My 1-year-old son has been practicing some new words recently. He loves to look around the house and point and name people and things: “Nana,” “Papa,” “Dada,”’ “Mama,” “Kitty,” “Nana.” (Nana is both grandma and banana, his favorite fruit.)
“Jesus.” Oh yes, our 1-year-old is already trying to say the name of Jesus. We must be doing at least one thing right, praise God! He points to the crucifixes, a statue of the Holy Family, and a book about the birth of Christ and says “Geeeee-gee” (Jesus).
One day after I had finished changing his diaper, I sat him up. Being at almost eye level with me since he was sitting on the changing table, I noticed he was staring at my neckline. He then began to reach for my shirt collar. I picked him up, and same thing. He studied my neck and was picking at my shirt collar. He did this a couple other times over the course of a week. This seemed strange, but it dawned on me what he was doing. He was looking for Jesus.
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More than a couple of months ago, the chain of my necklace broke and I had yet to replace it. On my necklace, I wore my crucifix and my miraculous medal. He used to admire my necklace, which would lead to sucking on it too. I would hide it under my shirt to avoid him finding it, but he eventually learned my strategy and would pull at my shirt collar until he could see and grab the necklace.
In that moment, as my toddler studied my neck looking for what was no longer there, I realized it was time to search for a new chain so I could wear my necklace again.
Being able to wear my necklace after purchasing a new chain is such a relief. Every time I scratch my neck, I feel it. Every time I look in a mirror, I see it. Jesus and Mary are there, and this little, material thing is actually a great reminder to pray throughout my day.
I’m convinced that my son needs me to wear it, too. He needs as many opportunities as he can get to practice saying the name of Jesus — and Mary! During Sunday Mass recently, he was studying the front of the church and spotted the statue of Mary for a moment. He exclaimed, “Jesus!” I whispered back to him, “Yes, Jesus is here! But that is Mary!” To which he said, “Mama!” “You’re right, buddy! Mama Mary!” During that same Mass, he was holding and studying the crucifix on my necklace. I whispered, “Is that Jesus?” To which he confidently said, “Jesus!” Then I pointed to the crucifix hanging over the altar and said, “Is that Jesus?” “JESUS!”
I know he probably doesn’t know who Jesus is exactly, but he is in his toddler years where he thrives on consistency and routine. Every morning, my husband points to the crucifix on the way out of the nursery and says Jesus. We’ve started pointing to the Eucharist at Mass each weekend and saying Jesus. He loves it. And I love the ultra-satisfied look he gets when he knows he’s named something/someone correctly. Soon, we’ll be able to tell him all about “Geeee-gee.”
I think we all need constant, tangible reminders of God’s presence. He is there, even when we don’t feel emotionally connected in prayer. I know I’ve struggled with this over the past year. Yet, my son has made me realize that it is perfectly okay to just say the name of Jesus when we don’t have other words to say. I’ve been doing this quite a bit lately. Even Pope Benedict XVI, a man who wrote many deep reflections and studied dense works of theology, had only this to say when he lay dying: “Jesus, I love you.”
How beautiful is that? So simple, but what else needs to be said at the hour of one’s death?