Whose Child is This? – Br. David Vryhof
St. Joseph’s Day
“Whose child is this?”
I imagine that was a lively question for Joseph as he pondered the news that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant though she claimed to have had no relations with a man.
“Whose child is this?” Joseph must have asked God in his prayer, “Whose child is this, and what am I to do? Must I be responsible for this child?”
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” the angel of God answered, “for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
This child is of the Holy Spirit. This child is of God. Don’t be afraid to adopt him as your own.
And from that day, we are told, Joseph took Mary to be his wife, and the child she bore he took to be his own son. He provided for them a home and offered them his affection and care. He took them in – though he could easily have chosen otherwise.
“Whose children are these?” Fr Joel asked his congregation in the tin-roofed church on top of a hill in rural Tanzania. “Whose children are these, who wander through our villages and beg for our food and curl up to sleep beneath the mango trees? Whose children are these, left alone in the world to fend for themselves, separated too soon from their parents’ love, forced to be old when they are still young? Whose children are these, who have watched their parents die slow deaths and have already suffered more in their young lives than anyone should? To whom do they belong?”
“Who will take them in?” asked Fr Joel. “Who will feed them and house them and clothe them and send them to school? Who will shower them with affection and make them know they are not forgotten or alone? Who will guide them and teach them and form them and love them? Who will give them a sense that they belong? Who will show them they matter?”
“You must show them,” Fr Joel said to his people. “You must feed them and house them and clothe them. You must love them and teach them and encourage them. Because these are God’s children. They belong to God, and because they belong to God, they belong also to you, for you are God’s people, the Church; and you are the hands and heart of God in the world.”
And many did. Many in his congregation took children in, and shared with them their meager resources, and gave them a name and a family and a home.
But there were still more children, and Fr Joel decided that he could not continue to preach this message unless he too was willing to act on it. He could no longer urge others to do what he himself had not yet done. So he opened his tiny two-room house, where he had lived alone, and welcomed four teenage boys who had nowhere to go. And he became a father to them, and shared with them what little he had, and worked on their behalf to make sure that they went to school and grew up to be good. A priest in Tanzania earns less than $50 a month, barely enough to get by, but that money must now provide for Fr Joel and his four teenaged boys; it is all they have to live on.
“Whose children are these?” Fr Joel asked. “They are ours – yours and mine – because they belong to God. They belong to God, and we are God’s people, so they belong to us.”
“Whose child is this?” asked Margaret, a second-year seminarian at St Philip’s Theological College in Maseno, Kenya.
The young boy before her was obviously ill, lying listlessly along the side of the road. It did not take long to discover that the boy had AIDS and that his elderly grandmother, his only surviving relative, was trying her best to take care of him but in truth she could not manage his sickness.
“Let me take him for a few weeks,” said Margaret. “Let him live with us and let us feed him and care for him.” The grandmother consented; she knew she could not give the boy what he needed.
So Margaret and her husband Peter took this boy into their home, the home they share with six children. Three of these children are their own, and three are orphans whom they have welcomed into their family. Now there were seven children to feed, and themselves, with what food Peter was able to grow.
Margaret nursed the boy for several weeks, until he was healthy and strong enough to return to school and to the home of his grandmother. Then she returned to the seminary, while her husband took charge of their six children, and farmed their small plot of land.
Whose child is this? Not mine, not ours. Or perhaps he is.
“Whose children are these?”
… who die before they are born because their mothers lack pre-natal care.
… whose lives are ended prematurely by malaria and other preventable diseases.
… who die of hunger and thirst when there are resources enough to feed them.
“Whose children are these?”
… who have been orphaned – millions of them – by the AIDS pandemic.
… who have not been given the opportunity for even a basic primary education.
… who have no dreams, few options, a dim and fading future.
They are God’s children, and they are our children. Yours and mine. Because they belong to God, they belong also to us.
And the angel of God says to us, as he once said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take these children as your own, because they are indeed God’s children. Take them into your hearts, pray for them, feel concern for them, show interest in them and educate yourselves about their plight, and do something – however small – to help them.”
Could you find a child who needs your love and support? Could you extend your resources to help that child and those who care for her? There are millions who need you. Could you help one, or some?
Know that what you do for her you do for Christ, who is found in each of these little ones, who are his brothers and sisters.
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I challenging, daunting, yet hopeful message. It is a message for a generation of children in our own country who need us. It hits me because I have thought about what I could do many times, for the children of Africa and Haiti and have allowed myself to be paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. But, we can help one child…a beginning. It is, at the least, what Christ demands of us.
Three weeks ago, I began volunteering in a first grade classroom in Melrose. I believe that I am doing a little to bring care, encouragement, and attention to the 22 children in the class. It is relatively easy to identify those boys and girls who need the most care and attention.
This reading helped me clarify why I am there with those children. And it is bringing me joy.
What a beautiful and arresting sermon! How thought provoking! How action provoking. Thanks for it. I discovered it today becaue of a quote from it included in the “Brother – Give Us A Word” email for 3/26/2012.
At the Eglise Notre-Dame at Dijon, the brothers associated with the church have a special focus on St. Joseph, and had out small cards to visitors with a prayer reminding them that, while the church is under the <> of Mary, the care of fathers for their children may be admirably patterned after that of Joseph. They urge gratitude to one’s father for whatever was good and helpful in ones childhood that came from their fathers’ hands, and prayers for their health and safety.
As one parent explained to a child who had been adopted, “We chose you, you were special to us from the day we met you, we love you so much because we saw who you were and believed in what you could become.”
As does God.