Our Savior, Jesus Christ and the Children

   "Children do not inspire terror or aversion, but attachment and love," says St. Peter Chrysologus. It seems that children know not how to be angry; and if perchance at odd times they should be irritated, they are easily soothed; one has only to give them a fruit, a flower, or bestow on them a caress, or utter a kind word to them, and they have already forgiven and forgotten every offense.

    A tear of repentance, one act of heart-felt contrition, is enough to appease the Infant Jesus. "You know the tempers of children," pursues St. Thomas of Villanova; "a single tear pacifies them, the offense is forgotten. Approach, then, to Him while He is a little one, while He would seem to have forgotten His majesty." He has put off His Divine majesty, and appears as a Child to inspire us with more courage to approach His feet.

  -----St. Alphonsus De Liguori

   Often enough already we have been compelled to draw attention to the universality of the appeal of Jesus, a universality which has no parallel in the life of any man that has lived. He is a friend alike of rich and poor, of learned and unlearned, of ancient sage and rash youth, of kings and shepherds, of priests and common working men, of old men and old women, of selfless Saints and self-seeking sinners, of those who sought Him and of those who stood aloof, of those who made merry and of those who hid themselves away, of Pharisees and publicans, of noble rulers and of stricken beggars, of old companions and of new-comers, of prosperous leaders and of oppressed widows, of Galilæans and Samaritans, of Jews and Gentiles, of the forward and the bashful, of innocent and guilty, of the sanguine and the despondent, of the successful and those who failed, of the active and those given to contemplation, of the grateful and the ungrateful, of the considerate and the thoughtless,-----whichever way we turn we find always and for ever the same understanding of all, the same attraction, the same welcome, the same readiness to respond, the same conviction conveyed that there is none with whom He is not in complete sympathy, and with whom any man at all cannot gain complete familiarity if he will.

   Nowhere is this universality more conspicuous than in the touching scene which, however insignificant in itself, has nevertheless been thought worth while recording by the three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each in language of his own. They have followed Jesus through His last journey; they have set Him before us in unusual dignity and strength. He has spoken in more forcible language than ever before of the coming of the Son of Man, of the need of prayer, of the obligations of family life. He has been set before us as one who commands, surrounded by a sense of awe which, since the day He left Bethania after the raising of Lazarus, nothing has relieved. Now, on a sudden, with that emphatic contrast so common in the story of His life we are told:

Then they brought to Him also little children
That He might touch them
Impose hands upon them
And pray.

   Evidently, then, no matter what impression of sternness has been left upon us by the tone of the last discourses, to those who listened to Him there was felt nothing of the kind. He might warn them of one woman being taken and another being left, but He also told them of the widow whose prayers won justice from a judge who was unjust. He might speak severely on the laws of marriage, yet in the end what He said made the woman more secure. While He spoke the mothers were won by Him, the firmness of His tone inspired in their children only trust. Pharisees might stand aloof, but women and infants crept the closer to Him. He might raise His hand as if to strike, but they would confidently ask Him to touch them. He might threaten, but they would seek His blessing all the more. He might speak severely about the need of prayer, all the more would they beg Him to pray over them.

   For indeed these women knew that in His hands their children were secure. His universal sympathy included even them; with children, indeed with all the world if it would but see it, He was just a little child.

A Child is born to us
And a Son is given to us
And the government is upon His shoulder
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counselor
 God the Mighty
The Father of the world to come
The Prince of Peace.

Not without reason had the prophet emphasized this special character of the Messias; nor in His earliest days had Jesus without reason emphasized its fulfillment. He had lived as other children; more than other children had He suffered. Born in destitution, flying for His life, with the thought never-to-be-forgotten that His own birth had brought death to many infants and misery to many mothers, brought up in secrecy lest He might be too soon discovered; such a childhood, even if nothing else were there, must have fostered a sympathy for children beyond the common.

   And already how often He had shown it! He had raised to life a boy to soothe his widow mother, a girl to comfort a distracted father; when He fed the five thousand, and again the four thousand, the children were included in that prophetic miracle. His great Gentile miracle had been the driving of a devil out of a little girl; after the Transfiguration He had done the same for a little boy; on other occasions the children were abundantly favored. Or who that was present could forget that day when He taught the Twelve the value He set upon a child?

And taking a child
He set him in the midst of them
Whom when he had embraced
He saith to them
 Whosoever shall receive one such child as this
In my name
Receiveth me
And whosoever shall receive me
Receiveth not me
But him that sent me.

And again:

Amen I say to you
Unless you be converted
And become as little children
        You shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself
As this little child
He is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven.
      But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones
That believe in me,
It were better for him
That a millstone should be hanged about his neck
And that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

   By all this and more might the Twelve have known the Child that lived in the heart of their Master. But they might have known it by countless other signs; by the simple love He always showed His Mother, by the quick response He made to any mark of affection, by the way a little slight hurt Him, by the trust He placed in others, even those who would one day turn against Him, by His spontaneous generosity, by His easy contentment, by His delight in the birds of the air, and the flowers of the field, and the children at play in the market-place, by the eye that watched the laborers in the field, and the housewife in her cottage, and the shepherd with his sheep in the upland, by the ease with which He painted fairy pictures of royal banquets, and kings going out to battle, and told tales of sheep gone astray, and naughty brothers,-----fascinating tales such as only a man with the mind of a child could tell. They might have known Him in His strength and His  weakness; the Child setting his teeth to be brave and do his duty, the Child looking for companionship and comfort, expanding with joy when a friend showed he cared.

    But for the moment the Twelve were unconscious of all this; children themselves, they had been blinded by the passing glamor. The Master had of late been the Master indeed. He had just been defining the limits of the Law, defiant of Pharisees, contradicting even Moses. Surely this was no time nor place for meddlesome mothers with their babies. They turned on the intruders; they fussed about among them. They would have them be off and take their charges with them; though it does not appear that their zeal for the comfort of the Master was of much avail.

Which when the disciples saw
They rebuked them that brought them,
says the Gospel; with what effect it does not say.

   Jesus was engaged with elders, with followers much troubled about what He had been saying, when the women pushed their little children to His knees. We can see Him looking up to the former, speaking to them His last words, His mind turned on them while His hands were held out to be seized and played with by the happy children clambering about Him. We can see the Twelve keeping order, some close by, trying to stem the tide of infants flowing in, some at the door, or in the street outside, remonstrating with the inconsiderate women who would so pester Jesus at a moment when He was engaged with matters more important.

Presently He has finished what He has to say. His eyes turn down to the little ones that want Him; from them He looks out on the bustle at the door, where His zealous Twelve ward off the women who would trouble Him. A shade passes over His face; He shows displeasure. He stops their zeal with a word, He attracts their attention. Keeping still about Him the children who have scrambled through, He beckons to the Twelve to come near. He speaks to them severely, yet were ever more gentle words uttered? The paradox, the impossible combination of extremes, baffles us at every turn; Jesus Christ, the strongest and the mightiest, the meekest and the least of men.

Whom when He saw
He was much displeased,
And calling them together said to them:
Amen I say to you
Suffer the little children to come unto me
And forbid them not.
For of such is the kingdom of God
The kingdom of Heaven is for such.
Amen, I say to you
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God
As a little child
Shall not enter into it.

   The opposition was quelled; the Twelve stood there in silence, their lesson learnt once for all. The women, single-minded, delighted to have their will, crowded about Him all the more. The children came nearer, they knew in whom they could trust; they had found Him whom their little souls loved, they held Him and would not let Him go. Big Jesus talking to big men was also little Jesus playing with them, and they lost themselves in the joy of it. And as they crushed upon Him He put His arms about them. He held them to His heart, as many as He could reach, in a fond embrace. He gave them that joy for which many a Saint has craved, but which when given has been more than human nature could endure. The children grew silent in His arms, the mothers were beside themselves with satisfaction, the Twelve looked on, and another trait in the character of Jesus was stamped upon them for all time. For a moment or two it lasted; then He released His hold. While the little children, as it were, awakened from their ecstasy, He put His hand on the head of each, gently, one by one. He delighted in them, His eyes turned up to Heaven, He blessed them. He rose from His seat, He smiled upon them, He prepared to move forward on His road. and instinctively the happy little group dispersed.

And embracing them
                 And laying his hands upon them He blessed them,
And departed from thence.

Bishop Alan Goodier, SJ