“Let the little children come to me”
It seems common that one who lives on a college campus (which is to say, surrounded almost exclusively by other twenty-somethings) is able to forget for a moment that people of other ages exist. On occasion, I will remark that freshmen look younger every year, failing to consider that a person who stands at 2’ 2” may be younger than a freshman. But then again, perhaps the 18 month old boy is a fresher man than the 18-year-old.
The basilica, nestled under Our Mother’s gaze, provides a space in which one can meet with the other Members of the Body, some of which are very small and rather inept (…perhaps babies are the pinky toes of the Body of Christ?). One benefit of this, for example, is that God works through babies to communicate with those who are discerning vocations. While the discernment process is complex and mysterious, not a few women (and men, including myself) have felt the first pangs to be a parent, all because we saw a very small person in the pew ahead of us, and we quite liked the way he looked in his little hat.
I have also found it worthwhile to contemplate the liturgical elements of a baby. For example, babies may be studied as living icons of humanity. They look something like us, but are just different enough (like a funhouse mirror) to prompt some kind of introspective contemplation. Who can watch a baby drop a crayon 30 times in a row and not cry out to God in gratitude for the gift of mature motor control? Who can hear the incoherent shrieks of a toddler and not appreciate that the imago dei gives us rational speech and coherence? Who can see a child punch their father in his stomach and pull out his hair without mourning over the dishonor they have done to their heavenly Father with their sin? If fallen man could yank God’s hair, he surely would, I think.
And in many ways, babies are much better worshippers. When the organ sounds and a baby screams in terror, that child lives in the holy fear of God more than anyone else in that church. When Isaiah 22 is read from the pulpit (“And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth”), who answers the prophets’ injunction more readily than the wailing babies with no hair and girded with diapers? After all, “it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
When I was attending Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, two mysteries of the liturgy occurred simultaneously. In a cacophonous duet, a baby cried from the back of the basilica and my stomach grumbled (quite loudly). The priest could not have asked for a more liturgically appropriate disruption on the Feast of the Annunciation, a day when we are called to contemplate the baby Jesus and the belly of his mother.
James Whitaker is a graduate student in the theology department. His department has told him that carrier pigeons and smoke signals are no longer preferred methods of communication; to help him test out his new “electronic mail,” send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.