The little ones

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 Lord's embrace.

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.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015