Christ the Child by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began to journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."
Aside from a curmudgeon here or there, most everybody likes children. They are cute and they delight us with the things they say. Their innocence, wonder and enthusiasm often make us long for the days of our own youth. So our Lord's words about welcoming children may seem unremarkable: "Taking a child, He placed it in their midst, and putting His arms around it, He said to them, 'Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives Me'" (Mk 9:37). Sounds easy enough. After all, who does not like children? Reflecting on these words, however. we discover profound truths about children that challenge us to a greater generosity.
Notice that our Lord does not posit just an analogy. He does not say that receiving a child is "like" or "similar to" receiving Him. No, He establishes an identity: "Whoever receives one child such as this in My name, receives Me." He identifies Himself with children (in much the same way He identifies Himself with the poor (cf. Mt 25:32-46). By such identification, He reveals something about Himself. He is the original child. Before any child was born in this world, He is already the eternal son of the Father. He is a "child" eternally.
This identification of our Lord and children in turn teaches something about children. They are His little emissaries, bearing witness by their very existence to His eternal Sonship. Children are, in a sense, a sacrament - an outward sign - of the Lord. They are a hint or vestige of His eternal Sonship. A child's absolute dependence on his parents reveals our Lord's eternal dependence on His Father. As a child receives everything (beginning with life itself) from his parents, so our Lord lives because of the Father (cf. Jn 6:57) and rejoices to receive all things from Him (cf. Lk 10:21-22).
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me." These words should be a cause of joy and inspiration for parents. In light of Christ, the ordinary task of bearing and raising children takes on eternal significance. It becomes a way to receive, welcome and serve Christ Himself. This is the spiritual dimension of a couple's openness to children. If to receive a child is to receive Him, then the openness to children is an openness to Christ.
Yet His words cut in another direction as well and become an occasion for self-examination because our culture does not receive children very well. We "receive" children only on our terms, which of course is not to receive them at all but to demand them. Worse, by way of contraception, sterilization and abortion we reject children with great frequency. This rejection of children - as our Lord's words imply - means also a rejection of Him. It is no small task to receive a child. Every child is a blessing, of course - but also an inconvenience. From the moment of conception every child makes demands on us, coming into the world as a distinct person, with an identity all its own, with its own needs and rights. We cannot plan a child's personality, temperament and decisions. We must instead adjust our lives and reconfigure everything to accommodate that new life. Yet only by welcoming a child can we be able to rejoice in the child's life and in our own increased capacity to love.
In this way a child's arrival resembles Christ's. We receive Him not on our terms, but on His. We reorder our lives to accommodate Him and to enable Him to grow and flourish within us. And, just as a couple can know the joy of children only to the extent that they are open to them, so also we can rejoice in Christ only if we first open ourselves to receive Him.
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