We are the world

I looked into the eyes of the adolescent boy who had very smugly said, “Your hair and eyes are nice.” Just a few moments before, he had said something mean to the boy next to him. I had given him the choice of saying two nice things or receiving discipline. I smiled and clarified my request. I said, “You must say two nice things about your neighbor.” He turned to his friend. He was apparently totally at a loss what to do next. Before he could dig a deeper hole for himself, I whispered to him that this one time I would give him one thing to say, but he had to supply the other. Thankfully he carried off his end of it. For an educator, exchanges like this are common at the start of the year. 

Children have always tested boundaries with adults guiding them back to where they need to be. Can you imagine each disciple’s wonder as he watched Jesus place His arms around that child? Jesus said, “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” (Mk 9:37). At least one disciple had to be thinking Lord did you see that kid two minutes ago behaving in an atrocious manner?

Jesus responds to their unvoiced question by asking the disciples what they were doing prior to their stop in Capernaum. On the journey, instead of listening to Jesus’ Words about His ministry, the disciples had chosen to debate which of them was the greatest! Do you see in their actions an adult tantrum?

Jesus’ answer revealed how, with patience and love, He looked past human limitations. More than that though, with His words and action, Jesus issued a call for each of us to try to do the same in our lives. Jesus provided a striking visual (hugging the child) that called to each human heart present that day. Instantly, the human title of greatest fell to dust beside the opportunity to be with and to rest in the Savior’s arms. As we read that Gospel today that same call resonates within the heart of each of us. Wherever we are in our Spiritual lives, we too wish to be that child in Jesus’ arms.

What does Jesus see in the child? If we truly wish to be the child in Jesus’ arms we must give this question serious reflection. A good starting point for meditation is the idea of childlike as opposed to childish (immature and irresponsible). Positive attributes of childlike include: innocence, trust, and spontaneity. These characteristics are important because they allow one to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. 

Children must grow to adulthood. In doing so, each has his or her own special and individual journey with Christ. As Spanish poet Antonio Machado says, “Walker, there is no path, you make the path as you walk.” That path for each of us includes finding a way to love our neighbor even as we discover the unique and special person God made us to be. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35). For a child, a prayerful heart open to the Spirit and honorable adults as guides start him or her on the path leading towards everlasting life. 

With adulthood, the responsibility for choosing the correct path rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual. Even with the best of intentions, each of us will make mistakes that hurt others. There may even be a pain or injustice that we precipitated which we cannot even attempt to rectify. Sometimes, we can be prideful or defensive about this. We can honestly know that we were wrong a very long time before we choose to admit it. In our own pain, we may briefly enjoy pointing a finger at the disciples as we imagine, what were you fellas thinking? However, long after that phase passes, Jesus’ image of His unshakable love for the child wrapped in His arms remains with us. It serves to guide us to ask for, then accept Jesus’ Spiritual healing. In addition, as we continue forward in finding our path, this image will always reassure us of His infinite love and mercy.

The secret to understanding this week’s Gospel in our life today is the realization that whatever age we are, we are always the adult and the child in this story. We are always wrapped in God’s love and asked to share that love with the world. Do you remember the song called, “We Are The World”? The line: “We are the world, we are the children / We are the ones who make a brighter day / So let’s start giving,” reminds us of our place and mission in God’s plan.

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River. biochemwz@hotmail.com.

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