The little boy who “stole the show” from Pope Francis during his address to families in Vatican Square a little over a week ago has become a worldwide sensation. The child somehow managed to get on stage and wandered right up to the Holy Father during the ceremonies. Despite multiple efforts by aides to shoo him away, the boy stuck close to the pope’s side as he began his address, and even made himself at home in the papal chair.
The child was clearly drawn to Pope Francis (then again, who isn’t?), and his determination to stick by him no matter what led to some pretty hilarious moments, duly captured by news cameras and immortalized in a very sweet Buzzfeed column. Yet there is something in this whole scenario that goes deeper than mere “cuteness.” The boy wasn’t just adorable, he was bold. He had absolute, unshakeable confidence that he had every right to be on that stage next to the pope, despite anything the aides might do to coax him away.
A spiritual director of mine once told me that the mature Christian has to have audacity – “the audacity of a child of God.” Watching video footage of that child clinging to the pope’s knees, I understood for the first time what those words really mean.
It was clear not just in the little boy’s actions, but even more so in the Holy Father’s loving response. He patted the child’s head and smiled, and he let him stay close to him throughout his address and greetings, even though it was probably a bit of a nuisance. In other words, he accepted him. The boy was able to be audacious precisely because he knew he would not be rejected.
And it struck me as I watched the footage: this is the way the Christian is supposed to approach God.
Audacity is not mere courage or recklessness; it is certainly not pride. On the contrary, it takes deep humility to be truly audacious. We grown-ups can fall into thinking of the Christian life in terms of fear, obedience, and rigid perfectionism. We just want to rid ourselves of our woundedness and imperfections, and we think we have to shed them before we can get anywhere near God. So we keep our distance. Maybe we think we’re being respectful; in reality, we are terrified of rejection, or of disappointing or even annoying God – as if that were possible.
We forget that, like St. Paul, we ought to “boast in our weakness.” This does not mean that we shrug our shoulders at our sins, but that we recognize our utter need for God’s grace in order to overcome them, in all circumstances. Christ loves us as we are, and he wants us to come to him now, with all of our weaknesses. After all, how can he help us overcome them if we are too proud to go near him? Yet we ignore the crux of Christ’s message, or perhaps we think we’ve outgrown it. We forget that the God-man who cries, “Let the little children come unto me,” also insists, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus has no interest in our posturing, our self-deprecation, our insistence that we’ve got everything under control and we don’t want to be a bother. This God of ours wants us to accept our own neediness, and to love him boldly, even shamelessly, in spite of it. He wants us to leave aside all of our concerns about what people might think, to grab him by the knees and hold on even when all the wiser, more respectable people around us try to convince us to let go and leave him alone.
He wants to gather us together “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” It takes the audacity of a child to believe in that kind of love, and to believe in it so deeply that you’ll march right up and take it. The little boy in St. Peter’s Square has no idea, but he’s provided the world with a beautiful model of the Christian life. At the end of the day, we’re just supposed to strive to become like that little child, and so inherit the kingdom of God.
Mary Beth Baker is a writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She blogs at Life in the Gap.