and Jesus called unto Him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven, and he that receive one such little child in My name receive Me.
My meditation concerns the nature of childhood and adulthood as related to this Gospel incident. I do muse often that probably since Victorian times we have sentimentalised childhood and that this in some way helps obscure the meaning of this passage. We live in a world where childhood has almost become an idol, a thing to be worshipped, a thing of outstanding value, a thing that must be preserved at all cost.
I know a family of very very happy children, they have a great time being children, they have some chores to do and some responsibilities within the family, but essentially what they want, happens. A mutual friend said that their childhood is "devastatingly happy" and is actually quite worried about them. She argues that the children have been given nothing beyond childhood, there is no concept of growing up, there is no concept that adulthood is something to aspire to, because their parents only see adulthood as a constant feeding of the desires of their children. I simply don't know whether she is right or not.
However, there are those children for whom childhood is brutally cut short through abuse, violence or having to take on adult responsibilities due to the death of a parent. There are those children who had no childhood, having always been older and instinctively wiser than their immature parents? There are those who were in their innocence, quite horrid little brats who look back on childhood with embarrassment, glad that time has put clear water between their child-self and who they are now as an adult. There are those who simply never understood childhood, never related to other children, never saw the point of it all.
Childhood in itself is not a "good", and once left can not be regained.
So what is Our Lord telling us about "becoming as little children"? He is telling us a lot about our adult selves. He is saying that we must come to Him when he calls, like children being called inside to be still, from being all rowdy and mucky in the garden outside. We will be bearing all the scars of adult life; the scars of sin, the scars of seeing too much, of hearing too much, of doing too much, the scars of knowledge of the world. But when we come to Him we must be humble, we will show Our Lord our wounds, though they are nothing in comparison to His, and we must come to Him in a state of indifference to our scars, no matter how painful. Our humility is coming before Him in obedience, trying to hide nothing, absolutely nothing. And that is how we must stand before our fellow adults in a hostile world. We must cut the sin out of ourselves and be fully aware of the sins of the world, but with an abhorrence of those sins because of the damage they do (the rest of the Gospel passage makes this clear and is not unconnected to the part I have quoted). And for the rest we must trust in Christ to show us the way to love the sinners. The purest of saints like St Philip Neri and St Aloysius had slight moments of vainglory and stupidity as children that led them to such an understanding of the horror of sin that lasted all their lives, though their own transgressions were minor. Adult innocence and purity, which these two saints epitomise, has a full horror of sin and flees fom it, unlike childlike innocence which knows it not.
As adults, we are to go into the lion's den of the world, as it were, armed solely with Christ, we can bring nothing else. A holy trust in the Lord IS our regained innocence, this is how we become "like" little children.
But the world is increasingly infantile and emotionalised, increasingly sentimental and at the same time increasingly brutal. Basically, it is increasingly abusive of children because it fails to understand adulthood and what it means to be an adult before the Lord and what a shudderingly terrifying responsibility it is to care for children of all ages.