October 23: The Lives of Children (30 C)

“O God, be merciful to me a sinner – for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14.


We are on this road to Jerusalem, listening to Jesus’s great sermons and parable stories. Each of these Sundays in the fall season tell stories of stewardship toward those on the periphery, those in need, as well as how we may best use our talents for the service of the coming Kingdom of God.

Like the tax collector and the Pharisee in today’s parable, do we have the capacity to admit mistakes, and be humble before a merciful God?

Most notably, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we focus more on how to conduct our lives in the way that Jesus taught.

Luke’s gospel focuses on how to live a good life. How to be a good parent and a model of the moral and ethical life for our sons and daughters.

Just imagine you were the son or daughter of the tax collector or the Pharisee what would you hear and expect from your parent’s moral and ethical lives?

Further, if you were to pick up your bible, and continue today’s gospel reading, the very next lines of Luke 18 represent a most vital concern for all of us, namely our children:

“They brought babies for him to touch, and when the disciples saw them, they rebuked them. But Jesus called for the children and said, ‘Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you: whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Again, the moral capacity of the person and how we grow are central aspects of Luke’s rendering of Jesus, a kind of “moral literacy” that comes from the gospels.

I’m reminded of the Austrian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim who wrote: “You can’t teach children to be good. The best you can do for your child is to live a good life yourself. What a parent knows and believes, the child will draw on.”

So children are listening, watching, and adopting their moral and ethical lives as a reflection of their parents.

How do we best forward our children and young adults with moral lives now, and equip them with the talents and capacities to meet and adapt to the challenges that they will face in the years ahead? Well, in this age of social media, we must really listen and listen to our youth and their experiences.

This past week, I noticed an article in the New York Times, entitled “The Anti-Helicopter Parent’s Plan: Let Kids Play.” Author Melanie Thernstrom writes about Mike Lanza of Menlo Park, on the peninsula here in Northern California.

He and his wife Perla are experimenting with their own brand of child development whose home has been turned into a “playground” to engage their three grade-school sons and their neighborhood friends.

The backyard playhouse, trampoline, sleeping loft are part of an effort to give back to kids their form of “childhood enchantment,” allowing them to create their own games, and the freedom to roam what Lanza calls their own “playborhood.” Some fascinating ideas here.

Lanza states: “What strikes me is that there is an extraordinary level of anxiety. Parents don’t have a fundamental faith in their offspring.” Well, true enough.

At times, Lanza’s vision is nostalgic for a kind of comfortable television/movie version of childhood, as seen in “Leave to Beaver,” or the “Little Rascals.”

Lanza does make points about overly structured sports programs, and especially summer camps, where the educators, the coaches, and the lawyers mandate rules and regulations. Perhaps, his intent is to get kids away from computer screens and video games and into activities that suggest the kind of socialization often found in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Well, I’ll let you consider the merits of this dad’s take on child development.

Let me note that the writer of the article, Melanie Thernstrom, is a mother and neighbor of Lanza’s, and is critical of some of his ideas. While there is no specific mention in the article of religious or moral development, let me add a few words of my own.

So how does this fit into our scheme of things? Well, our parishes are communities where youth grow and have a central place.

In this age of social media, we will never be their age.

As we get older, they get younger, so we have to listen to our youth and their concerns. Have you ever tried to fix a problem with your computer, and your seven-year-old steps in and shows you how to do it?

As a youngster, I walked from my home to my parish grammar school, played with kids on the CYO playground, sang in the parish Boys choir, went to the Father/Son Communion breakfast.

By now, that’s a distant past, but something that we have to keep in mind when considering the vital importance of community and family, and how we form role models for youth and for life.

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that the next Synod of Bishops in Rome, will be in October of 2018, and this gathering will address the topic of “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.” So in this next meeting in Rome, the pope, his bishops, and laity will listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, in their efforts to better minister to the needs of youth.

So Pope Francis is on the job – genuinely acknowledging a central concern of all people.

He writes: “We must accompany young people on their way of life toward maturity so that through a process of discernment, that they can discover their life project and realize it with joy, opening the encounter with God and with men, and actively participating in the building up of the Church and the society. (10/5/15)

Saint Bonaventure, Concord, CA.

Extra features:

Early this morning, on Friday, October 21, I appeared on the Michigan network radio’s “The Big Show” with host Michael Patrick Shiels. The interview concerns my take on the appearance of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the Al Smith Dinner held in New York City on October 20.

Later this evening, PBS aired “Hamilton’s America,” the “behind the scenes” documentary about the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” and the creative genius of Lin Manuel Miranda.

As we reflect on the presidential election of 2016, this documentary and broadway play provide a measure of hope for our democracy — worthy of attention and some optimism.

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