TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Children as instruments of God's love and grace

As I look out from my desk at home, I find myself gazing at our beautiful Magnolia tree which is in full bloom. When I see this, I sense the change of seasons has begun and that feels good because the sun is ‘starting to get warmer’ and winter is beginning to fade. The changes of seasons are like life, some I find more pleasing, while others are challenging and yet we must get through them. In many ways we are blest to live in a part of the world that does have four seasons to experience and celebrate, and to provide us with a corollary for life.

In the Diocese, this week, we had the pleasure of having as a faith formator, Fr James McEvoy who spoke with us about Seeing our children through God’s eyes. As part of the blurb put out around these presentations the following words were used:

Recent reflection in sociology, psychology and theology has led to a new appreciation of the meaning of childhood. Because of God’s eternal love, we see children’s lives as valuable in themselves, and not simply as a step toward adulthood. They reveal the eternal love of God in a special way.

He has co-authored a Catholic Education South Australia Stimulus Paper called Children: Close to the Mystery of God. The paper can be found here.

When Fr James McEvoy began speaking to us on Wednesday evening, he made reference to Commissioner Helen Milroy asking the five Bishops, at the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse, “Did the Catholic Church have a Theology of Childhood?”. It appears that we do not have such a clearly articulated theology, and the work of James McEvoy and other scholars in South Australia and the Australian Catholic University, picking up some work of earlier theologians like Karl Rahner, are developing the richness of our own scriptures and tradition along with studies in sociology, and child developmental psychology.

Having had five children of our own, growing up in a very large family, having taught high school students and now having a number of grandchildren, what James was sharing with us makes sense and needs to be shared widely with people, particularly with those who connect to us as a faith-based people and who care for children. I would say that we have been on a journey of thinking more deeply about children and childhood since the 1970’s. I certainly felt blest to be having children in the late 70’s and early 80’s because we were given the tools to choose to parent differently from our own parents and grandparents. This was an era in which it was almost acceptable that children were both seen and heard. The difficulty was the lack of role models for us to emulate. Family life, in the main, is caught and not taught, and so the journey over the past forty years has been mostly experimental.

McEvoy reminded us that children are actively and deeply engaged with life. Previously children were viewed as natural, passive, incompetent and incomplete. Nowadays it is accepted that they ask questions and seek answers to some of the most amazing thought processes. They are not objects to be ignored but people who, while being formed, are instruments of God’s love and grace. I have no doubt that God gazes at us through the eyes of a child and in turn God gazes at the child through our eyes. This reciprocal gaze is relational and everlasting and hence our shock and disbelief when children are violated and abused and the damaged caused to their emerging souls and personality is beyond measure.

I believe the Christian Church should be at the forefront of leading the way in changing and forming society in their beliefs about children and childhood. Our own Catholic Schools Office has formed an Early Learning Policy which articulates a system-wide commitment to Early Learning that supports diocesan schools in implementing an agreed philosophy and pedagogy. It comprises the following Guiding Principles:

Declaration 1 – The Early Learner is a spiritual being who already has a direct relationship with God

Declaration 2 – The Early Learner has a strong sense of social and cultural identity

Declaration 3 – The Early Learner is connected with and contributes to the world

Declaration 4 – The Early Learner has a strong sense of wellbeing

Declaration 5 – The Early Learner is a confident and involved learner and thinker

Declaration 6 – The Early Learner is an effective communicator

These statements reflect the belief that a child is a fully formed human. Together with these six declarations, this policy draws upon four Key Elements of Early Learning – Data, Play, Environments and Transitions, which can be found in the Early Learning Procedure.

Having recently spent time with some of my younger grandchildren, I have no doubt that these declarations and key elements form a solid basis for our school system’s understanding of the child. I do wonder how this filters through to each parent, carer or the community who interact with children each day. We are co-creators with our good and gracious God, whose design is to see goodness and to delight in all creative endeavours, especially that of men and women, boys and girls created in God’s image and likeness. Children have their origins in the deepest love of two human’s and God’s love.

Last week while caring for Ezekiel, who is four, there were great moments of grace where he grappled with the ‘God stuff’ of praying at meal time, at bed time and during Mass. His absolute trust of gratitude for the gifts of the day and in praying for the safety and goodness of those he loved made me gasp in awe and wonder. He was wide open to God’s presence and love and touching the mystery we call God. I pondered what happens to your minds, hearts and souls of those who are not invited into the mystery we call God. The following words are used in the document Children: Close to the Mystery of God:

Every child is held in God’s infinite tenderness, and God is present in each of their lives. The significance of children’s lives is reflected in the Catholic Church’s strong commitment to education…from the early days of the colony to present….(so that children are educated) as participants in Australian society but also as people of faith, and so bring faith and culture together.

Over the next five weeks, we will be hearing about the bread of life from John’s discourse (Chapter 6). God’s abundance and grace will fill us up over the coming weeks. I finish off this week’s message with the words of the Second Reading from St Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6):

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, through all and within all.

May our children continue to inspire us “to be more”.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.