Pope: We Can Learn About Jesus by Watching Children
Pope Francis says that watching how children interact and play can teach us a lot about the relationship we should have with Jesus.
The Pope said this today during the general audience in the Vatican, which he dedicated to a reflection on the Christ Child.
Noting that many saints have shown us a great devotion to the Infant Jesus, particularly St. Therese of Lisieux, the Pontiff said from Him, we see the humility of God.
“He, the great, is humble and is made a child. This is a real mystery! God is humble. This is beautiful,” Francis said.
The Pope went on to discuss the little that is recorded in the Gospels of the infancy and childhood of Jesus, but said that “we can learn a lot from Him if we look at the lives of children. It is a good habit that parents and grandparents have, to look at children, what they do.”
The Holy Father went on to consider two characteristics of childhood that are enlightening for our relationship with Jesus.
The first characteristic the Pope mentioned is their desire for attention.
“They must be the focus, why? Because they are proud? No! Because they need to feel protected,” he said. “And it is necessary for us to put Jesus at the center of our lives and to know, even if it could seem paradoxical, that we have a responsibility to protect Him. He wishes to be in our arms, wishes to be cared for and to be able to fix His gaze on us.”
The Pope added that we can make Baby Jesus smile “by demonstrating to him our love and joy because He is in our midst.”
Abandoning our logic
Next, Francis noted, children love to play.
But to play with a child, he said, “means abandoning our logic to enter theirs.”
If we want a child to have fun, the Holy Father observed, we have to figure out what pleases them, rather than selfishly making them do what we want.
This, he said, is a lesson for us: “Before Jesus, we are called to give up our pretense of autonomy – and this is the core of the problem: our pretense of autonomy – to welcome instead the true form of freedom, which consists in knowing who we have in front of us and serving Him. He, this child, is the Son of God who comes to save us. He came among us to show us the face of the Father, which is rich in love and mercy.”
“Hold, then, the Child Jesus in our arms, putting ourselves at His service: He is the source of love and serenity,” the Pope recommended, encouraging the faithful to go to the nativity scenes in our homes and kiss the Child, telling him, “Jesus, I want to be humble like you, humble like God.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Nativity
Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis' address for today's General Audience in St. Peter's Square:
Pope Francis' Catechesis:
Brothers and sisters, good morning!
In these days of Christmas, we are placed before the Child Jesus. I am sure that in our homes still many families have set up their mangers, carrying on this fine tradition which dates back to St. Francis of Assisi and that keeps alive, in our hearts, the mystery of God Who becomes man.
The devotion to the Child Jesus is very widespread. Many saints have cultivated it in their daily prayer, and they wanted to model their lives on that of the Child Jesus. I am thinking in particular of Saint Theresa of Lisieux, who as a Carmelite nun took the name of Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She – who is also a Doctor of the Church – was able to live and witness to that '”spiritual childhood” which truly assimilates, in the school of the Virgin Mary, the humility of God who, for our sake, became a child. And this is a great mystery, God is humble! It is we who are proud, filled with vanity and we believe ourselves to be something great, [but] we are nothing! He, the great, is humble and is made a child. This is a real mystery! God is humble. This is beautiful!
There was a time when, in the divine-human person of Christ, God was a child, and this must have its own special meaning for our faith. It is true that His death on the Cross and His Resurrection are the ultimate expression of His redeeming love, but do not forget that all His earthly life is revelation and teaching. During the Christmas season, we remember His childhood. To grow in faith, we need to contemplate Baby Jesus more often. Certainly, we do not know anything much about this period. The few indications we possess refer to the imposition of the name eight days after His birth and the presentation in the Temple (cf. Lk 2.21 to 28); and also the visit of the Magi with the consequent flight into Egypt (cf. Mt 2.1 to 23). Then, there is a big jump up to when he is 12 years old, when Mary and Joseph go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, and instead of returning with His parents in the Temple, he stops to talk to the doctors of the law.
As you see, we know little of the Child Jesus, but we can learn a lot from Him if we look at the lives of children. It is a good habit that parents, grandparents, have, to look at children, what they do.
We find out, first of all, that children want our attention. They must be the focus, why? Because they are proud? No! Because they need to feel protected. And it is necessary for us to put Jesus at the center of our lives and to know, even if it could seem paradoxical, that we have a responsibility to protect Him. He wishes to be in our arms, wishes to be cared for and to be able to fix His gaze on us. Also, make Baby Jesus smile by demonstrating to him our love and joy because He is in our midst. His smile is a sign of love that gives us the certainty of being loved.
Children, finally, love to play. To play with a child, however, means abandoning our logic to enter theirs. If we want them to have fun, you need to understand what pleases them, and not be selfish and make them do things that we like. It is a teaching for us. Before Jesus, we are called to give up our pretense of autonomy – and this is the core of the problem: our pretense of autonomy – to welcome instead the true form of freedom, which consists in knowing who we have in front of us and serving Him. He, this child, is the Son of God who comes to save us. He came among us to show us the face of the Father, which is rich in love and mercy.
Hold, then, the Child Jesus in our arms, putting ourselves at His service: He is the source of love and serenity. It will be a good thing, today, when we go home, to go near the crib and kiss the Baby Jesus and say, “Jesus, I want to be humble like you, humble like God,” and ask Him for this grace.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]
Dear Brothers and Sisters: During this holy season it is customary in many places for each home to set up a Christmas crib, following a tradition begun by Saint Francis of Assisi. The crib scene invites us to adore the Child Jesus and to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation as a revelation of God’s saving love. Devotion to the Child Jesus can teach us much about our faith. Although the Gospels tell us little about our Lord’s childhood, we know from experience the message which all newborn babies bring. By contemplating the Infant Jesus, we come to understand more fully the meaning of his coming among us. Like every baby, the Infant Jesus cries out for our attention; he asks us to care for and protect him. Like every baby, he wants us to smile at him, as a sign of our delight in him and our sharing in the mystery of his love. Finally, he wants us to play with him, to enter into his world and to become like a child ourselves, in order to please him. In these days of Christmas, let us not only gaze upon the Child Jesus, but also take him into our arms and allow him to give us the joy and freedom born of the Father’s merciful love.
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the pilgrimage groups from Norway, the Philippines and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. With prayerful good wishes that the the Church’s celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy will be a moment of grace and spiritual renewal for all, I invoke upon you and your families an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord. Happy New Year![Original Text: English]
I offer a warm Christmas greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I am pleased to welcome the faithful of the Dioceses of Vittorio Veneto and Monreale, accompanied by their pastors, Bishop Pizziolo and Mons. Pennisi. I greet the Sisters of the Institute Madri Pie, urging them to live with renewed enthusiasm their founding charism. I greet the children of the Focolare Movement; the candidates of the Valle Brembana- there are so many candidates for confirmation here today! – encouraging them to be messengers of solidarity between nations and witnesses of joy and hope. I wish you all to spread the light of Christ in everyday life, which had shone upon humanity Christmas Night.
I address a special thought to the young, sick and newlyweds. May yhe icon of the crib that we contemplate these days help you, dear young people, to imitate the Holy Family, the model of true love. Sustain yourselves, dear sick people, by offering your sufferings in union with those of Jesus for the salvation of the world. I encourage you, dear newlyweds, to build your house on the rock of the Word of God, making it, along the lines of the one in Nazareth, a welcoming place, full of love, understanding and forgiveness.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]
I invite everyone to pray for the victims of recent disasters that have hit the United States, Britain and South America, especially in Paraguay, which unfortunately, have caused causalities, displaced many, and have wreaked extensive damage. The Lord will give comfort to those populations, and fraternal solidarity to help them in their needs.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]
3.2M People Attended an Event With the Pope in the Vatican This Year
The Prefecture of the Papal Household today published a communique reporting that during the year 2015 a total of 3,210,860 faithful attended the various encounters with Pope Francis: general audiences (704,100), special audiences (408,760), liturgical celebrations in the Vatican Basilica and in St. Peter's Square (513,000), and the Angelus and Regina Coeli prayers (1,585,000).
These data refer only to events held in the Vatican and do not include others attended often by large numbers of faithful, for instance during the apostolic trips to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Sarajevo, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Cuba, the United States of America, Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, or during trips within Italy and pastoral visits in the diocese of Rome.
These are approximate data calculated on the basis of requests to participate in encounters with the Pope and invitations distributed by the Prefecture, which also specifies that estimates are given for attendance at events such as the Angelus or Regina Coeli and for celebrations in St. Peter's Square.
Pope's Prayer Intentions for January 2016
At the start of the new year, Pope Francis will be praying that interreligious dialogue will produce fruits of peace.
The Apostleship of Prayer announced the intentions chosen by the Pope for January 2016.
His universal prayer intention is: “That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice.”
His intention for evangelisation is: “That by means of dialogue and fraternal charity and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christians may overcome divisions.”
ANALYSIS: Globalizing Indifference
The celebration of World Peace Day by the Church on January 1 is a time to reflect not only on the present but also on the year ahead. In his message for this day Pope Francis urged all to be more concerned about the welfare of others.
As on a number of previous occasions the Pope used the phrase the “globalization of indifference” as the focus of his reflections regarding our obligations toward the wider world. He appealed for a greater awareness of our interdependence and to be concerned for our brothers and sisters who are vulnerable.
Without our common fellowships with other humans, who like us are created in God’s image and likeness, we would be less human, Pope Francis warned.
Indifference is not something new, the Pontiff admitted, but in today’s world it is broader, globalized.
There are different kinds of indifference the Pope explained. The first is toward God, as a result of a false humanism and materialism.
“We feel self-sufficient, prepared not only to find a substitute for God but to do completely without him. As a consequence, we feel that we owe nothing to anyone but ourselves, and we claim only rights,” noted Pope Francis in his message (n. 3).
The second is indifference toward our neighbors, which can manifest itself in various ways. We may be well-informed about world events, but at the same time without any personal engagement. In part this can be due to the overload of information that leads to a numbing of our sensibilities.
Lives of comfort
Another manifestation of indifference is a lack of concern for others. “Some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers; they lead lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer. Almost imperceptibly, we grow incapable of feeling compassion for others and for their problems; we have no interest in caring for them, as if their troubles were their own responsibility, and none of our business,” Pope Francis explained (n. 3).
Indifference toward God and neighbor can prolong situations of injustice that in turn will result in conflicts or insecurity. “Indifference can even lead to justifying deplorable economic policies which breed injustice, division and violence for the sake of ensuring the wellbeing of individuals or nations,” the Pope warned (n. 4).
He then contrasted this indifference to the solidarity with humanity that Jesus demonstrated. He not only took our flesh, but he also taught the crowds, fed the hungry and helped those in need.
“We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another,” the Pope said.
Solidarity, he explained, quoting Pope St John Paul II, is a firm commitment to the common good and is a moral and social attitude.
As St John Paul II explained in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis solidarity enables us to see the other not merely as an instrument but as our neighbor and is a vital part of being able to achieve world peace.
“In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation,” the encyclical explained (n. 40).
Solidarity is then, St John Paul II observed, a Christian virtue and has as its model the example of the life of the Trinity, three persons in one God.
Challenging the globalization of indifference was also a central point in Pope Francis’ Lenten message.
We need an interior renewal and to listen to the voice of the prophets in order to overcome the tendency to withdraw into ourselves, the Pope urged. God’s love, which we witness in the example of Jesus, enables us to offer our service to others.
This love, should Pope Francis said, be universal so that we will shall not fail to see the Lazarus who sits by our doors.
We can do this through our prayers, uniting ourselves to others here on Earth and to the saints in Heaven in a communion of love through which indifference is conquered.
In addition, every Christian community is called to engage in society and to be missionary, especially with the poor and those far away.
Pope Francis invited people to a conversion of heart and to form a merciful heart, which does not mean a weak heart, but rather a strong and steadfast heart, open to God. “A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis commented (n. 3).
In his homily on July 8, 2013, during a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, home to many refugees fleeing North Africa, Pope Francis recalled God’s words, “Cain, where is your brother?”
This is not a question directed to others, but to each one of us, he insisted, as he explained the need to overcome the culture of indifference.
Pope Francis, no doubt, wishes us to reflect on how different this year which is just starting could be if the globalization of indifference can be overcome by the virtue of solidarity.
Want Your Child to Return to the Faith? Here's a Resource
During the Christmas season, we are confronted more than at other times of the year with the sad reality of friends and family who have fallen away from the Church.
A new resource was released this year to help the faithful to re-evangelize our loved ones, and specifically to help parents reach out to their children who are no longer practicing the faith.
It is designed by Brandon Vogt, who despite his young age, has already offered to the Church a host of tools for spreading the Gospel.
He told ZENIT about this new resource, called Return.
Q: In a nutshell, what is RETURN?
Vogt: RETURN is a collection of resources to help parents draw their children back to the Church. It emerged from my own experience working with countless parents and young people over the years, and is packed with proven, practical advice. The resources include:
RETURN Video Course – 16 professionally-filmed video lessons with over 220 minutes of HD content. This reveals a complete game plan for drawing your child back.
RETURN paperback book – Companion guide to the Video Course which builds on its content and features a Foreword by Bishop Robert Barron.
RETURN Master Series – Video interviews with 10 Catholic leaders who are experts at helping people come back to the Church, including Dr. Scott Hahn, Jennifer Fulwiler, Fr. Michael Schmitz, and many more.
RETURN Seed Gifts – The 12 most effective DVDs, books, and CDs to give your fallen-away child, including Bishop Barron’s CATHOLICISM series, booklets from Catholic Answers, and books by Peter Kreeft, Matthew Kelly, and more.
RETURN Private Community – An exclusive, online community where parents can join hundreds of others to find encouragement and support as they draw their children back.
Q: You’ve written books on the new media, Catholic social teaching, and evangelization. Why this topic?
Vogt: It emerged from two places. First was my experience, over the last several years, speaking at Catholic events around the country. Each event typically closes with a Q&A session and, inevitably, the most common question I hear is some version of, “My son/daughter has left the faith and I’m devastated. What should I do?” I’ve heard this hundreds of times, and my other Catholic speaker friends confirm the same thing; it’s the most deeply-felt problem among Catholic adults.
Then there was the release of the latest Pew Religious Landscape survey. Every seven years, the Pew Research Center surveys over 30,000 American adults to check the religious pulse of our country. The 2014 survey data was published in May 2015, and although the results were dire for most Christian traditions, they were especially disheartening for Catholics. Three statistics stood out:
50% of young people raised in the Church no longer identify as Catholic today
79% who leave the Church leave before age 23
6.45 people leave the Catholic Church for everyone that joins
Think about what that means. Over the last 20-30 years, half of the babies you’ve seen baptized, half of the children you’ve seen confirmed, and half of the couples you’ve seen married in the Church are gone — they’re no longer Catholic. Worse, for every person who enters the front door of your parish, 6-7 people are leaving through the back.
This is an epidemic. The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging young people. That’s why Bishop Robert Barron says, “The most significant challenge facing the Catholic Church today is the attrition of our own people.”
We haven’t done nearly enough to resolve this problem. We have lots of books and programs on keeping our kids Catholic or raising good Catholic children — and obviously these are needed — but we don’t have much for parents after their children have already drifted away. That’s why I created RETURN.
Q: What sets RETURN apart from other resources designed to help people come back to the Church?
Vogt: Three main things. First, it was written specifically for parents and grandparents. There are many resources devoted to helping people, in general, come back to the Church. They contain broad tips which can be applied to friends, co-workers, or even people you interact with online. However, as we all know, the parent/child relationship is so distinct from other relationships. There are things a parent can say or do that will have a much bigger impact on their child than on a friend or coworker, and on the other hand, there are things parents should not say or do to their child, simply because of their relationship. I thought it was time that parents and grandparents had a resource specifically designed for them, one that took into account the delicate, unique bond they have with their child.
A second distinction is that RETURN is multi-faceted. It’s not just a book. It also includes a 16-part video series (professionally filmed in HD), the “Master Series” collection of expert interviews, the “Seed Gift” package of DVDs, books, and CDs, and the RETURN Private Community. It pulls together the best advice from the best minds in the Church, and presents it in many different formats.
Finally, RETURN is deeply practical. Other resources offer helpful background, stories, and theory. But while RETURN contains some of that, it’s really aimed at the parent who says, “I appreciate that but what I really want is specific, practical advice. Give me the proven tips and strategies I need to win my child back to the Church. I want stuff that works.”
Q: What are some of the big reasons why young people drift away from the Church?
Vogt: It’s easy to assume that young people leave because they’re self-centered and lazy. But in general, this isn’t the case. A growing number of surveys from individual dioceses like the Diocese of Springfield, alongside massive nationwide surveys like that of the Pew Research Center, have identified some of the real reasons people leave.
The most common one is that people drift away unintentionally, over time. Depending on the survey, roughly 7 in 10 former Catholics say they “just gradually drifted away from the religion” or they just “lost interest.” In other words, nothing really pushed them away. The problem was nothing anchored them to the Church. And we know the strongest anchor is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ — they never experienced that.
The second most common reason people drift away is because their “spiritual needs were not met.” The majority of these people end up in an Evangelical or non-denominational community. These people have a deep interest in God and spiritual things. They pray and take the Bible seriously. But for whatever reason, they experienced the Catholic Church as spiritually impotent.
Other reasons people give for leaving include no longer agreeing with the Church’s teachings (particularly those on marriage, sexual morality, and the male-only priesthood) and dissatisfaction with the atmosphere, which many describe as “stuffy”, “boring”, “too ritualistic”, or “too formal.”
The good news is that all of these problems can be overcome. In fact, millions of people who once felt this way about the Catholic Church have switched their view. If they can do that, any young person can.
Q: What are some big myths about fallen-away Catholics?
Vogt: Probably the biggest one I hear from parents, priests, and Church leaders is, “Oh, they’ll come back to the Church eventually once they get married or have kids.” That may have been true in decades past, but studies affirm again and again that it’s no longer true today.
One reason is that young people are delaying marriage and childbearing longer than ever before. In 1960 the median age for first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women; it’s now 29 and 27, respectively. Those 6-7 extra years away from the Church make it far harder to return.
Second, fewer and fewer young people are getting married in the Church or, when they have kids, getting their children baptized. The sacraments won’t draw people back if people totally bypass them.
But let me post a thought experiment: what would the CEO of a Fortune 500 company say if he learned 75% of his customers just stopped buying the company’s products? Would he say, “Oh, no big deal. Let’s just sit and wait for them to come back!”
No! He’d do everything in his power to track down the former customers, reconnect with them, answer their objections, and re-propose his products in new ways.
We parents, priests, and Church leaders should have the same reaction. In light of the millions of young people who have left the Church, we can’t respond by saying, “Just wait for them to come back.” We need to say, “Let’s do everything possible to help them return.”
Q: For many parents, the problem is not that their fallen-away children hate the Church. The problem is that they just don’t care. How can a parent approach this topic if the child is utterly ambivalent?
Vogt: That’s a really great question. In general, your main task will be to convince him that the Big Questions of life matter, that it’s worth seeking answers about God, morals, and meaning. He needs to see what the convert C.S. Lewis came to realize, that “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Similarly, when it comes to the person at the center of Christianity, Lewis notes that “Jesus produced mainly three effects: hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”
Let me recommend one simple way to spark interest in the Big Questions. Send your child a good article or video, either via email or Facebook, along with a comment like, “Curious what you think about this…” or “Have you thought about this before? What do you think?” You might grab an article from StrangeNotions.com about the existence of God, faith and science, or the Resurrection of Jesus. Or send him a link to a Bishop Barron YouTube video on the biblical undertones of Bob Dylan’s lyrics or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Whatever you choose, don’t make it seem like you’re trying to press your faith on him. Instead, you want to come across as genuinely interested in his own opinions (which you are). The longer he formulates his opinion, the more he’ll reflect on the Big Questions.
Question: Can you share a few simple, practical tips that parents should keep in mind?
Vogt: Sure! After talking with hundreds of parents and young people, I’ve noticed several patterns — some good, some bad — that we can learn from. I share several in the RETURN Video Course, but let me highlight two do’s and two don’ts.
First, the do’s. Two things to always keep in mind: ask questions and stay positive. Questions are largely neutral, or at least seem that way, and don’t sound “preachy.” When you ask a question, you aren’t actually stating your own view. Many times, you’re helping your child see that his beliefs are not as firmly supported as he might think, causing him to reassess why he’s drifted away from the Church. Some of my favorite questions include:
“What pushed or pulled you away from the Church?”
“What’s the one thing that would cause you to come back to the Church?”
“What do you think is the best reason to be Catholic and why don’t you find it persuasive?”
You also need to stay positive. Don’t focus on all the negative things your child is doing; he’ll just tune you out. A better approach is to affirm the positive. If your child doesn’t attend Mass because he thinks it’s boring and irrelevant, affirm his desire not to be a hypocrite — that’s a good thing. Once you’ve affirmed something positive, he’ll be much more open to hearing what you have to say. In every objection to the Church, even the strongest criticism, you can find some seed of virtue to praise.
Next, the don’ts. The biggest mistake I see parents make is trying to force their fallen-away child to Mass. Their only goal is to get their child’s body into a pew each Sunday morning. If they can do that, they’ve succeeded. This stems from good intentions. Most parents know Jesus is present at Mass in a special way, so they want to do everything possible to get their children to show up. The problem is that if someone comes to Mass unwilling and unprepared, it will likely have no effect on him — and it sometimes makes things worse! Children often resent being forced or manipulated to attend Mass. So next time you’re tempted to push your child to Mass, even when you know he’s deeply resistant, pull back a bit. Don’t force him, and don’t reiterate that skipping Mass is a mortal sin — that’s true, but mostly unhelpful at this stage. You must plant other seeds first so that he’ll actually desire to attend Mass. The Mass should be the last piece of the puzzle.
The second thing not to do is criticize his lifestyle — at least at first. Beginning with moral commandments is often a non-starter for young people. If the first thing your child hears is “stop doing that” or “change your life” or “break off that relationship,” he will quickly tune you out. You’ll never have a chance to make a more persuasive case for his return to God in his Church. This doesn’t mean you should just watch silently and passively as your child makes bad decisions. Instead, it means your first approach should be marked by gentleness and patience, not criticism.
Q: What are “Seed Gifts” and why are they so powerful?
Vogt: In RETURN, I talk about the extraordinary power of “Seed Gifts.” These are DVDs, books, or CDs that you plant in your child’s life, as seeds of truth and faith, in order to spark their return to the Church.
I’ve heard stories from so many people who point to a DVD, book, or CD that led them back to the faith. One mother says, “My son was given a copy of Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscover Catholicism on the way out of church last Christmas. He stopped going to church regularly about ten years ago. We were away on vacation and I was amazed to see him reading it the next day. I was even more surprised the following week when he suggested we all go to church and then to brunch… You don’t know how happy it makes a mother to see her son return to church.”
The great part is that they do almost all of the work for you. If you feel inadequate to answer your child’s questions or objections, handing him a DVD, book, or CD can be a lot less intimidating than having to sit down and explain things yourself.
One of the most exciting parts of the RETURN project is that I was able to work with groups like Word on Fire, Catholic Answers, and Dynamic Catholic to compile the 12 best “Seed Gifts” for parents, in one package, at a massively discounted price. Any parent who purchases the RETURN Complete Game Plan will receive all 12 gifts including Bishop Barron’s CATHOLICISM DVD series, booklets from Catholic Answers, and books by Peter Kreeft, Matthew Kelly, and more.
Q: What would you say to a parent who thinks their child is just too far away, that there’s simply no way he’ll return to the Church, that it’s hopeless?
Vogt: Hopelessness is not a word in God’s vocabulary. As long as your child still has breath, there is always hope. Remember, God loves your child even more than you do. As much as you yearn for your child to comes home, God desires his return infinitely more and is continually working to make that happen, even when things appear dire.
Just look at St. Augustine. By all accounts, his situation was beyond hopeless. He was a wild teenager who partied, roamed the streets, and stole food. He took a mistress, moved in with her, and got her pregnant. He didn’t want anything to do with Christianity. He openly mocked his mother’s faith.
But then what happened? Monica prayed fervently for him for years, and her prayers were answered through the pivotal figure of Ambrose, who stepped in and began meeting with Augustine. Ambrose helped Augustine become open to the possibility of God, and eventually Augustine asked to be baptized. He’s now remembered not only as one of the greatest saints in history, but one of the key figures in Western civilization.
God never gives up on his children and neither should you. If he could take a wild child like Augustine and turn him into a saint, what can't he do for your child?
On the Net:
In Bethlehem Then and Now, ‘Jesus Is the Door to Peace’
This report is contributed by Oliver Maksan of Aid to the Church in Need.
* * *
Joseph and Mary quietly rocked the child. Shepherds gathered around them. Children in costumes were enacting the Nativity of Jesus in the subterranean chapels tucked away into nooks and crannies under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A silver star marks the birthplace in a grotto right nearby.
The young actors that played the parts of the Holy Family and the Magi were children with disabilities from all over the Palestinian Territories. They live in a house near the Church of the Nativity, which is run by nuns from the Institute of the Incarnate Word. “Our children need strong impressions to understand the truths of our faith,” Sister Maria told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, adding: “A nativity scene helps them understand the mystery of Christmas—that, out of love for us, God became a small and weak child just like them so that He could share our lot.”
The quiet, peaceful scene in the Church of the Nativity stood in stark contrast to the situation in the Holy Land in general. There was no sign of Christmas peace. More than 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian assailants since the end of September. In most cases knives and other stabbing weapons were used. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in defensive action or in violent clashes, with hundreds wounded.
This year, Bethlehem’s municipal administration decided to hold more modest Christmas celebrations out of respect for the victims of the recent violence. The town’s Catholic Mayor Vera Baboun explained: “We did not just want to celebrate Christmas as though nothing were happening. We wanted to show that although we are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are not at peace and are mourning the dead.”
The upswing in violence has hurt Bethlehem’s tourism industry; the livelihood of many Christians depends upon providing food, drink and lodgings to pilgrims and selling devotional items. The Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that this year the rooms were scarcely at half their usual occupancy during the Christmas season.
Given the difficult economic and political situation—as well as mounting pressure by Islamists—more and more Christian families are leaving Bethlehem and the Holy Land. The mood has been made worse now that it appears that almost 60 Christian families in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem are going to lose their land because of the separation barrier built by Israel despite years of litigation.
Father Pater Ricardo Bustos, guardian of the Franciscan monastery near the Church of the Nativity, said that “we as the church want to use this Year of Mercy to remind the Christians of Bethlehem of their calling and to strengthen them in the faith. The fact that God was made man here 2000 years ago is a sign of hope for this country and its people.”
“Jesus is the door to peace with God and with each other. God has come to change the state of affairs here. Even though the child in the manger may appear fragile: God’s promise is strong and constant,” the Franciscan Friar concluded.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)