Children are a Burden - St. Bernard's

Children are a Burden

Jan 18, 2022

Apolonio Latar III

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk. 10:15).

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

It is such a beautiful image: Christ embracing an infant in the midst of his followers and telling them that they too should be like that child. And in another occasion, He tells them to let children to come to him because the kingdom of God belongs to them.

But it would be a mistake to romanticize about this image and teaching. The reason is simple: a child is a burden. Having one means you will have to welcome sleepless nights and get used to being drowned in feces, urine, and vomit while you become deaf by his unexpected and unintelligible cries. A child will bring financial ruin into your home as food, clothes, and medical needs exponentially increase, as well as trying to save money for his future schooling. And he is so useless. He does not know what he wants or needs and cannot do anything but cry about his wants and needs. He will never remember those sleepless nights when you held him in your arms, took him to the hospital when he was sick, or taught him how to walk, eat, and talk. Your comforts will be taken away and anxiety will fill you as you wonder about the form of your future and his. You will feel the inadequacies of your strength, faith, hope, and love as you are totally consumed by his presence, discovering that there is nothing you can do that can meet the overwhelming needs of this child, this small cosmos with his own language and psychological makeup that you cannot totally comprehend.

It is such a mystery that such an utterly useless creature can be so overwhelming and produce a suffering in your life that is so insufferable. It is such a mystery to hold someone so close and yet feel an abyss between you and the other. Why is it worth being born? Of living a life that will become a burden to others, increasing their stress, anxieties, pain, and sorrow? What is the value of being a creature?

Christ offers a consolation that gives meaning and sweetness within the mess of life: “Let the children come to me.” The other, the child with all of his urgent needs in front of me, is not mine, but His. Here we can understand what we can learn from our own helplessness, which is one of the most profound human truths: we can never be intimate with anyone unless we affirm that we are not the meaning, depth, and destiny of the other. The only way to guarantee the joy and goodness of the other is to affirm that the other’s life and future belongs to Christ. What children need most, then, is to be welcomed by Christ; they need baptism and education in the faith. The most beautiful thing we can offer a child, to each other, is our faith - our certainty of our belonging to Him. There is nothing more beautiful that we can do for a child than showing him that there is a love—a deep, faithful, and humble love—waiting for him to take care of him so that he can taste the beautiful good and beautiful truth of all things.

“For the kingdom of heaven belong to such as these.” To show a child that there is a love waiting for him is a concrete proposal: there are people, a visibility of Christ’s invisibility, that will carry his burdens with him, that will make him feel loved even when it is so undeserving. This country will never become pro-life if people do not experience belonging to a community that will show them that one does not need to be afraid of being a burden to each other. What we learn from life, from our faith, is that we have been a burden ever since we existed, from the moment of conception to that moment of old age when we will feel what we did not remember when we were a child: we are powerless in this world. But we are powerless in front of a faithful Father who is able to carry the weight of our entire existence. There are people who will help us recognize that although there are times when suffering seems to be the most immediate experience we have, it is not the most fundamental or primary meaning of life. They will remind us that life is good because we are not our own and we are not alone.

Faith allows one to affirm and reaffirm the goodness of being born. A Christian is someone who is at peace with his own inadequacies, with being powerless before his profound needs and the needs of others. He knows what it means to be a rotten mess, with his heart filled with sinfulness, anguish, and sorrow, and yet experience a suffering Presence that attends to him, loving him deeply with the affection that tells him, “It is good that you exist. It is good to be with you.” He knows misericordia with a feeling of bitter joy and joyful bitterness. He knows what it is like to see that one’s limits are not a limitation to the love of the other. He knows that beneath all the burdens of life, beneath the deepest wounds that one can have, there is a sustaining, healing, and embracing love of the Father at the core of being.

That is the faith of the Church, this burdensome people who carry a treasure that the world deeply longs for. This people exists for the child. This people exists so that he will always have faith, which is to say, have the painful trust that the Father is good. He can belong to a people who will remind him that his deepest needs are never a threat to him, and that there is Someone who is the ground of all being, who remembers His faithfulness and recreates what was once beautiful so that he will one day see everything as He sees it, see Him in all things and all things in Him. This people is the Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the “total Christ,” the sacrament of the One who is the reason of our love. There is therefore a concrete place where a child can learn that his human heart and grace can exist without one eliminating the other. There is a place where he can always return to, where he can always learn to hope, where his deepest needs bring out the deepest affection from God and from others.

When one experiences the faith of the Church, when one sees it with one’s heart and is touched by its beauty and light; when one no longer admits one’s self-sufficiency and becomes at peace with one’s helplessness, then one can joyfully enter and remain in this marvelous exchange of the divine and the human and find that in the depth of one’s soul, it is as if one was meant to be taken up by the gentle arms of mercy since the very beginning of one’s existence and place one’s head on the Eucharistic heart of the Savior.

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Apolonio Latar III received his M.Ed. at Marymount University. He also studied Philosophy at Rutgers University and Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He is currently the Theology Department Chair at St. Paul VI Catholic High School. His interests include the theology of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, metaphysics, analytic philosophy, scripture, and fundamental theology.