“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” (Ps 104:30)
It was her birthday and she was turning eight years old. (She is so excited for the day she will receive her First Holy Communion, recently postponed due to COVID-19.) She’s the darling of her doting older brothers & sisters and she lights up every room, ballfield, ice hockey rink or space she finds herself in, and yet, she wasn’t so focused on the things around her when I asked if she had a question. She simply said, “Well, yes, what’s heaven like?” You could hear a pin drop! You could tell by the expression on her face, the tone of her voice, and the intentionality of her question that she really wanted to know and she was waiting for an answer!
Where do you begin? What do you say? How do you explain it? How do you describe heaven to anyone, let alone a child? And yet, is it not Jesus who says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19:14) The very answer this child – and I dare say all of us – yearn to hear is revealed more fully in the celebration of Pentecost. Yes, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Our Lady and the other disciples gathered in the Upper Room as Jesus requested they should do after His Ascension to await the coming of the Advocate is the assurance of heaven and promises to us that where Jesus has gone, we will follow. But heaven is not so much a place as a fullness of being – not just ‘one day’ but, rather ‘here and now!’
This little eight-year old girl was not ‘looking down’ the road in many years to come, but essentially asking, “Can I see Jesus now?” “Can I be with Him in this life?” and the answer is, “Yes!” The very reason Jesus said, “let the children come to me” is found in the purity of heart that children – like this little eight-year-old girl and our own little Christina Dangond – receive… a supernatural gift of faith by the Holy Spirit.
When all too many of us become skeptical of faith, heaven and hell, God and the call to live like disciples, children hold a natural, sincere curiosity for the ‘promises’ of God because as much as they love their dolls and toys, their hair ribbons and bikes, their favorite food and ice cream, they are unhindered with a jadedness of life experiences of human frailty and sin that we often project onto God, and therefore children naturally look to God to find help, to address their problems, and to ease their pain. It’s as if children have an innate, uncanny ability to ‘believe’ that what Jesus promised is true, that the Kingdom of God is at hand and so we should seek to follow Him.
Pentecost is the Gift of the Holy Spirit living within us, around us, and fulfilling the Work of the Heavenly Father in us: re-creating in us Himself! This, too, is the work of Build the Faith, to renew in all of us a ‘child-like’ faith that spends less time worrying and more time working to spread the faith; to make opportunities for faith to be lived, especially for children in the more impoverished areas of the world where there exists no church for them to receive Jesus in Holy Communion; to work not only in the memory of little Christina, but to work alongside her in the ‘now and here’ to help others grow in their faith.
I can truly imagine our little Christina speaking to this eight-year old girl – and many the world over each day – encouraging her in her faith and joyfully, playfully, whispering into her ears, “Believe! Jesus, I Trust in You!” May all children – and we the child-like – preserve such a lively faith in the ‘here and now’ and in the fulness of Heaven forever with Jesus! Little Christina Dangond, pray for us!
Fr. Ed was ordained to the priesthood in May 2000 for the Archdiocese of Boston. He was assigned to three different parishes in the Archdiocese from 2000-2010 before his appointment to the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, Boston, where he is Dean of Men and Director of Pastoral Formation.
He is also the Spiritual Director & Liaison for the Archdiocese for Catholic Homeschooling Families as well as the Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima (Boston Division). He is professed in the Institute of Jesus the Priest of the Pauline Family.