As individuals and members of communities and institutions, keeping the welfare of children at the center of our thoughts, actions and decision making is a clear directive of our Catholic faith and the first principle of Catholic social teaching. This first principle defines human life as sacred with the dignity of the person being the foundation of a moral vision for society. This is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the dignity of the human person.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and this awareness begins with the knowledge and concern that children, our most precious resource, are being abused and neglected in places around the world. I can’t think of a better starting place to ground our understanding of the value of children in order to prevent and combat child abuse than the scriptural messages of Jesus’ love and concern for all children and the most vulnerable.
Jesus’ love for children is clearly stated in the Gospel of Mark: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Biblical scholars, Jesuit priests Father John R. Donahue and Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, are authors of “The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series.” There they explain that by calling the children to him, Jesus demonstrated to his disciples his concern for children and their value as “human persons.” In Christ’s time, children were among the most vulnerable, powerless and marginalized along with the poor, women, the afflicted and the foreigner. Jesus’ action was revolutionary.
By honoring the dignity of children, who held no societal power, and by calling and blessing them, Jesus made them a priority. He brought them to the center and declared that the gift of God’s Kingdom was theirs.
The above passage begins in Mark 10:13 where the disciples rebuked the people for bringing children to Jesus. The people asked Jesus to give the blessing of God to their children. Jesuit author Father Corkery, from the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, explains that the disciples “simply saw the children as wasting Jesus’ time.” But Jesus challenged this attitude because the disciples were demonstrating more concern for people who had “positions of power and influence” than for the vulnerable and powerless of society. The disciples were valuing those who possessed earthly power to the detriment of those who Jesus recognized as most loved by God.
Jesus, correcting the disciples for their failure to place children at the center of his ministry, is very clear. Even today, many who advocate for children and their dignity and worth are being rebuked because it threatens the status quo.
As members of the church, it is important to nurture our children’s understanding of their dignity and worth through recognition, involvement and providing a safe environment. We have an obligation to ask ourselves what we prioritize over the care and protection of children.
With daily news reports of incidents of abuse, neglect, death and marginalization of children and youth, what can we do to end these assaults on the dignity and value of God’s children?
As a church and as a society, we must keep the care, protection and interests of children at the center of our decisions. And as Catholics, may we remember to first place children, youth and the most vulnerable of our society, at the center of all conversations, political discord, policy and personal and social decision making, as modeled and taught by Jesus.