Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Children surprise and challenge us

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

I stand in awe at the many ways parents sacrifice for their children, generous in giving them time, talent and treasure without question. But these days of Advent invite us to reflect on the many ways children contribute to our lives, especially as we believe that God reveals himself in the face of a child.

Children have the special gift of surprising us and challenging us, prompting us as does God to take the next step in our lives beyond our imaging. Two experiences come to mind.

The first comes from the days when I served as bishop in a small town. We asked the teens preparing for confirmation to do a service project. One of the young men did something quite amazing. Unbeknownst to us all, he got to know some of the homeless people living on the streets, many of whom were Native Americans.

He noticed that the women seemed to suffer the most. Often overlooked, they had very low self-esteem. So he persuaded some of the beauty parlors in town to provide makeovers to these homeless women. He also got stores to donate clothes, all to help the women begin to reimagine their lives.

What was so remarkable was that this young man, known for his antics, was kind of the Ferris Bueller of the class, but he was also an exceptional athlete. No one imagined he could be so sensitive in this way.

Young people surprise us, to the point that they reveal something about God we often forget. In this case, the young man reminded us that God always reaches out to us, especially when we are most in need, that he lifts us up when we are down, and is with us when we become convinced that we have been forgotten. I suspect many of you have seen this quality in children who do remarkable things that reveal the face of a God who does not forget us.

People often tell me that some of the best friends they have in life are the parents of their children’s friends and they would never think of befriending these people if it were not for their children. Children bring adults together, and so often teach us a deeper way to love, many times challenging us when we restrict our friendships by race, religion, ethnicity or even in moments when we cut people off because of past experiences that leave no room for understanding or forgiveness.

And so my second story. Last year, a father told me of a conversation he had with his 16-year-old-son, who wanted to know why the family never visited his paternal grandparents. The father put him off, but after the son insisted on talking about it, the father explained that he and his parents were not on good terms.

“My parents don’t seem to care much for the way I live my life,” he told his son. “Here I am successful at my job, well-educated, provide for the family, am respected by my peers and all I get from my parents is criticism about the car I drive, the home we have, the way I am raising you kids, and even to the point that my mother scolds me for not wearing a hat in the winter. They treat me like a child,” he said with exasperation.

The boy simply looked at his dad and said, “Then why are you acting like one?” I suspect that son had held on to that line for some time, waiting for the right moment to say something he had heard from his parents over and over again.

The father decided to take the family to the grandparents that next Christmas. As they walked in the door, grandma had a big smile on her face. “Oh,” she said to her son, “you’re wearing a hat.” As he took it off, he could hear his father say in the background, “Yeah, but he needs a haircut.” The teenage son looked at his dad and said, “Isn’t it great to be a kid again?”

That day, the father learned another way to love from his son, to forgive, to count the things that really matter and to let go of the things that don’t. You no doubt recognize in your children that same quality of bringing people together, reminding us about the things that count, challenging us to love in a way that values the people and things that really matter.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time to reflect on how the child in our midst prompts and challenges us to take the next step in the journey of our lives, to become the person God has created us to be. So often we find our lives burdened with setbacks, worries, tragedies and our own foolish ways.

These days offer us a fresh opportunity to reflect on the great contribution our children make to our lives, especially in the way they reveal the very face of God, the one who is always ready to surprise us whenever we think we have been forgotten, the one who challenges us to love more deeply the people he has put in our pathway, allowing them to enrich our lives beyond our imaging.

I invite you to reflect on the gift of children in your midst, and watch for the many ways they surprise and challenge you to take the next step in the journey of our lives, just as the Christ child does at Christmas.