Jesus and the Little Children: A Reflection on a Selection from “The Refugee from Heaven”
In the beautiful and stunning novelized account of mystic Cora Evans’ visions of Jesus’ ministry, The Refugee from Heaven, there are many stories and words of Our Lord that we do not find in the Gospels. We know from the gospels that Jesus welcomed little children, that he healed little children, and that he sought to draw them close to himself even when his disciples tried to turn them away. Jesus saw in these little ones images of each human person before God – we are all weak whereas he is omnipotent, we are all small and finite whereas he is omnipresent and infinite. Children, who were often neglected, abused, and forgotten by the culture of the day were treasured in the Jewish tradition. The Old Testament has many references to what a great blessing children are to their parents. Yet they were still not socially significant, and still less socially significant were those children who were sick, lame, and suffering. In Chapter 2 of Book 3 in The Refugee from Heaven, a story is told of Jesus to give hope to a rather hopeless group – convicted prisoners doomed to die: Jesus comes to a village with many children who were suffering and the spent the entire day healing them, bringing the children joy and their parents relief and hope for the future.
Following the day of healing, the families of the healed children form a celebration of the day’s miracles with a big bonfire. Our Lord draws the children close to them and begins to unpack for them some of the mysteries of the human person’s relationship to Himself. The fire, which several of the children are able to see for the first time, is a mystery in itself and also symbolizes the mysteries Jesus shares with them. These teachings all center on the profound mystery of the human person’s call by God to return to Him in perfect love in Heaven, and that this union is only possible when man lives as he is called to live by God.
Jesus answered, “Sit down, My little friends, and I will tell you a story about this light which is called ‘fire.’ Listen to the sound it makes, something like a swishing beat – pounding, pounding, pounding into the air above. Each of you has a fire something like this in your heart. Put your hand over it and see. Do you feel it beat? This fire here before us beats against the blackness of the night, but the beat within you is God’s fire and it is known as life.
Each child put his hand over his heart, and each one smiled as he listened to God’s little fire within.
The heart and the blood specifically was referred to throughout the entirety of the Old Testament as the place where man’s life resided. The heart is the “seat” of the soul, that immortal element which God breathed into man in Genesis. Jesus is teaching even the youngest of children to understand their own hearts in this way. We must remember, too, that this heart, this soul, this life beating within us is what makes us like God. Man’s dusty, mortal, weak body will pass away, but man’s life, his soul, will not pass away. This is not to say that man’s body is not good. Jesus himself took on human flesh in the Incarnation, and everything we do on this earth is done body and soul. But the body is not dependable. The heart longs for God but must be formed in virtue, and must acquaint our bodies, our passions, to virtuous living. Jesus goes on to tell the children,
“That pounding heart within you is saying that it wants you to think good thoughts and perform good deeds, and every time you do, it burns brighter and brighter and tries to make God glad.”
We must always seek to do the good things we ought to do. This is challenging with our fallen human nature, but it is what Jesus asks of us. And we do not have to do it alone. We can, and indeed, must, depend on God’s grace to help us accomplish the sometimes painfully difficult acts of faith, hope, and charity that will lead us to becoming the saints we ought to be. Jesus tells the children what these acts of goodness and virtue are oriented towards – bringing God joy and ultimately bringing man to God in eternity through His great mercy.
“[The fire within you] longs, also, to be released and to have freedom like this other fire, but as long as you live it will stay within you. Only God can release it, and that will be when you die. If in life you make it burn brighter and brighter, at death you will reach into God’s kingdom and have eternal freedom and happiness. Death is beautiful when you are not afraid to go to God.”
Here Jesus makes a claim that was countercultural in his time just as it is countercultural in our time: death is not to be feared when you have hope in God’s salvific mercy. That is not to say that you should presume on God’s mercy. Jesus makes it clear later on as he speaks to the little ones that they ought to strive to be good, that they ought to strive to make God rejoice in their decisions for perseverance in His grace.
“Come closer to this earthly fire, now. As I place this log on the flames, feel how it stings your faces as it begins to burn. That is how the darkness of Hell stings a darkened heart. I don’t want you ever to go to that dreadful place, so keep the fires of your hearts bright and clean by thinking good thoughts, saying your prayers, and doing good deeds.”
He goes on to tell the parents of the children what we hear in the Gospel – that those who do not become like children in their simple faith cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Childlike simplicity before God is necessarily for all of us to enter into the Kingdom. Another way of saying it is that humility is necessary for us all to enter into the Kingdom, a humility that truly leads each one of us to depend fully and completely on God, to be aware of the precarious position in which man finds himself – that tendency towards sin called concupiscence. We are fallen creatures. We cannot persevere alone. And yet. Yet we are called to do what we can, to do what we ought, in striving for holiness. True humility does not dismiss what natural and supernatural gifts God has given but rather accepts that gifts have been given and that man has the responsibility to use them well though he also has the freedom to abuse them. We must choose to use our freedom well. When we choose to use our freedom well, that is when our light, the fire in our hearts, burns brightly for others to see – not for our own glorification, but for the glorification of God.
“Keep that fire within you ablaze and become as little stars for the saints and the angels to see – for when they gaze toward the earth they find you only by the lights in your hearts. You are for all the world like little lanterns swinging over the earth. If the saints couldn’t find you each day they would feel that a piece of God’s masterpiece was gone. Imagine how you would feel if you looked for the stars in the heavens on a clear night and found none….Look at the stars – see how they seem to be twinkling with happiness? Your eyes look like that when you think of God. Through this fire of thanksgiving here on the roadway your eyes twinkle all the more, and the angels and saints way up there know you are happy. They always see the light within your hearts as clearly as you see the stars. How do you think your heart-light appears to them? Is it dim like that star yonder, or bright and gold like this one directly above us?”
How does your heart-light appear to the saints and angels? Is it bright, or is it dim? These words of Christ to the little children are a good check for ourselves. We ought always to be asking these questions. Is the fire in my heart burning for God, or is it dwindling in the wake of the distractions of the world? Am I allowing my light to shine before men, or am I too embarrassed to be known as one who truly follows Christ in everything I think, say, and do? These above words of Christ’s, shared in a story to prisoners, is enough to lead them to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. They are ready, even as they face torture and death, to follow his teachings in any way that they can. Are we so convicted? Are we willing to live like little children before Our Lord? May Christ’s words to the children abide in our hearts and challenge us to make our hearts shine as bright as the stars for the angels and saints to see.