The Gospel is read at the procession with palms before Mass:
Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear.
My nephew Josh, has started to read and, in the process, is discovering Jesus Christ and the Christian faith for the first time. His mother and grandmother have taught him to say grace, to pray and punctuate his prayers with ‘Amen’. Before he goes to bed, he bids goodnight to Jesus (“and Mother Mary too, okay?”). His mother has even caught him whispering his thoughts and hopes to Jesus. How cute!
To Josh’s great credit, he has embraced his introduction to the faith with enthusiasm. None of us were raised Catholic. We came to our faith as adults. Josh will be the first in our family to discover Jesus as a child, free of the cynicism and doubt that trip up most adults. He’ll discover Jesus with that childlike faith that Christ talks about in the Book of Mark. What a blessing it is, to be wide-eyed and wondrous about our faith! And what a responsibility for the adults who have been tasked to teach it to him! For instance, how do we tell the Easter story to Josh, in a way that is faithful to its message yet relatable to child’s view of the world?
For a child, life is fairly simple – there are good guys, and there are bad guys. And in his small circle, he identifies us as belonging to one tribe or the other. There are no grey areas (“Why did Peter say he didn’t know Jesus? Aren’t they friends?”), no existential crises (“Why did Judas throw away the money after he gave Jesus to the bad guys”). Jesus said so himself, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15). So how do we view the Passion story with child-like eyes? The crux of Christ’s Passion is that God loved us so much, He sent Jesus, His Son, to show us how to live as good people, and to die for us so that we could join Him in Heaven. Simple enough? Not so much!
“If he was a good man, why did Jesus have to die?” my nephew will inevitably ask. How does one talk about God’s divine love in a way that a child can understand? The consequences of sin are death and separation from God. But did Jesus have to endure such cruelty, and die betrayed and alone, so that we could join him in heaven? Were we really worth it? How do we explain ‘unworthiness’ to Josh?
“Why didn’t God save Jesus from the bad guys? Doesn’t God love him?!!?”, another difficult question. God gave Jesus a role to fulfill, and because he was a good and faithful man, Jesus fulfilled it. God lets us choose, but if we love God, we have to respect what He wants from us. Would a child understand the concept of sacrifice and suffering? And on that scale? Do I understand it even?
“Does that mean that if I do something wrong, all I have to do is say I’m sorry to God and I can go to heaven?!” – undoubtedly the next zinger that comes my way. And that’s exactly the mystery of it. God embraced us as His own, despite our failures. God believed that we could be redeemed, despite ourselves. Jesus believed that we were worth redeeming, that we were worth dying for, even when we behaved so poorly towards him. How do we do justice to this grace, this love? How do we tell this story so we don’t edit out the scale of Jesus’ sacrifice?
Josh’s intrepid tracks into the kingdom of God have allowed us, as a family, to re-examine our faith. No question is unworthy here. His mother thinks Josh “will freak out” if he finds out that Jesus was nailed to a cross. I don’t blame him, it’s hard for us even as adults. Seen through the eyes of a two-year-old, the injustice that Jesus endured so we could have a relationship with God is beyond anything we can grasp. And that’s ok, we don’t have to grasp it, or have to wrap our heads around it. That’s part of the mystery of our faith. Not everything can be known. We can accept it as something we will never understand and hold on to the things that we can grasp. We can try to be the best versions of ourselves, so that he wouldn’t have died in vain. We can celebrate the love that God had for us. We can remember that our lives are worth something. We can rejoice that Jesus overcame Death and arose again, just as we will when we join him in the everlasting.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the ability to see our faith with the eyes of a child, and to accept the things we don’t understand with humility and grace.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the children in our lives who remind us that we don’t have all the answers, even when we think that we do.