One of the benefits of giving lectures in different parts of the country is the chance to see both the wide diversity and the deep unity of our faith. Thus, I take every opportunity to attend Sunday liturgy in some local parish of an unfamiliar city.
The highlight for me (in 1997) was Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, I felt like I was in on some great conspiracy of life and love: a young girl boldly proclaiming the Word of God, the commissioning of teachers and parents as primary educators, a family of five celebrating its tenth year as they bore gifts to the altar, and waves of believers—grade-schoolers, teenagers and white-haired octogenarians—receiving Communion.
What struck me most, however, was the homily of the pastor, Father Larry Kiniry. He revealed, in a way I had not seen before, how redemptive the presence of children can be in our lives. Not only does Jesus welcome the children, not only does he welcome the child in all of us; we ourselves must do the same.
There is a wisdom in the openness of a child, an insight in its vulnerability. A child must trust us and rely on our fidelity. A child teaches us to forgive and to ask forgiveness. A child seals and expresses our love, our commitments. A child shows us how to play again, how to laugh, and how to hug.
Children draw us together at their baptisms, their first Communions, their graduations. We are proud of them, happy for them. We go to their endless ball games, cheer for them, ache for them, heal their hurts, celebrate their victories. We thrill at the one line they may speak in their first play, the halting melody at their first recital. “A little child shall lead them.”
Isaiah dreamed dreams for the child Israel. It is a vision about every child. Splendor. Your light is here. There is the glory of God here. No matter what darkness covers our earth, no matter how thick the clouds, there is a hidden glory shining here, a radiance. We have but to raise our eyes and look about us, to see our sons and daughters, close or afar. They are the gifts and the magic that make our hearts throb and rise with abundance. More dear than the wealth of nations and sea treasure, more lavish than caravans of gifts, more precious than gold, more fragrant than incense, in them we praise God.
God’s secret plan, Paul wrote, is that we are all co-heirs of God’s glory in Jesus. Every mother’s child bears his face. All members of his body share in his promise.
The astrologers, having seen his star, searched for the newborn king. Herod was frightened of the baby. The defenseless child was a menace to something cold and hard in him. He wanted to kill, not to see the glory.
In Pennsylvania or Louisiana, St. Louis or Manhattan, in our great parade of parish life, let us go to the child. Like sages, let us delight at seeing the star, at entering the house, at seeing the mother. Let us do homage. Let us open the gifts of our hearts.