"Purified in Humility"
In April 1949 a shocking new musical stormed Broadway. It was called “South Pacific”, and a song from its climax went like this:
You've got to be taught to hate and fear You've got to be taught from year to year It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught
You've got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin Is a different shade You've got to be carefully taught You've got to be taught before it's too late Before you are 6 or 7 or 8 To hate all the people your relatives hate You've got to be carefully taught
Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein III knew what Jesus Christ Himself taught us in today’s Gospel: Children are not born with hatred or jealousy or greed or pride in their hearts. Those are things we adults put there through our bad example, and through deliberate repression of what is innate within the child at birth, in seed form, looking for room to grow: love, kindness, generosity – and humility.
Jesus points the way to true humility in Matthew 18: "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." (v. 4)
In children, ages 0-6 years old, Jesus gives to us adults a living standard or guide that we can see and understand. It is in comparison with children that we are able to measure how far along we have grown in the virtue of humility.
Using ourselves as the standard, we miss the point. We wonder what true humility looks like. How often have we stumbled in awkwardness trying to be "truly" humble? How often does conflict arise inside our hearts as we "force" ourselves to be "humble" when we would rather be arrogant, overbearing and impetuous to get what we want?
But in their innocence and purity of spirit, unhindered by any baggage from the past, children are free to be humble. Their innocence is a reflection of the purity of their spirits that gives them the ability to perceive God in everything around them.
This, then, is the standard by which Jesus instructs us to evaluate greatness. Like a child, face each experience with wonderment. Live in the wonder of exploration and discovery. Learn to give free rein to the purity of the child, instead of imposing upon them our self-centered and prideful natures. From the children, see how true humility purifies heart and soul, and a purified heart and spirit produces true humility.