BY ERIC CLAYTON | May 12, 2021
“So, the bad guys hurt Jesus,” my daughter says. It’s more a question than a statement.
It’s Holy Saturday, and I’m doing the bare minimum to catechize my child. I scroll through a mental array of synonyms for death, killed, and tortured and come up short.
“Yes,” I say slowly. “They really hurt Jesus.” I’m not sure I’m doing the Paschal Mystery any justice.
“But why?” Fair question.
Explaining the Easter story to a three-year-old is tricky. Set aside the eggs and the chocolate and the bunnies, and what are you left with? Death and Resurrection? That’s a can of worms that will only confuse a child who’s buried two great grandmothers during the past six months.
“Jesus loved everyone,” I say instead. “He didn’t want anyone to be left out. He didn’t want anyone to be forgotten or excluded or made fun of. And people didn’t like that.” I tug at my chin. “So, they hurt him. Real bad.”
My daughter nods, thoughtfully.
“That’s why we have to love everyone, too,” I continue. I’m on a roll now. “Like Jesus did.”
It’s so cliché—this power of love—that you would be forgiven for gagging, just a little. And yet, today’s readings—still anchored in the Easter season—say nothing less: “God shows no partiality,” Peter says. “Let us love one another because love is of God,” writes John. “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus teaches.
The message is so simple that we dismiss it as a Hallmark greeting. Surely, God’s dream for humanity is more complex than that! But it’s not.
The act of loving another person simply means setting aside some interior space for their needs, their hopes, their desires. It’s the invitation to kenosis, to self-emptying. I make room in my heart, my mind, my soul for you; you do the same for me. And we carry one another onward; we journey together—if even for a moment. We bare one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys.
That kind of love can get you into trouble. It demands that we break free from our individualistic mindset, challenge the status quo. The question is no longer, What’s in it for me? but What’s best for all of us?
That’s a message a three-year-old can understand, a three-year-old who might not want to share her toys, play nice with her sisters, finish her broccoli.
We understand it, too. But we’re no longer children. We put aside childish things—selfishness, individualism, self-centeredness—and ask how we might best respond to God’s invitation to love.
Eric Clayton is the deputy communications director at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, responsible for developing and sharing resources and reflections to promote Ignatian spirituality. He is the author of the forthcoming book Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press). He and his wife are both graduates of Fairfield University and live in Baltimore, MD, with their two daughters. Follow his writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.
How might we respond to Jesus’ invitation to love? Sometimes it is so easy, The person next to us needs a hug or a handshake but they make a connection with us. God is with both of us. We share His graces. At other times the person seems to be crumbing before us. Should we help them pull themselves back together or should the crumbling be a source of challenge for them to know/love God better. It is not a simple answer as Eric points out with the three year old. To me, my movement is to provide the person with the graces necessary for the person’s growth in God, the graces He gives the person and the realization that I am important in making the person aware of those baptismal graces through the movement of the Holy Spirit. I need to re-enkindle those graces God has provided through Baptism and stir up the fire of His everlasting love through the Holy Spirit.
I understand the need to shelter our children but I wonder if I’d does a disservice in the long run. Perhaps they should know that there are evil, selfish people on the world so they can protect themselves and others. Love and courage is portrayed and shown us by example in Jesus’ life and death.
I taught in a Lutheran preschool for years. We had weekly “Chapel” and at Christmas time we did the birth of Jesus up very big. So I was puzzled why Easter came and went with no real religious theme.
“How do you explain crucifixion and death to a three year old?” the director asked me. Beyond our pay grade I guess. The kindergarten teacher in our Catholic school somehow did a beautiful job (by a parent’s standards) having a scenario of the Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection played out in a little tableau. But I wonder what those six-year-olds really thought?
You sum that up beautifully! Thanks!
Kenosis is a big challenge. But an opportunity to create more storage space that can lead to continuous and non-stop generosity and magnanimity.