‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Fewer things are more precious.
Images of babies staring intently at the Blessed Sacrament, basking in the Real Presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, have gone viral of late.
Perhaps this blessed trend is due to the National Eucharistic Revival taking place right now, or maybe it is the witness of the youthful holiness of Blessed Carlo Acutis.
As Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).
In the holy footsteps of St. Gerard Majella, who went to Mass with his mother as a young child, there is always an opportunity to introduce even the youngest of Catholics to Our Lord. Most likely, the Child Jesus won’t climb down from the Blessed Mother’s arms to give Bread to my toddler like St. Gerard experienced, but little ones should be shaped and guided to understand this blessed reality: Jesus is real and only asks us to come.
To reiterate Jesus’ words: Do not hinder them. Their innocent hearts are drawn to Christ.
Seeing my young daughter recognize and love Jesus warms my maternal heart.
Speaking with Register contributor Msgr. Charles Pope, who is a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, about the importance of taking even our youngest into the Real Presence of Our Lord, he said there is so much we can learn from children when it comes to faith and, in particular, prayer. Recounting his own experience praying as a 5-year-old, he spoke fondly of that childhood faith memory:
“I must have been about 5 or 6, and there was a Sacred Heart statue on the dresser. I would see that statue and start talking to God in the freest way, and God would speak to me, simply and in a way a child could understand. But it was very real. And then the memory shuts off. It is just a small window into my early childhood, one of the few, and it was filled with God.”
And it is this Friend who shapes our understanding of the eternal from our youngest years. I can still recall the first time I prayed for a child in the third grade, imploring Christ to help a classmate being teased and thinking, “How does her heart feel?” We should not lose the heartfelt voice of a child finding a true friend in Jesus.
Catholic author Lisa Hendey frequently visited Jesus at the altar as a young girl. She recalled to the Register, “One great gift my parents gave me was a love for Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and a desire to be close to Jesus in my heart.” And, oftentimes, Hendey said, “It was just to say ‘Hi’ to Jesus.”
Parents have a blessed task in working to instill a fervent faith into our children, and she says the Real Presence should be at the heart of family life:
“Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a perfect gift for young children. At adoration, Mom can gather close to the altar, snuggle with her little ones, and gently offer her love for Jesus and her family. There is an awe and stillness in adoration, whether it is a formal service or an informal visit during perpetual adoration, that can soothe and entice a young one’s attention.”
Learning how to be quiet seems like a heavy task these days, given the social-media saturation of our times, but it is vital to cultivating an interior life, even for the littlest hearts.
A young girl was led to deep prayer after taking her first Communion, Msgr. Pope recounted, and her parents noticed her quiet contemplation. They asked her after Mass what she was praying about, and it is such a beautiful reminder of Jesus being our first real friend:
“A young girl received her first Holy Communion, and, when she returned to her pew, she was noticed by her parents to be in rather deep prayer. After Mass they asked her, ‘What were you praying about after your first Communion?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I prayed for Mommy and Daddy and my brother, too. And then I sang Jesus a song and told him a story.’
Prayer doesn’t have to captivate or inspire — it requires us to be captivated — inspired by our own love and knowledge of God.
Listening to my almost-3-year-old chime in during a prayer at the dinner table is so touching; her intentions are so sweet, as she prays for Grandpa and thanking God for her new doggy and George the monkey.
As a mother of a bubbly toddler who starts her first year at preschool at our local parish in September, I am always looking for ways to make Jesus more real to her. And pictures of babies looking at the monstrance holding the Most Blessed Sacrament flooding my social feeds remind me to take my daughter to visit Jesus often.
Parishes, too, are opening their doors to this devotion in thoughtful ways. A Vacation Bible School in the Diocese of Venice, Florida, offers adoration for young children.
For all the parents and godparents, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas out there who want to cultivate this Christ-focused relationship in little ones, Hendey offers this advice:
“Start small! Even a few moments of quiet prayer in adoration can establish a beautiful desire to be close to Our Lord. When entering the chapel, remember to ask your children to pray for you, their parents. Jesus hears and loves the prayers of our little ones!”
And in the midst of all of our efforts to teach these important lessons to our young, let us also be moved to learn from them. Listen to the voice of children learning to pray as they talk to Jesus. It will renew your prayer time, too.
Just as Msgr. Pope yearns to speak to God as he did when he was 5 years old, perhaps this video of prayers from children will inspire us to be more childlike when we seek the face of Christ amid our own daily duties:
Amen, I say to you, unless you receive the kingdom of God like a little child, you shall not enter it (Mark 10:15).