My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.
Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous.
Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
The call to welcome Jesus as one would welcome a child rounds off today's gospel. We can find him among the servants and the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy themselves at play, so we ought to gravitate towards the servants and the least. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. A person who is lonely may be someone who also treasures beautiful memories and buried hopes, genuine possibilities, waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one's arms to the infinite possibilities that lie before us in life.
Sirach proposes that we reflect on our ancestors, and the success of their godly lives: "Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?" This Lord, we are told, is "compassionate and merciful... he saves in time of trouble." Sirach beautifully combines fear with confidence: "You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy." As we see any child, we can recall the opening words from today's Bible passage in Sirach, "prepare yourself for trials." Yet as we find again the child in each of us, we welcome Jesus. Our trials are united with his cross and resurrection, and we rebound with firm hope because after three days, he rose again.
With loving attention the church prepares children for their first Communion and some years later for their Confirmation. In these sacraments we are welcoming them into the church, receiving them into the family of believers. That welcoming children has great value is clear from today's gospel. There Jesus identifies himself very closely with children. He goes so far as to say, "anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Somehow it is in and through children we encounter Jesus and his Father. Elsewhere Jesus identifies himself with the most vulnerable -- the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the imprisoned. Children, by definition, are among the most vulnerable. They are dependant on others for life in all its dimensions. The gospel reading suggests that ministry to children and to young people, whatever form it takes, is a sacred ministry; it is indeed holy ground.