Suffer the Little Children
Before bedtime prayers with the kids, my husband and I read the daily mass readings out loud for everyone.
I know this sounds pretty pious and wonderful, and in theory it actually might be, but in a house with three kids, ages four and under, this is usually a very chaotic process, at best. This whole process usually begins by the kids fighting over who gets to carry the increasingly tattered Roman Missal that we have. Then the kids fight about who gets to read — Mommy or Daddy. (We trade off — the person who is surrounded by the least kids gets to read. It’s just better for everybody that way.) And then, we read the readings and try to concentrate on scripture while our toddlers zoom around the coffee table, giggling in that pre-bedtime way.
So, honestly, I am not sure if this is as sanctifying as I hope for either us adults or for our children.
When we came back from vacation this week, it was even more chaotic, if that is even possible. We had lost the place where we were supposed to read, the kids were even crazier than usual, and it was just a complete mess. As I flipped through the pages with a baby on my lap, who was doing her best to grab all of the thin pages, my husband, who was wrestling with the two toddlers at the time, said, “What’s the hold up?”
“I can’t find the readings for the day!” I said.
“Here. I’ll find them.” And then, hoisting our two-year-old son up with one arm, he went to the computer and searched it up, with our four-year-old daughter dancing at his waist and begging for her turn to be picked up too. “It’s the feast day for Maximilian Kolbe,” he informed me. “Want to do those readings?”
“Sure,” I said, as our six-month-old launched herself onto my face and started sucking my chin.
And, honestly, it seemed like God was laughing at us, because this was the gospel reading of the day:
1 At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3 and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. [12 What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? 13And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. 14In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.
Here is an artwork of Jesus with children by the inimitable Carl Bloch. The title for this piece is “Suffer the Little Children,” which is short for the words that Jesus spoke in another gospel passage, Matthew 13, which says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Still, the gospel passage for Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day, as wonderful as it is, is only an abbreviated version of the gospel. Some of the verses were omitted because otherwise the gospel would be very long to speak out, as these readings are spoken out at daily mass and it can be harder to listen and pay attention to it without reading along. (Trust me on this… it was hard enough to pay attention to this short gospel with the kiddos running around.)
The unabbreviated gospel looks like this:
1 At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3 and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.  12 What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? 13And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. 14In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.
So, when I first heard the gospel that day, I thought to myself, “God is laughing at me.”
And I smiled in spite of myself, because even though my life is completely crazy and filled with chaos and I sometimes wonder whether this is really what God wants — because, trust me, trying to raise my children to love God can be like pulling teeth — He still loves the little children and wants them to come to Him. And perhaps He does want to laugh… but with me!
And so that was what I took away… at the time.
It was only later, as I rocked the fussy baby to sleep and checked the news that night that a different, more somber, meaning behind that reading dawned on me. You see, that was the night in which the news broke that a grand jury released a 1000+ page report which detailed 70 years worth of abuse by priests of six Pennsylvania dioceses. Over 300 priests were accused. Over 1000 victims were identified… with the possibility of more victims that hadn’t spoken up yet.
“How bad can it be?” I thought to myself. After all, sometimes the news exaggerates things. So I read through the first few pages of the report, hoping that perhaps it really was overblown. You can read the full report here, if you would like.
And, while holding a baby, I read about the first twelve pages of the report. The entire introduction. Though, let me tell you, by the tenth page, I was ready to quit — that story of the boy who drank juice at the priest’s house, passed out, and then woke up, bleeding from his rectum, still haunts me.
And, after I finished the introduction, I closed the internet browser.
I looked at my baby’s face, who had finally fallen asleep.
I held her in my arms just a little bit longer.
I reflected on the news that I had just read, along with that day’s gospel, and wondered at the timing.
And it occurred to me that perhaps God wasn’t laughing.
Perhaps He was crying.
Now, I am a relatively small voice in the Church — I’m a layperson and a mother with three very little kids, one of whom is still nursing. I don’t have a lot of influence, all things considered. However, I would like to speak up anyway with what little influence that I might have and speak the gospel loudly, in light of this recent news.
So, for the next few blogs, I would like to talk about millstones. I would like to talk about Christ’s mercy… and His justice. I would like to talk about sin. I would like to talk about the Church. And I would like to talk about it in light of this recent news that we have only learned about this week, though it has been going on for decades and allowed to fester in the darkness for too long.
Because what happened was diabolical, evil, and completely unacceptable, and we, as Christians, ought to speak up against it so that it never happens again in our Church.
After all, God desires for us to bring our children to Him through the Church.
Not for us to give our children a taste of Hell.
And so I pray, by shining the light on this darkness, that we may be encouraged to walk in the light of Christ. I pray that the victims of this find peace and healing and for God’s justice to ultimately prevail. And lastly, I pray for all of us. May the Lord have mercy on us all.