by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Someone said recently that we are placing high expectations on the New Year 2021. Surely there is a huge sigh of relief across the planet as this “Annus Horribilis” of 2020 ends. The natural and surely God-given sense of hope and optimism in every human heart show themselves with this new beginning. We are encouraged by clear signs that 2021 will find the human family emerging from the dark night in which we have lived for so many months. We hope with all our hearts for that “that dawn from on high breaking upon us” spoken about in the Gospel (Luke 1:78).
One reflection which has caught my attention in this significant historical moment centers on childhood, specifically the obligation toward our children which we have as people alive today. December 28 was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children slain by a cruel authority who feared that one of these hundreds of little ones might be a threat to his power. It is a legend which lends itself to a unique and hugely important reflection on childhood as the pandemic (hopefully) subsides.
Providentially, significant attention has surfaced recently around a theology of childhood. This is not a new theme but surely one which seems not to have been prominent heretofore. The name connected with this theology is Karl Rahner, a world-class theologian of the past century. His emphasis on childhood in the context of God our Father coincides with a consistent theme of his—finding the Divine within ordinary human living.
Here are some points Rahner makes on the subject of Childhood:
- Childhood is only truly understood… when it is seen as based upon the foundation of God’s father/motherhood.
- The child always exists at the threshold of the eternal.
- Childhood is in the last analysis a mystery.
- Childhood is “not something you do on the way to becoming an adult.”
- Our childhood goes with us into eternity.
- The child is an independent and a dependent being.
- Those who care for and think about children—including theologians—will recognize in humility that we lack the words and concepts to penetrate the deep mystery of childhood which lies in God.
- Those who care for/about children will delight in each act of unveiling and find meaning therein.
The world-famous physician and educator of children, Maria Montessori, put these thoughts into practical applications in these words:
- If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men (sic).
- One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
It is surely necessary, as we optimistically turn the page to this promising new year, that we consider this theology and pedagogy of children in the light of the enormous child-centered task before us. Think of this wonderful understanding and care of children and childhood in contrast to little immigrants on our southern borders ripped away forever from their parents by a modern Herod for the sake of “zero tolerance.” Think of the ones in Yemen trembling in the middle of a proxy war that is a crime against humanity. Think of the thousands of displaced little victims in Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia—the list is endless. Will there be any sort of merciful “new normal” for any of these “little ones” as we emerge from the pandemic? Will the family of nations make it possible for them ever to sit in a Montessori-type classroom?
Two final images/challenges:
- Jesus’s anger at his own disciples who try to shoo away children whose mothers ask Jesus to bless them. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these!” (Matthew 19:14)
- The iconic photo of the three-year old Kurdish child, Alan Shenu, drowned and lying face-down on a Turkish beach he and his family were trying to reach.
MAY 2021 BE TRULY NEW YEAR!
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.