I have some exciting news to share: My nephew is getting married. Matthew made his announcement around Christmas, and since then he hasn’t stopped talking about his upcoming nuptials. By the way, he’s four years old.
Matthew’s wedding was originally scheduled for 2090, when he would be 85. “That way I can save up a lot of money,” he explained. “But how old will Mommy be?” I asked him. “One hundred and twenty-six!” he said gleefully. My nephew had also chosen the venue: China. Specifically, the Great Wall. “Is there a church there?” he asked. We consulted Google Earth to investigate.
As Matthew outlined it, he and his fiancée, Rachel (whom he met at the Blue Kangaroo day-care center, that dating hotbed), would be married at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York (or, as he called it, “the big church”). Afterward the wedding party, including his 126-year old parents and his 159-year-old grandmother, would fly to China for the “second part” of the wedding Mass. When I asked what would be served at the reception, he replied, quite sensibly, “Chinese food, Uncle Jim!” After the reception would come fireworks. “Everybody likes fireworks,” he said. Hard to disagree with that.
“Do you wanna hear my speech for the end of the wedding?” he asked one night on the phone. Sure, I said. “Thank you for coming to my wedding,” he said. “Have a nice day.”
Last week Matthew realized that our superannuation might make it difficult to attend the wedding, so he moved the date up to 2025. And China is out. Disneyworld is in. And a honeymoon? “Mexico!” he said. “Because I’ve never been there.”
Young children often get excited about very specific things. Matthew’s earlier passions were, in order: his guitar, Bruce Springsteen and Big Ben. His older brother, Charles, now 11, also went through what parents call (with fingers crossed) “phases.” As he matured, he moved from Thomas the Tank Engine to dinosaurs to “Star Wars” to Legos to James Bond and, currently, video games. And while I don’t encourage adults to spend too much time with Thomas and his train friends James and Percy, a child’s enthusiasm can be instructive for all of us. When was the last time you thought about your faith, for example, with similar enthusiasm?
“Enthusiasm” derives from the Greek en and theos, to have “God placed in you.” It’s similar to inspire, having “the Spirit in you.” The enthusiast is filled with the Spirit. I wonder if Catholics need to be better acquainted with this way of participating in the Spirit. Whenever I meet young evangelicals talking excitedly about Jesus, I wonder, “Am I that enthusiastic?” I feel that I am, but do I convey that passion? In short, is Matthew more enthusiastic about his wedding than I am about my faith?
Of course, we don’t want to approach our faith like children. Oh wait; yes we do, as Jesus recommended. So can we be joyful, excited and, above all, single-minded about the Gospel? “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” as Søren Kierkegaard wrote. Perhaps this is something of what he meant—not the seen-it-all, world-weary jadedness that pervades some Catholic quarters, much less the deadly seriousness that sometimes accompanies preaching and teaching, but rather the joyous enthusiasm prevalent in some evangelical circles, which was probably characteristic of the early Christians.
So these days I look to children to remind me about enthusiasm. Christ is risen after all, and if we can’t be enthusiastic about that, then we have no business calling ourselves Christians. Just ask Matthew. Oh wait, you can’t. He’s too busy planning his wedding, now set for June 12, 2025. Save the date.