Wednesday October 1, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Therese
Reading (Isaiah 66:10-14c) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:1-4)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us very, very clearly that unless we become like little children we will not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. It is that clear. It is an absolute necessity that one must become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Now in order to be as a child, that means, on one level, to have complete confidence in one’s parents and to not worry about where things are going to come from. Little children do not worry about whether they are going to have a meal; they just assume that they will. They do not worry about whether they are going to have a roof over their head or whether they are going to get a bath, they fight the latter, but nonetheless they have confidence that all of these things are going to be taken care of. They just go. They just move on from one thing to the next and they do not worry about all the little things. That is the same kind of confidence we have to have.
At the same time, when we hear this beautiful reading from Isaiah talking about how we would be carried in a mother’s arms and fondled like a baby in her lap, we look at ourselves sometimes and we keep a distance from God because we refuse to become like little children this way. But this is where a lot of healing is going to take place for many, many people; it is to become in prayer literally like a little child. That is, to be able in prayer to go back and sit in God the Father’s lap or to sit in Our Lady’s lap and allow them to love you. That is something a lot of people find very difficult to do. What it shows us is that while we in our minds assent to the truths regarding God, in our hearts we are still far away because we are afraid. Most little children are not afraid to run into their parent’s lap, to jump into their arms, to be held, to be fondled, all of the things that a parent would normally do. Unless there is a child who is abused or somehow rejected by his parents, the child is going to want to be with the parent, in the parent’s lap, putting his head right up to the parent’s heart and sitting there. That is the way we should be with God.
When we sin, rather than running the other way, we need to run to God and we need to jump into the arms of His mercy. When we are struggling, we need to come before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and we need to place ourselves with the greatest confidence right before Him to ask His advice and His direction, to give our troubles to Him so that He will be able to take them away, to give us the direction that we need, and to show us the way we are to walk. That is the way a child does things. Sometimes, if a child has been shamed, when they break a toy they try to hide it so the parents do not see it – exactly what we do when we sin. Other times, when a child has been loved by his parents, when he breaks that toy, the first thing he does is bring the broken toy to the parent to have it fixed because the child has confidence that the parent will fix anything, no matter how devastatingly broken it is. The child just believes that the parent will fix anything. In this case, God our Father will fix anything. No matter what the woundedness is inside, He will fix it, if we are willing to come to Him, if we are willing to bring our brokenness to Him.
These are the lessons that we learn from Saint Therese: to become like a little child in the presence of God, to have that simplicity of a child which many of us find to be repulsive because we think that becoming more complex is the more impressive thing to do. God is not impressed at all because God is perfectly simple, and if we are going to become more like God we have to become more simple. In becoming more simple, we will become more childlike. That is exactly what Our Lord tells us we must do. He does not give us an option. He uses the same word in several places: “Unless you are born again of water and the Holy Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven”; “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”; “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.” It is not an option for us. We must be baptized, we must receive Holy Communion, and we must be as a little child.
That is the kind of relationship Our Lord wants. Not something that violates our dignity to make us childish or to treat us in a way that is beneath us, not at all; but rather to have those childlike traits, those virtues that we see only in little children: the complete confidence, the total love, the dedication, all of the things that a child is about. Those are the things God wants to see in us, to have that trust – total and complete trust in God – not worrying about everything, not upset about all kinds of things, not trying to control everything, just letting go and giving it all over to God; and when we have a difficulty, to come to Him; when we are having a great day, to come to Him. Any of you who are parents know how children are. They do not go very far from Mom and they make sure they pay a visit quite often. They are off playing all by themselves, they come racing over, grab her by the legs, go back, and play. A few minutes later, they come racing back, just want to sit on her lap for thirty seconds, and off they go to play again. They are constantly coming back. How many times a day do we check in with Our Lord? How far do we go away from the Lord? Little children always want to be right in the sight of their mother. They do not even like to be in the next room.
We need to keep God always in our presence. No matter where we are, He is in our hearts if we are in the state of grace, but we need to keep our minds focused on Him. We need to check in with Him frequently, to come to Him with our problems, to thank Him in the good times, all the things that a child will do. That is what Our Lord is asking of us: to learn from the most simple ones, to learn from the most innocent ones, to learn from those who are the most precious in the eyes of God: little children, who just simply love and trust and do not worry about anything. That is the way God wants us to live and that is what we learn from our little Saint of today – how to be like a little child in the arms of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.