Afterward, we went into the parish hall, sang some more songs, played some games and then we walked two miles together back to our parochial school. On the way back I was surrounded by four young boys, and I heard a very innocent conversation. "Fr Sam, you are my bestest adult friend, after my grandad of course." "No, wait a minute, he is my bestest friend ever!" In a few hours we had become bestest friends. This is the way of children, innocence, trust, and th
e deep bond of friendship. If they bond this quickly with a priest who is willing to be one with them, how quickly they bond with THE Priest, Jesus Christ, who calls them to a holy friendship from the first moment of consciousness.
Priests find themselves a bit resistant these days in the formation of children as disciples of Jesus Christ. There are perhaps a few reasons for this. Some are afraid, and with good reason. Although Catholic priests are now among the safest statistically for children to be around, safer than married protestant clergy and most professions, who have a higher rate of abuse, priests are painted and smeared as the chief harm of children. Some priests would say that forming children as disciples is a waste of time because you can invest this time with their parents, who are the primary educators of their children. Yet others just plain don't know how to relate to children and find them too squeamish, spontaneous, or even annoying, and don't know how to get on their level.
Yet the truth of our faith is that the moment they are baptized, they are called to sanctity, not when they are aware, not when they are teen agers, not when they are capable of reading, but the moment they are baptized, this call is given them. For this reason, but especially because of the reason for their immediate trusting friendship with God, I find it difficult to ignore their need for evangelization and encountering their bestest friend of all, Jesus Christ.
Look at the children saints. I always ask kids, "Did you know that Jesus was once you
r age? Did you know that he lived in a family just like you? Did you know that he lived in perfect communion with his Father at all times? What does this mean for you?" Blessed Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima always remind me of this. "Don't say you are too young," the Lord told Jeremiah. What age is too young? Is there a time that is too young? My niece's first word out of her mouth was, "JESUS" because her grandma used to take her to all the images of Christ and say his name repeatedly.
Pope St Pius X understood this when he rescinded the age of first holy communion to age 7. He understood that "The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal" (Sirach 35:17). Our Lady at Fatima told the children, "Because of your faith, the dogma of faith shall never depart from Portugal." Because of the prayers of children an entire nation was spared from dissent and heresy. Why then do we not invite children to become holy as their Father in heaven is holy.
Many people do not understand children. They do not see them as persons, as little men and women who have full capacity for prayer, intercession, holiness and discipleship. They see them as a kind of rub
ber ducky - a little person to appease. "If you behave I will give you some chocolate," turning the royal discipline of their interior into a kind of complacent bribery, to get them out of their hair.
Discipleship comes from discipline. Jesus, even as a tiny child, received the discipline of the Father, and this is the foundation of all discipleship - the imitation of Jesus' interior discipline. Therefore, the only way to make disciples of children is to live the interior discipleship of Jesus to the Father and let this flow out into our interactions with the least of the brethren.
This discipline is most present when we bring children to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Here they find their bestest friend, their Jesus, who is even littler, more humble, more innocent than they, and who understands and loves them, inspiring them mightily to the holiness to which God the Father calls them. My motto for bringing children to the Eucharistic King is simply, "GET
OUT OF THEIR WAY!!!" Do not hinder them. Let the little children come unto him and let him teach them personally. This is why Eucharistic adoration for children is so important. Here they are plugged in directly to the source and summit of their life. Here they are loved and accepted, here they can grow and mature in the grace of God and love for mankind.
Our Lady too loves children. She is the greatest defender of their innocence, their advocate before God, their protectress before men. She is like a mother bear defending her cubs. She carries all children's prayers to the throne of God as the means of bringing grace to all mankind and offers him their innocence for the foul sins of mankind.
May the prayers and intercession of Our Lady, Mother of God and the Mother of the littlest of children bring forth the fruitfulness of holiness for them and for all mankind.