Matthew 11:25 sets the theme for the reflection on children who are vulnerable to many forces and tugs of war not of their own making: "Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth; for you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom."
A child’s face, no matter what nationality, is naturally, an attention grabber. The photographer knows this. A child’s life, regardless of the environment, is presumed to be first protected by the gentleness of their parent’s tender love and within the sanctuary of a secure and stable family in an environment they know to be welcoming and nurturing. But often this is not the case.
When a child’s trust, hopes and dreams are abused it makes headlines, and it should. We hear of children separated from their families, children made vulnerable to political and moral exploitation. Children caught in the crossfire between rockets and missiles in the Middle East. Children caught in no-man’s-land between Mexico and the U.S, or being forcefully separated from loved ones because, growing up in a country they called home they now find their place at home unwelcoming.
Some will say, “Why should we be looking after someone else’s kids when we can barely look after our own?” And maybe that is indeed the reason - that, regardless of the photo op, we are not every good at looking after our own children. Sometimes, we have to be taught a lesson. And God is, perhaps, giving the class an opportunity for a fieldtrip to learn how it’s done!
Maybe, when we are forced to care for the stranger, the child and the abandoned, then we might be rudely awakened to the fact that even our own laws at home, particularly regarding marriage, family life and immigration are not as secure and comforting as we thought.
Christ has told us in no uncertain terms, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16. Christ even got angry with his disciples when they were preventing this from happening.
There are times, in our own charity and goodwill towards the children in our care, that Christ is angry with us - when we put our own needs and neediness first and forget too easily, the promise that was made at the baptism of our children. We promising to raise our children according to the commandments of the Lord and the practice of the faith - which includes welcoming the stranger and sheltering the homeless. Our children are watching us. We are teaching them first by our example in what we do and in what we fail to do.
We as Catholics should also take note that when vulnerable families arrive in the United States, (particularly if they are Catholic children), if the first Christians to meet them, who clothe them, feed them and offer them an embrace of love, are a battalion of religious or political fundamentalists, then Christ is justified in His anger against us for neglecting our own brothers and sisters, our own children.
There are also children who get drawn into custody battles, children who battle for attention from parents who are sometimes overworked or constantly distracted, children who battle with mental illness and sickness, children who are exposed to violence, to abuse, neglect and deportation. In a world of Facebook and Instagram, these are the faces of the children we forget or ignore, because its easier to “overlook them” than actually “see them” in front of us, staring at us without us even noticing.
When every Catholic at home or abroad, responds to the Lord’s demand that children be actually protected within their own families, from the evil and from the barrage of impure influences now very much common in our world - when we are proactive and protective, then we are moving towards the salvation of humanity rather than just moving dust around our home. Let us pray that when children do get lost or abandoned and the wolf chases them through the dark forest, that they will find not just a place to hide, but a safe place to call home.
Prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: