I like your face

Let me set the scene for you. A mother is shopping with her young son, who by the looks of him can’t be much older than four. She stands in an aisle, her back to her son, assessing a row of non-perishables. Meanwhile, the little boy spots an older gentleman across from them in the aisle, and calls out to him: “I like your face!” A moment passes between the two, a look of uncertainty passing between them, and then the older gentleman smiles, selects his product, and moves on. 

Did I witness this on a recent shopping trip? No, but it is one of my favorite commercials running on television right now. Because from the very moment I first saw it, I couldn’t help but think about how completely free from inhibition that small boy was. The only thing I could think of was how children don’t censor or conceal their true feelings; they simply tell you how it is. They have no concern for what others think of them and they see no shame in complimenting strangers with big mustaches in the same cereal aisle as them. General Mills might make the argument that this representation of a small boy is meant to mirror the fact that their cereals have no artificial flavors or coloring — that their cereal is in fact as real as that little boy — however, I would argue that there is a deeper message here. 

In Matthew and Mark’s Gospels, in sections entitled, “The Greatest in the Kingdom,” a very telling message is shared about children and their value. In Mark’s Gospel, “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.” I’ll admit, there’s a lot of similar sounding and roundabout wordage in that sentence, but the message is pretty clear. It is in the persona of children that we find Christ. He continues, saying, “Let the children come to Me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Well, that’s interesting, because in first Corinthians we read, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Now, I’m a little panicky. If I put aside childish things as I got older, how the heck am I getting to the Kingdom of God? Clearly I need to do some backtracking. But how?

The question of how to remain young is also a question of how to remain pure of heart. I think the answer is sometimes so simple we overlook it. In a time when being Catholic seems increasingly more difficult — whether we are grappling with the Church’s stance on social issues, we’re discouraged because vocations are down, we have a hard time relating to the Mass, we no longer see other young people sitting next to us in the pews (that one was personal) — our faith is aging us. We become tired and lose sight of the beauty in our rituals, we forget that dogma and doctrine are two different things, and we so distance ourselves from God through layers of sin that we no longer see value in reconciling. This is a very bleak picture of our Church. 

Instead, our faith should be the very thing that keeps us young. It’s the very thing that restores us to our childlike humility that prepares us for the Kingdom of God. It allows us to be real with God, nothing but our authentic selves, which is all He asks of us. But how? What are the actual ways we do this? Personally, I’ve found a passion project. I love, love, love youth and young adult ministry, and right now I’m working in the Office of Faith Formation to develop a retreat with Father David Frederici for high school seniors that focuses on the transition from high school to college. The goal is to provide these seniors with information on how to successfully make that transition, continue to develop their faith, and seek out campus ministry opportunities no matter which college campus they may find themselves on. 

From the very first planning meeting, to marketing development, and now to team formation I find myself renewed and energized to work with and for a new generation of young Catholics who are no longer the future of the Church — but who are, instead, the present Church. The short of it — find something in your faith life that brings you joy, the kind of joy a child feels, and do it. Because if through His Word, Jesus is telling me that I should strive to stay a child for as long as possible, then to that I say, thank you Jesus, because adulthood is not as pretty as it looks. Now if only He would help me pay back my loans, balance my checkbook from time to time, and remind me to get an oil change every once in a while.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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