As a boy, I once asked my Mom why we wore a green pin on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th. She explained that since Saint Patrick converted Ireland to the Catholic faith, we celebrate this day. I remembered our childhood conversation, when I attended a celebration with my friends at an Irish center on March 17th. After arriving there, we listened to a trio playing an “Irish Gig.”

The older men and women in attendance tapped their feet in a subdued cadence. Suddenly, a young child electrified the group as she pranced into the room unannounced and unplanned. This five-year-old girl, dressed in green and pink attire, danced back and forth on the floor in front of the stage. The room came alive, as the audience clapped and applauded in unison. Smiling and enjoying herself as only a small child can do, she danced on and on, as she laughed and jigged in unison with the music. One elderly woman in a wheelchair typified the spirit brought by the child, as her aged hands and feet moved in unison with the child’s actions. The joy on her face said it all.

As I sat there, the words of Jesus came to mind, “Let the children come to me” (Mt. 19:14). This child’s spirit revealed the pure spirit of God, brought alive, when the joy of the child and the love of those present became one. Whenever this happens, God’s spirit breaks through and points to an ultimate reality beyond us.

When we see happy children, let the sparkle in their eyes remind us that life is worth living and that we are made in God’s image. Just as the fun-loving child at the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration brought new life into the room, may the children we love do the same for us when life is both joyous and difficult. Let them remind us that Jesus invites us as he invited the children of his time to come to him. As he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

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A priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio, Father Bob Hater is also Professor Emeritus at the University of Dayton. Order Fr. Hater’s new book, Common Sense Catechesis: Lessons from the Past, Road Map for the Future.