Friends, in our Gospel for today, Jesus proposes that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like children. Why? For starters, children don’t know how to dissemble, how to be one way and act another. They are what they are; they act in accordance with their deepest nature. “Kids say the darndest things,” because they don’t know how to hide the truth of their reactions.
In this, they are like stars or flowers or animals, things that are what they are, unambiguously, uncomplicatedly. They are in accord with God’s deepest intentions for them.
To say it another way, they haven’t yet learned how to look at themselves. Why can a child immerse himself so eagerly and thoroughly in what he is doing? Why can he find joy in the simplest thing, like pushing a train around a track or watching a video over and over, or kicking a ball around? Because he can lose himself; because he is not looking at himself, not conscious of other people’s reactions, expectations, and approval.
Mind you, this childlikeness has nothing to do with being unsophisticated, unaccomplished, or childish. Thomas Aquinas was one of the most accomplished men to ever live, the greatest intellectual in the history of the Church, and one of the subtlest minds in the history of the West. Yet the terms that were used over and over to describe him were “childlike” and “innocent.”
Childlikeness has to do with that rootedness in what God wants us to be. Thomas was born to be a theologian and a writer, and nothing would get him off of that beam: neither the critiques of his enemies, nor the blandishments of his religious superiors, nor the temptations to become a bishop. He was and remained who God wanted him to be, and thus he was like a great mountain or a flower or, indeed, a child.