This story is one of a series of stories that begin with the title “Out of the Mouths of Babes.” These stories celebrate the Wisdom of God that can be ours when we listen to and reflect on the words that lead to worship and thanksgiving, words spoken by children. For, as Psalm 8:2-3 tells us, “O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! I will sing of your majesty above the heavens with the mouths of babes and infants...”
When she was five, our daughter celebrated her first neighborhood birthday party. As she opened a particular gift, the seven year old child who had given it to her announced that he could play with it any time he wanted because the toy was his.
I don’t know if he noticed my raised eyebrows or read my mind, “The toy doesn’t look as if the box had ever been opened.”
Unsolicited, the child went on to explain, “My momma bought that toy. It was in my house. So it’s mine.”
Call it an occupational hazard. The teacher in me couldn’t resist taking advantage of the so-called “teachable moment.”
After expressing that I was certain my daughter would be happy for him and the other guests to enjoy the toy, I nevertheless explained, “If your mother bought the toy for [my daughter’s name], then I don’t think it ever was yours.”
He shrugged his shoulders, and we moved on to the next gift.
On one level, I never completely moved on, in that I never have forgotten the implications of what I said that day. I’ve especially thought of those implications when I’ve bought something for someone and then was tempted to keep it for myself.
When I’m honest with myself, I stand by what I told that seven year old. When I buy a gift for someone, I feel as if it is theirs even before I pay for it. It is as if the gift passes through me, purchased with my money, but it isn’t ever really “mine”—my property, if you know what I mean.
Others, I’m sure, could argue otherwise. Until the gift actually is given, the gift belongs to the giver. And that would be a valid position.
When I think about what informs my position, I think about a poem that is in sync with my Faith understanding; a poem I heard about a year before having children. The poem is titled “On Children,“ by the poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran. Here a few of the pertinent lines:
“Your children are not your children…They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.“
The “[A]rcher” in the poem is God, and as more than one priest-homilist has pointed out, God has no grandchildren—only children. As parents, we are guardians of His children, entrusted to our care and education, but they are not “ours’ in terms of ownership; they are His.
In Scriptural terms, “having” a child, like “… all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights……” (James 1:17).
We are stewards of God’s gifts, including His gift of “our” children. (I wish I could cite the priest-homilists who have said that the only things we truly “own,” based on the exercise of our free will, are our sins.)
This Jubilee Year of Mercy, and always, may we know Whose we are, and share His gifts with our brothers and sisters, not claiming ownership, but stewardship. And as we share His gifts, let us remember what Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).
As expressed by the Holy Father in his Jubilee "Bull of Indiction": Misericordiae Vultus (Face of Mercy), in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are being asked to be channels of God’s Mercy as we perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In order to be more generous and genuine channels of God’s Mercy, we are being asked to experience His Mercy frequently in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As the child at our daughter’s birthday party knew that his mother had purchased the toy for him to give to our daughter, may we realize that Our Blessed Mother obtains many graces, many gifts for us that we, in turn, can use to gift others.
During this Jubilee and always, may she, our Mother of Mercy, help us to be generous with God’s gifts of our time, treasure, and talent; may she help us to spend those gifts for the good of our neighbors and the greater honor and glory of God.