February 7, 2018

Children As ‘Neighbor’: Children Are To Be Loved, Not Used or Sentimentalized

Christ blessing the children

By Father Thomas Mattison 

Charles Dickens did a world of good by bringing the plight of Victorian children to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness; Tiny Tim, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Pip were real-life characters somewhere in that world. There they were seen and treated as tools and opportunities for unscrupulous and grasping grownups.

But the swing of the pendulum went a degree or two too far – children suddenly became sentimentalized. When people like Churchill and W.C. Fields and Cardinal Newman had slighting things to say about the beauty, cuteness and innocence of children (respectively) they were pretty well tut-tutted as curmudgeons and misanthropes.

This sentimentalizing of children is at the root of such things as the currently popular “right to a child” at any cost. You would think that a child was a new car or a better phone, to which one might also have a right, especially the thousands of frozen embryos whose ownership is often the sticking point of divorces and whose maintenance is an ongoing burden to “medical” facilities who feel unfree to destroy these children that no one wants anymore. At the same time, the right to have a child has led to opposite assertion of the right not to have a child – even to abort a child already conceived.

Dickens should have lived longer and written as persuasively of the plight of the child of the 21st century!

My description of a child as a “neighbor” who must be loved according to the second great commandment may seem cold and distant. But let us be clear that the “neighbor” of that law has an absolute right to life, to respect, to support, to hospitality according to his status and my ability. Imagine if those neighbor-rights were to be asserted and vindicated for every child in the world!

With respect to the neighbor, every other person has the obligation that is summarized in the term “Good Samaritan.” Imagine how differently the world would treat children if this commandment were made civil law.

Children, in Christian thought, are not a distinct class of persons; nor is childhood a defined state. They are, instead, persons with the same needs, the same rights and the same duties as everyone else. Like everyone else, they require support, education and encouragement in the use and realization of these things. Clearly, these requirements fall most fully and primarily upon the family; but the larger society, too, has a responsibility for and an interest in the development of its future citizens.

Roe v. Wade legalized the anti-sentimental view of children. This was wrong. But sentiment can easily turn children into slaves of parental emotions as much as Dickensian youth were slaves of a societal economy. This is wrong.

Children are our nearest and neediest neighbors. One day they will be our most valuable and constructive neighbors. But they will always be people to be loved — and love other neighbors.
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Fr. Thomas Mattison is pastor of Christ our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington VT.

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