Children Are The Future
In the 13th century, Frederick II wanted to test babies to discover what language they would speak if they never interact with adults, but only with each other. Would it be Latin or Greek or some mystery language? So he had a group of infants quarantined, set aside from all adults other than one person who silently changed their diapers and provided some food each day. And what he discovered was that that kind of intense isolation caused children to die. Without the love of a mother or a caring adult, the children couldn't survive. It's clear children need us. Children need caring adults. I mean, who even learned to tie your shoes without the help of a grown-up? And if children need our help for something that simple, how in the world can we expect them to grow up as strong people of faith in this morally confused, spiritually warped culture without the help of caring adults? And yet, I'm embarrassed to say I can't think of ever hearing a homily about how we help children, not one. It's kind of remarkable. Isn't it? I mean, after all, when God became flesh, he came as a baby. He came as a child. He could have stepped out of the heavens in some big, bold spark-flying way, coming down the ladder with the keys to heaven. But Jesus came as a baby. And grown-up Jesus had a deep, deep, deep passion for kids. I mean, think about it, when he needed to feed 5000 people, who helped him out? The little boy with the picnic lunch with some bread and fish. When Jesus was in the middle of something, what quickly altered his schedule? A sick child or a child that folks thought had even died. Jesus stopped and he took care of children first. That's why gospel readings like the one today are so important. Jesus teaches us yet again how valuable each child is. Think about what these gospel readings teach us. Jesus welcomes children. People bring children to Jesus, hoping he'll touch them. The disciples rebuke them and say, "Jesus is busy with the adults. He's got more important things to do." And Jesus says, "Whoa, whoa. If you want to be great, welcome a child.
For a lot of folks, children are a nuisance, a distraction. But for Jesus, it's just the opposite. He welcomes children. He also warns adults not to harm children. Jesus is very clear that if you harm a child, you will face severe punishment. He says, "In fact, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea." He's very clear that we're called to care for children. Jesus even gives the kingdom of God to children. He says, "Let the little children come to me. The Kingdom of God belongs to them." Children are special to Jesus. Maybe because we have so much to learn from them. Maybe because children speak the truth. I think Jesus probably likes that. Little Nancy wrote, "God, I bet it's very hard for you to love all of everybody in the world. There are only four people in my family, and I can never do it." It just may be that the kingdom belongs to kids because they understand God better than we adults do. And Jesus blesses children. He takes the children in his arms. He lays his hands on them, and He blesses them. In fact, the only time in scripture that Jesus blesses someone is children. He treasures children. The message is clear, don't you think? God treasures us. And he wants a relationship with each child. He wants what's best for each child right from the start. He wants them to have a solid foundation, not to have to wait till they're adults to try to figure things out. Kids aren't an inconvenience. They're not an accessory. They're not here to entertain us or to be our possessions. They're not here to make adults look good. They deserve more than leftovers from their parents, from the church, and from the world. Consider the basic facts of how you and I develop as human beings. We're made in the image of God. Your moral and spiritual development begins at age 2. You begin learning right from wrong at age 2, and then you progress rapidly from there. By age 9, your moral foundation is set. By age 12, your spiritual identity is largely set. What you believe about God, largely in place.
In other words, at 12, the greatest predictor for who you will be, morally and spiritually as an adult, is set. Pretty plain, isn't it? What you create early on in the life of a child is the greatest determiner for how that child will behave as an adult. If you want to help shape the church and the world, the best thing you can do, the most important thing you can do is provide deep, robust spiritual experiences for children ages two through 12. It may be your children. It may be your grandchildren. It may be kids in your neighborhood. It may be a part of a parish ministry. Introduce them to Jesus. Shape, their values when they're young and you will change the world. If you don't do that, the odds are that we will spend the rest of our days doing repair work and damage control. Catherine has figured that out. She's a single woman. She's a friend of mine. She has a two-year-old nephew. We'll call him Teddy. His parents call themselves secular Catholics. They don't go to church. They have no relationship with the church. And they're not doing anything intentional to shape the spiritual life of their son, Teddy. So Catherine is single and asked if she could drive each Sunday and pick Teddy up, take him to mass with her as a part of her day, and to build a relationship with him. So each Sunday, she drives about 30 miles the other direction to pick up a two-year-old. Now, part of the benefit in his life will be the time invested at the parish. But the real benefit will be the relationship that grows over time between him and his Aunt Catherine, who cares and loves him enough to inconvenience herself, spend time in the car laughing with him, talking to him, listening to him, perhaps talking about God over lunch so that slowly she helps build that foundation. In a note, she said to me, "I'm excited about the seeds that God is planting in my nephew that could ultimately impact my sister and brother-in-law's relationship with Jesus and his church. Catherine's nephew, Teddy, he's in good hands. His moral and spiritual foundation are being set in place very well. So let me just ask you a simple question. How will you shape the faith of a child in your life?