Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Becoming and Staying a Child

Father John J. Lombardi

"Man is a worshipping creature." Children are naturally, spontaneously so.

After reading a plethora of stories on children, the following are meditations on children in our age (read below). So, what are the graces and challenges of being a child today?....

Recently while praying with a pilgrim below the Grotto Bell tower and underneath the beautiful, golden Blessed Mary Virgin statue, I noticed a 3 year old child spontaneously joining us, folding his hands, with a glimmer, praying along with us. A beautiful and innocent action of grace-and obviously good teaching by the parents. So: Do you set a good example for your child to pray?

Children, too, are rebellious. This chaplain once got disciplined (believe it or not!) at age 5, and then, to express upset, told mom while I was fuming: "You're skinny". Obviously she was delighted by my comment even though she wasn't a paid runway model at the time! Do you believe in proper, loving discipline for your children-and take a good laugh at "children's moments" when they occur-as graces of God?

At a recent holy hour and Rosary I noticed a Vietnamese family devoutly praying, and I was poignantly struck by a little boy with his sister climbing over them while they intently prayed: Do you persevere in prayer?

That's good children's education!

Why does Jesus say: "Unless you become like a child you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mk. 10:15)?

What, then, are the attributes of children?: innocent, carefree, spontaneous, surrendering….Do you have these in your life? Do you cultivate them in (your) children? Are you embracing, like St Therese of Lieseaux, "spiritual childhood"?

I recently read in the Wall Street Journal an article about children's playtime and how many educators and teachers are cutting back on recess time because it is a non-essential, and to make more time for test preparation and intellectual development and the like. Upshot-reflection: Is this possibly well-intentioned discipline straining children from needed recreation time and enabling them to become mechanical persons and disallowing them their childhood and time with playmates? Are we creating children in our own busy-assertive-manic-image? Do you allow your children adequate play and recreational time to develop and keep that child-energy and creativity within them?

In a book review of "When Sex Goes to School," by Kristin Luker (New York Times Book Review: August 27, 2006) which is a survey of sex-education and children, we read of two approaches. The reviewer, Judith Shulevitz, says: "The 'naturalist' whom Luker calls sexual liberals, holds that sex is natural and unmysterious, a healthy pleasurable quasi-recreational activity. 'Sacralists,' whom Luker calls conservatives, consider sex sacred but dangerous, transformative when contained by marriage but destructive outside it. To the naturalist, sex education involves nothing more than helping young people manage the risks of having sex by giving them the facts. Its information, not values. Conventional sex education is chock full of values, but all the wrong ones. Its indoctrination in secularism, teaching kids to be irresponsible, and draining sex of its mystery and power. …Do you see your child's sexual education in terms of the "the sacred, as to be preserved until marriage? Do you teach them chastity and proper harmony of body and passions and soul? Do you see sexuality as mere information without soul and faith? Do you monitor the proper sexual education at school of your child? Do you view sexual education as "value-laden" and needing parental guidance with your religion?

In a recent New York Times Magazine cover story I read about children's school food and nutrition. Upshot: less soft drinks and sugar, fries and pizza. Are schools going organic?! This story points to a good trend-proper food and nutrition for all people, especially children, and especially when obesity studies are raging our country. Remember the moniker: "Garbage in, garbage out"? Have we, you been feeding too much junk food to your child?...Have you considered feeding your child on the Holy Eucharist as the Food of Life more regularly?

President Bush recently visited a Chevy Chase elementary school and discussion turned to school violence and character development. The president, rightly or wrongly, said that the federal government and schools were not the primary "enablers" of these facets of children's lives, but, rather, they are involved in the business of intellectual formation. What do you think? How do you form your child in the virtues, especially: Faith, hope and love, and in the cardinal virtues--justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude? How do you form your child's character and personality? How do you help your child appropriately channel his or her anger and passions in right, loving, disciplined ways, and not in hurtful ways? Remember: you, as the parent, are the most important formatter of your child's character and he or she needs your help and guidance in so many ways.

Many Catholic Dioceses have recently declared bankruptcy due to child sex abuse cases which have drained them of monies. Why is this? Perhaps because of the church's slow response to such cases and perhaps, too, because, according to an official study, 81% of the abuse cases involved homosexuality. Many are afraid to admit this and therefore the response, even now is muted or, even retraction is enabled. Kinda similarly in the congressional Mark Foley case (Rep. Fla.-who resigned over sexual computer messages to a young male page), there has been denial about homosexuality. The point, now, is not to pummel people but, importantly, to get to the root causes of this abuse and syndrome in our land.

The United States population will reach 300 million sometime this mid-October. Our reaction might be "scared" or "serene". We should look at this population mark as a blessing, especially after the scary, hyped scenarios of "The Population Bomb" which impelled people to doom and gloom scenarios of starving people and lack of space and so forth. Just think of all of America's creativity and capital in all the new youthfulness…Children are a gift of God. Don't contracept-desire children!

I heard in an interview with a parent of one of the youth killed in the Columbine, Colorado, high school killings, of how, in unreleased tapes by the killers, evolution was a factor in the slayings, pointing to "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest"-and thereby the killer determined just who these were. Were these killers led to the murders through this evolutionary theory? How can you protect your youth from any kinds of theories which promote in-humanism and degradation of human dignity? Do you know just who or what your child is hanging around?.…theories or people which may lead them astray?

What to do? How to help children today?...

Religious Education and formation is the most important aspect needed in your homes. Parents (not educators or the Church) are the foremost and primary formatters of children's faith. So, do you feed the faith to your children?

Family time: do you spend time with your children-spiritually, socially, recreationally? Are you really bonding with your child, or are you neglecting them to rapacious childhood experiences?

Friendships: How do you help your child form good, holy, healthy relationships with others? Do you know who your child is hanging out with? How can you balance appropriate monitoring versus stuffy stifling over-parenting?

Love: Do you show love to your child-thru embraces and other, appropriate physical means?

Spirit of Charity: Do you help your child serve others and especially the poor, sick and dying?

Overcoming: Do you help your child overcome cliques and gossip and any negative behaviors common to us all, and thereby show true love in action?

The Arts: Do you cultivate in your son or daughter a love of the Beautiful-in music, art, poetry or other means of creativity-especially the Catholic and Christian classical forms?

Recreation: do you help your child get adequate exercise and form proper, virtuous recreation time as a good, frequent habit? Remember: The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit

Do you monitor your child's time with video games, computer time and television? Amidst all this "child rearing" remember this upshot: let children be children and yet feed them to respect holy things. Feed the faith but don't force feed!

***********Briefly Noted*************

Poverty: In this Sunday's Gospel (Mk 10:17-27) Jesus calls a rich, young man to perfection. The man's face fell flat when Jesus told him to leave all behind to reach spiritual perfection. We all have attachments - inordinate ones - to some of our possessions. "Spiritual poverty" means detaching appropriately, according to our state in life, from things that form addictions within us. Are you able to let go of things-embrace "spiritual poverty" for love of God? For love of neighbor? However, there may be a danger in trying to heroically renounce things inappropriately and doing this only for oneself, or some supposed goal which is not spiritual, and not for God or neighbor (which is the true meaning of evangelical poverty). So now, ask yourself: Are you afraid of "spiritual poverty"? Is your spiritual poverty leading you to God and others, or more to your ego and self-importance? Remember-we are to be attached to God and others in appropriate ways and make a loving detachment from other things, including persons-so as to build up the Kingdom of God and glorify Him, Our -Lord. So, be free to serve the Lord and others!

Jesus Our Eucharistic Love --Pope Benedict said on Corpus Christi Sunday this past summer in Rome: "And so look with love at this little white Host, this bread of the poor appears to us as love. The synergy of the forces that make the Mystery of life and the experience of that possible on our poor planet come to meet us in all of majesty and grandeur. We detect in the power of bread that it is projected towards divinization, toward the holy wedding feast, toward unification with the Creator himself." …Do you really detect in the "white Host" the Love of the Creator, and thereby attend Mass frequently, and make attempts at adoring Him in Eucharistic adoration?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi