The Child Who Teaches Us to Be Childlike

Turn to Jesus Christ in his Church in 2018 and your life will never be the same.

Gerard David (circa 1450/1460–1523), “The Adoration of the Magi”
Gerard David (circa 1450/1460–1523), “The Adoration of the Magi” (photo: Public Domain)

Jesus tells us we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:1–4; 19:13–15). And his personal example gives visible witness to his exhortation, as we continue in the Christmas Season and celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 7).

Consider that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Word, eternal God who became flesh (Jn. 1:1-3, 14) on our behalf and the whole world (Jn. 3:16-17). And yet he comes to us not as a mighty King, but as a vulnerable Child.

Being childlike is definitely not the same as being childish. The latter evinces the immaturity that often accompanies childhood. The former bespeaks the radical trust children can often exhibit toward their parents, a trust in God which needs to continue in adulthood—and which admittedly can be difficult. We all can chafe at being childlike, precisely because of the radical trust and death to self it requires.

Yet, again in adulthood, Jesus leads by example in modeling childlikeness. He asks his Father in heaven three times to take away his cup of suffering during his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet always submitting his human will to the divine will (Mt. 26:37–44). And so while Jesus appears to be at his ignominiously weakest during his Passion and Death, these events paradoxically become the occasion of his greatest triumph—and ultimately our greatest triumph (see 2 Cor. 12:8–10).

So as we celebrate Jesus’ Epiphany, remember that you can’t have the crib without the Cross, and that the Christ Child paid a price only he could to fulfill his mission as the Prince of Peace.

In our own lives, perhaps that personal price this might mean going to Confession for the first time in a long time, or reconciling with a long-alienated family member or relative. We all realize that we need to make sacrifices to gain something or someone worthwhile in our lives. But we often don’t want to be told how to sacrifice. We’ll determine what works for us in the realm of sacrifice and self-denial, thank you very much.

Yet, Jesus has the audacity to say otherwise. And because he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we should all listen (cf. Matthew 22:37-40). That means letting go of asking Jesus to bless our personal plans and earnestly instead seek his plan for our lives (Matthew 6:33). Easier said than done, to be sure. But like a priest friend says, we need to replace the self-centered “ego drama” for our lives with the Good Lord’s “theo-drama.”

We should also turn to the Blessed Mother, that disciple par excellence and thus the epitome of childlikeness, to aid our cause. Jesus gives us Mary as our spiritual Mother, beginning with St. John at the foot of the Cross (John 19:26-27), so that we can better follow him. Her “Fiat,” her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done to me according to thy word,” serves as a primary and indispensable example of being childlike (Luke 1:38). The abundant fruit of learning and living this lesson is writ large in the lives of the Blessed Mother and all of the other saints. And I would include my little sister Mary, who had Down Syndrome, in their number.

The motto on our money says, “In God We Trust,” but Jesus conveys it can’t be a mere slogan. It must be a life-changing commitment in which we must put our money where our mouth is, as the popular saying says. And, as Jesus reminds us, that means keeping mammon in its proper place (Matthew 6:24).

Do we trust Jesus? Will we trust Jesus? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, promises the incomparable and enduring peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). Turn to him in his Church during this New Year, whether for the very first time, to reconcile yourself to him, or to entrust yourself even more deeply to the Lord. Whatever the case, your life will never be the same. Come let us adore him.