What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: November 29, 2007
I have never had more ample time in which to compose my weekly column, and yet I have never found it more grueling to do so as I have during these past several weeks. After more than 12 years of writing a weekly column for my diocesan newspaper, I have realized that the energy and the inspiration that I discover in accomplishing this task are found by being with YOU!
It is the interaction between Shepherd and people that generates most of the things that I like to share with you and to reflect upon in faith myself. That is why the Thanksgiving dinner that I shared with a family that I have known long before I arrived as the Archbishop of Atlanta, and with another family that I have met since then, provided me with the energy and the insight to compose this column.
When I arrived at the home, the father told me that his younger son had already decided that he was sitting next to the Archbishop at dinner that evening—it was a non-negotiable conclusion. I was happy to sit next to the 9-year-old. I assumed that perhaps he had something important he wanted to tell me during the dinner. He didn’t. He just wanted to be close to the Archbishop this time since his older brother held that position at dinner the time before and his younger sister before that. It was his turn—he reckoned.
During the course of the dinner conversation, one of those at table asked why the New Testament had so relatively little information about the childhood and adolescence of Jesus. I said that in ancient times, children were not considered very significant members of society. According to even the religious customs in Jesus’ own time, children were of little standing. We recall the Gospel passage when people were sending their children to Jesus and the disciples tried to stop that practice. It was a countercultural move for Jesus to invite the little ones into His company. We live today in a society that likes to highlight children. At the same time, though, we also have our own incongruous practice of allowing the killing of children within the womb. Children have a special place in God’s Kingdom. Jesus, in fact, suggested that unless we become like little children, we might not even be invited into God’s Kingdom.
When I dine with families, I always prefer to sit with the kids around me. There you will find the heart of the family. There well may be more prestigious places at the table, but none so central to the life of a family as in the midst of the kids in a household. I was later informed that my dining companion had previously told his classmates at his Catholic school that last year he had Easter dinner with the Archbishop. After a few disbelievers were convinced, his point was made—he was a friend of the Archbishop. I visited that same school several months later and the word went out among the students that “the Pope was at school today!”
Children are not put off by or deeply anxious regarding titles—maybe that is why Christ has such a special love for them. Maybe that’s why Jesus suggested that we all become more like little children in order to inherit the Kingdom. This time of year is often described as a time that belongs to children—in fact, the entire Kingdom of God belongs to them!