“Let the little children come to Me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
“Unless you acquire the heart of a child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:13).
If we are to enter the Kingdom of God in heaven, we must know that we belong to the King, and we must live as though we are His sons and daughters, trusting His providential guidance and care of our lives.
One of our Sisters recently shared something she had read about the angel Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace,” to Mary at the Annunciation. The new name Mary received at that moment — “full of grace” — can also be translated from the Greek of the New Testament as “she who was, who is, and who always will be loved by God.” This is who Mary is — the beloved of the Father — and it is also who each of us is. We are each the one who was, who is, and who always will be loved by God. This is our identity. We are the perpetually beloved children of God.
But sometimes we are so focused on being adults, that we forget how to be children. And yet we must acquire the heart of a child, Jesus tells us, in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
What is the heart of a child like? Receiving formation and training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd this summer, I have had extra opportunities to ponder this question. I learned, for instance, that the spontaneous prayer of young children up to six years old is almost always praise and thanksgiving. Rather than raise to God a litany of needs, as we often tend to do as adults, young children instinctively raise to God “a sacrifice of praise” (Psalm 116:17a) when they encounter Him in mystery.
This, I think, is one key to what it means to acquire the heart of a child: to respond with wonder and awe, with praise and thanksgiving to God for His many gifts.
Additionally, for young children, their work is about the process, not the goal or end result. They have a natural tendency to live in the present moment. Can you imagine how different life would be if you and I lived like that? We might finally realize that the Kingdom of God is present among us (cf. Luke 11:20). Instead of just seeking to finish one task and move on to the next, we might actually notice Christ present among us in this moment. In fact, I think it is that tendency to rejoice in the process and to live in the present moment that allows young hearts to erupt with praise when they encounter God precisely there.
Mary herself lived this way. She pondered in her Heart each present moment with Jesus. She burst forth in praise and thanksgiving to God who “has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” (Luke 1:49).
Like Mary’s heart, the heart of a child knows that he or she is beloved of God. And encountering that love each moment, the child responds in loving praise.
May you and I know as Mary did, and as the child does, the love of God for us, and may our hearts overflow with thanksgiving for this great gift of being His own sons and daughters!
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.