The following story appeared in the December 17 Idaho Catholic Register.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I recall Christmases past and ponder the importance of Christ’s admonition that unless we become like children, we will not enter the Kingdom of God.
All of my daughters have had a fascination with the Christmas crèche in the church. At the conclusion of Christmas Mass, they want to move to the sanctuary to gaze at baby Jesus in the manger in order to “take in” the mystery of God becoming one of us. Year after year, we take a family Christmas picture in front of the crèche as we contemplate the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, as a child. The utter humility of God to condescend and be embodied as a small and helpless child continues to stun and amaze me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains some beautiful passages that connect Christmas with childlikeness.
To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the Kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become “children of God” we must be “born from above” or “born of God.” Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this ‘marvelous exchange’:
O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity. (CCC 526)
I recently finished reading The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. I must be honest and admit that I struggled through the first chapter of the book where the Little Flower recounts memories of her early childhood, mostly taken from excerpts from her mother’s journal. I struggled to connect with what this great Doctor of the Church was trying to teach me through these childhood stories. I guess deep down it challenged me to ponder my own childhood regarding my openness, innocence, and simplicity. Like this “little” saint, had I come to know Jesus as a child of God? Was I being open, innocent and simple?
As we grow older, we feel like we become wiser and more mature and somehow think we know better. How-ever, our adult wisdom is often the result of the struggles, challenges and difficulties of life. These experiences can lead to the hardening of our hearts to the receptivity and love exemplified in child-hood. Christmastime always taps into the experience of our “inner child,” calling each of us to ask tough questions about some of the hardness in our hearts.
Struggling myself with a bit of a hardened heart, I had difficulty seeing how these second-account stories from her childhood meant anything to me. I wanted to get to the more “adult” stuff in the story to help me cope with my “real life” as an adult. Then I read this passage from her autobiography that did soften my heart:
One day Leonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with the basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. “Here, my little sisters, choose; I’m giving you all this.” Celine stretched out her hand and took a little ball of wool, which pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out mine saying: “I choose all!” and I took the basket without further ceremony. Those who witnessed the scene saw nothing wrong and even Celine herself didn’t dream of complaining.
This little incident of my child-hood is a summary of my whole life. Later on, when perfection was set before me, I understood to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, there were many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: “My God, ‘I choose all!’ I don’t want to be a saint by halves, I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for ‘I choose all’ that You will!
There is much to unpack in her reflection, but the key takeaway for me was that I must remember that I am a child of God, and He has set before me a great gift. At Christmas, it is Jesus who is the gift of the Father! Do I choose all and accept the gift of Jesus? Like Therese, I cry out, as in the days of my childhood, My God, I choose all!
The Catechism in paragraphs 2784-2785 echoes the dispositions of adoption to become a child of God. The first disposition is the desire to become like Him and the second disposition is a humble and trusting heart that enables us “to turn and become like children” because it is to “little children” that the Father is revealed.
As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Christmas Mass, may we be reminded of the great gift set be-fore us as children of heaven.
St. Peter Chrysologus writes, “The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven. [Christ] himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven.”
It is through Jesus Christ’s birth and the mystery of baptism that we are called to become the adopted children of God. Let our hearts be like a child’s so that we might enter the Kingdom of God.
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