He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)What is it about little children that’s so important to Jesus? Why is childlikeness so essential for the spiritual life? Children can be selfish, impatient, cruel, short-tempered, and stubborn. However, so can anyone else. But Jesus is talking about childlikeness, not childishness. Childlikeness is different. Children trust. They are authentic. What you see is what you get. If they want something, they ask for it…sometimes over and over (and over) again. And, they love freely and without measure, no matter how it makes them look. They are who they are. They just live, losing themselves in what interests them for the joy of being alive. Bishop Robert Barron once commented on childlikeness in this way:
Children don’t know how to hide the truth of their reactions. They haven’t learned yet how to impress others. In this, they are like stars or flowers or animals, things that are what they are, unambiguously. They are in accord with God’s deepest intentions for them.Our family has two cats. As you would expect, they spend their days doing cat things. Each has a distinct personality. One is a bit reserved and only really likes to be around my younger son. The other one, Mochi, is very different. He loves to be around all “the humans.” He follows us everywhere, and he’s quite affectionate. Image credit: Copyright 2020 Marc Cardaronella. All rights reserved.[/caption] We call Mochi our “dog cat.” He acts like a dog in the affection department. One day I was observing Mochi while reflecting on Bishop Barron’s words. Mochi is what he is, unambiguously. He’s not apologetic or self-conscience about being a different kind of cat. He just does his Mochi thing. He is “in accord with God’s deepest intentions” for who and what he’s supposed to be. It occurred to me that, in the end, all of us are called to that. Unique and unrepeatable, God created each of us with different talents, abilities, and interests. At baptism, we receive a different mix of spiritual gifts. We are meant to live out of God’s deepest intentions for us. We are meant to be persons, beings, that are what we are, unambiguously. When we are that, we fulfill God’s purpose for us. I think this might be the key to happiness. Figure out what God created you for and live it, express it in the fullest possible way. Be everything he created you to be. Live out loud … and in so doing, shout God’s glory to the world. In other words, find your inner cat and be that, unambiguously. Mochi unapologetically does his Mochi thing. He exists in God’s deepest intention for him. If each of us can find what that is and live it, we would have harmony with God, with the world, and with ourselves. Image credit: Copyright 2020 Marc Cardaronella. All rights reserved.[/caption] The problem is, unlike cats, sometimes we’re beat down emotionally while doing our “God-created thing” … and that hurts. Young children aren’t conscious of external expectations and approval, but they quickly learn. We learn early to become someone else to make friends, to get attention, to meet expectations from family or society. We convince ourselves we’ll only be happy if we’re something or someone we’re not. Lent can be a great time for reflection on what makes your heart sing. It can be a great time to find your inner cat. Lenten penance denies disordered inclinations in order to purify your heart and bring you closer to God. In this you come to more realistic vision of who you are. You can only fully know yourself in closeness to God. That’s your authentic self … who he created you to be. The version of you shaped by sin is not your authentic self. You can only find your inner cat in union and intimate connection with God. So, enter into your Lenten penance this year with the goal of discovering your true, childlike self. What brings you consolation? What do you do well? Who are you made to be? Search out your passion. Be who and what you are, unambiguously. Live from your unique and unrepeatable place to do what God created you to do. When you find your purpose in God and live it, I think you’ll come closer to a fulfilling and happy life.
Copyright 2020 Marc Cardaronella
About the Author
Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. Marc directs catechist and discipleship leader formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. He is married, has two teen boys, and writes about Catholic spirituality and how to share the Faith on his personal blog.