As the aunt of nine nieces and nephews (with another niece and another nephew on the way, I might add), I find myself surrounded by little children a lot. I also happen to be blessed by the example of each of their parents (AKA – my brothers and sisters) as they seek to raise their children in holiness. I see a lot of teaching the little ones to pray before meals and before bed; of leading by example and showing them the importance of mass, or of the great gift we have to just sit in the physical presence of God in the Tabernacle or in Eucharistic Adoration. I watch as my brothers and sisters share with my nieces and nephews the stories of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament and, of course, the story of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And all of this, upon first glance, appears to be a sort of training for my nieces and nephews in the art of Christian living. And in a very real and important sense, that is exactly what it is.
But something occurred to me last week as I watched my sister-in-law play with my niece in the backyard while they listened to the “Kids’ Christian Music Station” on the radio.
“This is my niece’s life,” I thought. The Faith, to her, is not some lofty ideology, or a discipline studied in the classroom between the hours of 8am and 3pm. It’s the air she breathes—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The idea that there could even be the possibility of a life lived outside of God’s presence is simply nonexistent to my niece.
This thought, taken with Jesus’ words in Matthew, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” got me thinking. Yes, we are never supposed to stop growing in holiness. Yes, there will always be more we can learn about God because God is infinite and we will never exhaust His mystery. More importantly though, knowledge of God and of religion is just not the point. My nieces and nephews aren’t taught about Jesus like they learn the Alphabet, because Jesus isn’t an idea; He’s a person. The point isn’t to learn the lesson and then log it away for future reference. The point is to meet a person, and to let that meeting transform you.
We don’t study our way into God’s presence. We are placed there. Learning is supposed to be what happens in the middle of it.