In the days before thanksgiving this year, a young mother left her newborn baby boy (umbilical cord intact) swaddled in a manger that was part of the nativity scene at Holy Child Jesus Church, a Catholic congregation located in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens New York. This is not the first time a mother in distress has left her child on the steps of a church; but when such acts do occur it is a sign for us all to reflect about the society we live in, and how we can make it a better place for mothers and children.
In the Biblical story relating the birth of Jesus, wise men depicted as kings or prophets from a foreign land saw a star rising, thus alerting them to the birth of the messiah. The star of Bethlehem has profound mystical and religious significance for Christians and is one of the most common ornaments found across the world among people celebrating the Christmas holidays. Stars are also prominently featured on the American flag and the U.S. currency, symbols of light and hope that bring people together. In America we even call our celebrities stars because of the light of esteem in which we hold them.
But as the story of Jesus in the manger suggests, the real stars among us are our children. They are those whom we should hold in the highest regard, for they are made in the perfect image of our creator. And how can we better honor children than by protecting the lives and well-being of their mothers. The role of motherhood in this society is probably one of the most under-celebrated of all. Not that we don’t talk a great game. We have a holiday for mothers, and in some cases accommodations are made by employers to enable expectant and new mothers to spend time away from work while caring for their children.
But when it comes to actually implementing a family-friendly culture in our society, we are woefully lacking. The media worships at the cult of youth and irresponsibility. Sexual permissiveness has given rise to an epidemic of divorce and single parenthood. Even the church in some cases has caved in to this moral decline, mostly because of the mercy and compassion that is demanded of the church as families in distress seek refuge after the damage has already been done. It is very difficult for many religious leaders to respond with moral indignation to the crisis in out of wedlock births, while at the same time welcoming the mothers and children that need protection. But more moral leadership in encouraging births within families with married parents would go a long way towards alleviating the situation.
In our society, we can draw analogies between the three wise kings that honored Christ at his birth and the leading institutions in America: the media, the religious establishment, and the educational establishment. These three institutions have a primary role in transmitting values that will enhance the lives of children. Religious institutions and affiliated charities and schools have played a major role in transmitting values and culture to our children. But these days there are strong countervailing forces in the media – movies, music, social media and television – that fill the airwaves with glamorous images of people having sex without consequence. This does not honor women who disproportionately bear the responsibility for raising children born under conditions of insecurity and lack of commitment.
Our educational institutions now worship at the altar of secularism, having almost completely banished faith from the classroom. We’ve gotten to the point where coaches and players on high school sports teams are actually being penalized for saying prayers before games. This is absurdity at its highest, and it sends the wrong message to children. Not only does it fail to reinforce the messages about faith that they should be receiving at home, but it sends the message that worldly success is all that matters. Succeed at any cost, whatever the consequences. We see this attitude unfortunately permeating the professional world as children grow up and inherit positions of leadership in our society. The measure of character is no longer, what can I accomplish with honor? It’s now ‘what can I get away with without being caught?’
And what about the gifts that these wise kings brought to honor the savior? According to the scripture they included gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts represent the material, mental and spiritual needs of mankind. Children need all of these gifts in order to grow and prosper. But they should all be balanced or they will not be effective. Providing materially for a child, without also providing for a child’s educational and spiritual growth leads to imbalances once a child grows into adulthood. And this is again why families are so important. Strong families are not only essential to providing food clothing and shelter, but also instilling character and teaching children that they have a moral responsibility before God and man.
As we celebrate this holiday season, let joy and compassion feed our hearts. And let us be especially mindful of the mothers and children in our lives. They are our precious gifts, and we should cherish them as blessings from our creator.