I will limit myself to a single saying of Our Lord, for it is truly so central that we have no need for any other core statements. It is: "Unless you become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God" (Mt. 18, 3). We must hear this word and interpret it as if for the first time. It will be our faithful companion for the remainder of the retreat.
We begin by calling to mind the occasion on which Our Lord spoke these words. In Biblical scholarship a great deal depends on the situation in which the word was spoken.
It was probably at the end of Our Lord's activity in Galilee. He had already spoken of His impending passion twice, but, strangely enough, the disciples had not understood him (Mt. 16, 21-23; 17,22f).
If you can imagine the mentality of the countries around us, you will understand the mind-set of the disciples. They were convinced that our Lord was the great political Messiah. They were also firmly convinced that they would be appointed His ministers in the new kingdom. And just as in our neighboring countries* these positions were all decided before the revolution-- this one will take over foreign affairs, that one finance, etc.-- the disciples must have expected the same thing. So now Our Lord speaks of His suffering and death for a second time and the disciples do not understand Him. In fact, they misunderstand Him so totally that they begin to discuss who will take over what positions of power.
They may have acted this way because of their general misconception, but it was probably reinforced by two great facts. Christ had taken some of his disciples to the mountain where He was transfigured (Mt. 17, 1-9). What the disciples could now say about the radiance and glory of the God-man was naturally very alluring and intensified their expectations. Moreover, it was not long before this that Christ had solemnly appointed Simon Peter as the leader of the Twelve (Mt. 16, 13-20). He was to be the head of the new kingdom and the successor of Christ. Of course that must have caused the other disciples to ask, "What about us? What will my position be?" So they argued, discussing how the different posts would be distributed among them.
They now come to Our Lord. Christ knew at once that they were talking about their ambitions. He took them to task: "What were you discussing along the way?" (Mk. 9, 33). And now Christ begins to reveal to the disciples, his future leaders, a most unusual ideal. In education it is frequent practice to explain an ideal by using the example of some outstanding person. Typically, one takes the great men of world history and says: "You must become like them!" But what does Our Lord do? He takes a child and says: You who are so ambitious, who want to be the first in the "political" kingdom which I will never found, what should be your ideal? Unless you become like this child I will have little use for you in my Kingdom, to say nothing of you becoming its leaders.
Do you understand the situation? The ambitions of the disciples are immediately crushed! What does Christ demand? Unless you become like children! Unless we do this, we cannot even enter His Kingdom, much less be its strongest members!
I hardly think I need to say more about this core statement, at least for now. Becoming a child is simply the way to heaven.
Excerpt from "Childlikeness Before God- Reflections on Spiritual Childhood" pp. 52-53. Printed by the Schoenstatt Fathers 2001. Translated from the German by Fr. Jonathan Niehaus
*These series of talks were given in 1937 following the rise of fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, etc.