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Sam Sawyer, S.J.May 16, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is well-known and well-loved. “Let the children come to me” can easily summon up a picture of Jesus in pastel tones, little children clambering on him as he smiles beatifically.

It is a beautiful picture of childlike innocence. But I can get frustrated by what feels like the Hallmark card quality of the scene—seemingly evoking more sentimentality than serious conversion. At first, it makes me want to say “Aww, how sweet,” rather than “My Lord and my God!”

What helps me past this curmudgeonly reaction is to remember what it is actually like to engage with a small child, after I’ve smiled at their cuteness and made faces at them.

Toddlers, and even infants, have an intensity of focus that can absorb us—if we pay attention to it. As they are exploring the world, they are “all in.” I would say they are undistracted, but the deeper truth is perhaps that they cannot be distracted yet, because they are still largely capable of receiving everything they encounteras a gift.

Kathleen Norris offers a beautiful illustration of this in Amazing Grace, writing about seeing a couple with an infant while waiting at an airport gate:

The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, no matter if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking he would respond with absolute delight.

It was beautiful to see. Our drab departure gate had become the gate of heaven.

“Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” As we go through the world searching for the Kingdom, trying to overcome our distractions and purify our hearts to seek the one thing necessary, it is good to be reminded that our attention is meant to be caught, the way that baby at the recognized human faces with delight. Remember the way that an infant will, by reflex, grasp a finger and hang on tight, or how a child can become utterly absorbed in a story or a set of characters.

And perhaps we can follow the gaze of a child, becoming undistracted not only by force of will but by being captivated by the joy of encountering something or someone for the first time, “for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

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