By Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, OSFS
(Note: Appeared in The Morning Call, Monday, December 25, 2006, as "How children inspire change in the world.")
In her recent commentary in America magazine, Maryann Cusimano Love proposes an intriguing image for public policy based on common maternal experience. If we were to adopt a "kneel before the cradle" attitude in terms of respecting fragile human lives, then we might better respond to the daunting problem of child poverty that afflicts our world.
This Christmas eve many will assume that posture, in fact or imagination. With joyful anticipation, an infant will be placed in a manger, replicating with religious symbols the historical event of the birth of Jesus. To be surrounded by shepherds and their animals, and later to be visited by magi, the infant before whom villagers kneel elicits adoration.
What awaits this annual celebration goes beyond Christian affiliations. By reflecting on the one born, and not just specific religious rituals, we might be drawn to create a culture of the child that bodes well for today's society.
Our common human experience, even for those who are not parents, is to rejoice in the presence of a newborn. Oohs and aahs usually greet the infant wrapped in a bundle. How profoundly our interactions would change if this sense of wonder were our approach to encountering every person we meet.
Gazing upon a newborn for the first time, we invariably seek to discern familiar traits. Eyes and noses and ears, each having developed from single cells, now bear a resemblance to those of mom or dad, an aunt or uncle or some other relative. Beyond the genetic facts, we see in infants a living connection to others. Would not our society fare better if we recognize that our individuality remains rooted in our relation to a family and to our connections with all who constitute our personal and social history.
Awakened by the fuss of onlookers, an infant will cry. Disrupting the calm, those powerful little lungs, bellowing in need, call for attention. To these cries, parents immediately respond, bringing succor in the form of a blanket or an embrace. How many among us continue to suffer the lack of essential human necessities, wanting for shelter and support. Would that all such human cries receive a warm response.
Then the baby must be fed. Constant are the feedings that newborns require, and rarely at times convenient to the providers. Constant, too, is the need for all to eat. But here at home the USDA recently reported that 12% of Americans suffered from hunger at some point last year. Though inconvenient to anyone who earns his own keep, that reality beckons each of us to provide somehow for the good of others.
For infants, nourishment is often followed by a less-charming ritual when the baby spits up. Being messy appears to be a prerogative at that age, and changes of tiny apparel become routine. Yet no one gets offended at such behavior. If only we could deal as mercifully with the messiness of adult life as it comes forth from the frailty of sinful human nature, rather than make it the endless subject of front-page exposés.
Finally, the baby is laid to sleep. Resting peacefully once again, the infant does what he/she does best - nothing! A parental respite follows, and inclines the caregivers to reflect on the challenge and the blessing that new life represents. To behold and uphold human dignity, which comes not from doing or achieving anything but simply from being alive, remains the key to peace among us.
We know that someday the babes in our midst will grow up, and with that they will grow out of
their newborn charm. Longer still, they will one day grow old, and may face the need to be cared for again, sometimes just like little children. Still, we shower them with affection, for we know that their happiness depends on us. Without a hug, an infant will not survive. Without a home, a baby will not prosper. Without a caregiver, a child will not thrive. We know this, culturally speaking, and willingly offer assistance to preserve and protect this new life, and to give shape to what will forever be a unique person.
Perhaps this explains the Christmas celebration we anticipate this eve. One can imagine that an all-powerful divine being could enter into the universe wherever and however it so chooses. Amazingly, this god became man, born an infant in what remains a global hot spot.
However each of us marks these holidays, the supernatural deed that is Christmas can give us all pause to reflect on how seeing the child in our midst might enable us to change the world.
Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S. is director of the Salesian Center for Faith & Culture at DeSales University in Center Valley.
Press Release: A culture of the child at Christmas By Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, OSFS | Posted on: 12/25/2006
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