Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Loss of Childhood Innocence and What We Can Do About It

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 9, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 11: 25-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2017]

Life is Beautiful is an Academy Award winning movie that was released back in 1997.  Pope John Paul II saw it at the time in a private screening, and it quickly became one of his favorite films.  The story itself is set in Italy, just before and during the Second World War. 

About halfway through the film, the main character, a Jewish Italian waiter named Guido, and his young son, Joshua, are taken away to a concentration camp.  The remainder of the movie deals with Guido’s many attempts (some of which are quite funny) to shield his son from the horrible reality of the situation they're in.  For example, when they’re on their way to the camp, Guido tells Joshua that his dad once took him on a “trip” like this, and that if he stays quiet, and doesn’t cry and obeys all the rules, he will win points.  And when he accumulates 1,000 points, he will win the first prize: a real tank that he can ride on.  Little Joshua believes what his father tells him; consequently for the remainder of the movie he thinks he’s a participant in a game rather than a prisoner in a death camp.

It’s a great story!  It’s a great story of a man who loves his son so much that he wants to protect the boy’s innocence—at almost any cost.  Guido doesn’t want his precious child to be wounded and corrupted by the evil that’s literally all around him, and so he does whatever he can to shield him from it.

We need more men and women today who have this same protective attitude toward young people, many of whom are having their innocence stolen from them at a very young age: through what they’re exposed to on television, on the internet, in movies, in popular music, in school, through their friends—and, sad to say, even sometimes by what they’re exposed to in their own families!  As Judie Brown, the president of the American Life League, put it in an article I read recently:
On a daily basis, we see the innocence of children eroded. Television, Internet articles, and social media combine to allow children to enter a world of sexualization [and, I would add, a world of violence] at an earlier age – and adults and parents just seem to accept this. Indeed, even some embrace it and welcome it into their schools and their homes. When will we realize the damage we are doing? When will we say enough is enough?
 She goes on in that article to talk about an America’s Got Talent program that she and her husband had recently watched—a program in which a 12-year-old boy proceeded to come on stage, tell dirty jokes, and then get a standing ovation from many of those in attendance.  She writes:
What's wrong with this picture? A 12-year-old child shocking only some and sending an audience of hundreds to its feet is perhaps a tiny peek into the culture we live in today.
Unfortunately, because our culture is what it is at the present time, it’s nearly impossible to completely preserve a child’s innocence—unless, of course, you lock that child up for the first 18 years of his or her life (which, incidentally, I am not advocating!).  My point here is that even the best parents and teachers and priests and friends can’t shield a young person from every negative influence that’s out there right now.

Although we can do some things to limit what children are exposed to (like restricting their internet access).

And we MUST do these things if we really love our young people--because their relationship with Almighty God hangs in the balance (both their relationship with him here on this earth, AND their relationship with him in eternity)!  You see, Jesus makes a connection in the Bible between childlike innocence and openness to God.  For example, in today’s gospel text from Matthew 11 our Lord says,
I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,for although you have hidden these thingsfrom the wise and the learnedyou have revealed them to little ones.Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
Then later, in chapter 18 of Matthew, Jesus says these famous words:
Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
According to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, innocence and openness are closely connected in the spiritual realm—which is precisely why these assaults on the innocence of children are so prevalent today!  They’re not coincidental.  They’re part of Satan’s strategy: his 21st century strategy against the human race.  The devil knows that the more innocent a person is—that is to say, the less influenced and corrupted a person is by evil—the more open that person will be to God’s transforming grace.  So he’s desperately trying to destroy innocence in as many people as possible as early on as possible, in order to gain a foothold in their lives.

Because he knows that if he can gain a foothold—and keep it—he can eventually take their souls.

Which is always his ultimate goal.

So what about those who have completely lost their innocence in this way—is there any hope for them?  And how about the rest of us who’ve been negatively affected by the day-to-day evil we’ve encountered in our lives?  Is there any hope for us to be more open to God?

Thankfully the answer to both those questions is yes!

Here’s where the beauty and power of the sacrament of Reconciliation come into the picture.

Confession, unfortunately, cannot restore every aspect of childhood innocence.  That’s the bad news.  You can’t go back in time and start all over again. 

But the good news is that confession can restore the most important aspect of childhood innocence, namely, SANCTIFYING GRACE: that’s the grace that makes us pleasing to God; it’s the grace that makes us open to God; and, most important of all, it’s the grace that makes us ready for heaven!

So if you’ve lost your innocence to any extent whatsoever, make sure you get to confession SOON—and have your innocence restored, to the extent that it can be restored in this life.