them. We likely have had arguments
similar to this, whether with others or in our own minds. As
a response to their prideful quarrel, Jesus takes a child,
pulls him close and wraps His arms around him. We can imagine
the gentleness of Our Lord's embrace and the child's smiling
response. Then Jesus tells his apostles, "Whoever receives
one child such as this in my name receives me."
In responding to the apostles' argument over value and worth,
Jesus teaches them that it is not just the powerful who have
worth - everyone does. Not only that, but every person is
made in the image of God, and that value we all share imparts
a special responsibility on those who have authority and
influence. Therefore, each of us who are able must share in
the duty of protecting the little ones who depend on us to
defend them and care for them. These little ones include the
unborn, the infirm, the homebound, the marginalized, the
abandoned and the stranger. The church is the mystical Body
of Christ - from the poorest to the richest, the weakest to
the most powerful.
When we care for each other, we care for Jesus: "Whoever
receives one child such as this in my name receives me." We
should ask Our Lord in prayer for knowledge of who the
less-than-obvious "little ones" in our lives are and how He
wishes us to care for them. Perhaps this might mean
befriending a co-worker who is gossiped about or reaching out
to someone we know who is lonely or suffering.
There is another lesson to learn from the child Jesus holds
before us, and it about our spiritual life. Before embracing
the child, Jesus tells His apostles, "If anyone wishes to be
first, he shall be the last." In other words, we must be the
little ones - trusting, innocent, helpless. Little ones do
not worry about placing themselves above others. Instead,
they simply place their well-being in the hands of the ones
who care for them. Just as an infant places its trust in its
mother and father, we, as spiritual children, must place our
trust in our Our Heavenly Father.
Our Lord knows that giving up power and control is
uncomfortable. Looking around us, we see people whose lives
are taken from their control through tragic events such as
illness, addiction, unemployment, abandonment or the death of
a loved one. In less extreme conditions, every one of us has,
at one time or another, felt tested beyond our limits and
felt helpless. While it is difficult to see such times as
blessings, it is often when we are powerless that we turn,
like a child reaching up for help, to the one who is
omnipotent. When we drop all that we have tried so
desperately to grasp in our little arms, such as success,
security and happiness, our arms are freed to receive Our
Trying to remain in control can be a tremendous burden.
Perhaps this week we also can ask God where He is calling us
to be more child-like and dependent on Him and for the grace
to let go so we can receive all that He wishes to give us as
Our Loving Father.
When we place our faith in the plan and providence of God, we
can find peace amid the storm. Yet we know that having this
kind of faith is not easy or innate but something we need to
obtain through prayer and through experience. It is a lesson
we must learn over and over and over again, on our knees
before the Lord, praying, "Not my will, Lord, but yours ."
Let us strive to be more like little children each day,
knowing that Our Father will guide us through it all until we
are resting with Him at our final destination - safe and
sound at our heavenly home. May the Holy Spirit form our
hearts to be trusting, innocent, faithful and peaceful,
knowing that Our Lord knows the way home and that He wants to
lead us there if we but let Him .
Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.