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August 25, 2001
Column #1043

TAKE TIME TO LISTEN TO CHILDREN

     What can children teach us about God, spirituality and faith?

     This summer Mrs. Eileen Marx took her 11 year-old son, Bobby, his 7-year-old sister Teresa, and two cousins, ages 7 and 9 to see the Oklahoma City Memorial. They were struck by the beauty of the site. After walking around, a conversation ensued among the cousins:

''Do you think God knew that Timothy McVeigh was going to set off the bomb?'' asked Clare, 7. 

''If He did, why didn't He stop him? asked Teresa. 

Carly, 9, replied: ''Well, God lets each of us make up our own mind and even though he knew Timothy McVeigh would do this...he had to let him do what he made up his mind to do.'' 

''He probably didn't go to Church enough or to CCD (Sunday School) class where you learn how to do good things instead of bad things,'' Clare replied.

''I'm just wondering how his family feels about what he did,'' sighed Teresa. ''Do they think, 'Oh, no. Our son did this horrible thing and he never seemed like he was sorry he did it.'''

''God only forgives you if you if your sorry, right?'' asked Clare.

''He didn't look sorry when he was executed,'' said Carly, ''and I hate to say this, but I think that means he's going to hell.''

     Bobby, 11, who had been silent, spoke up: ''I don't know if hell is like a hot place where bad people go. I think hell for Timothy McVeigh would be to go through the museum and see what he did to all those people, especially little kids who did nothing wrong.''

     Mrs. Marx, who told this story to Catholic Family Life directors meeting last week in Washington, added, ''It's important to remember that 19 children died in the explosion, 30 children became orphans and another 219 children were left with only one parent.'' 

     As a mother, she hears questions from her kids, which give invitations to share something of her family's Catholic faith:

"'If Jesus was Jewish, why don't we celebrate Hanukkah?''

''Do you think it rains in heaven? What do you think it smells like there?''

''How come Erin is only three and there's a chance she might die?''

''If God is always right next to me, why doesn't He answer me when I say Hi to Him?''

     Jesus tells us to ''Be like little children.'' And ''Whoever does not accept the reign of God like a child shall not take part in it.'' What does that mean? Mrs. Marx, as a teacher of the fifth grade, (and a columnist and author), has ''learned a lot about God through the eyes of children.'' 

     Joey, when he was 10, taught her a new way to look at death, for example: ''Okay, two things, Mrs. Marx. The first is that I think you're right. Jesus is just as sad as we are when someone we love dies. But you left something out. The second thing is that I think Jesus must also be really happy after someone dies because for the first time ever he's going to get to meet the person he created, face to face. And that's going to be unbelievable!''

     In walking around the block with her daughter, then aged 3, she heard a question: ''Mom, do the flowers know to start blooming or does God have to tell them?'' 

     When they lived across from the street from a family from El Salvador, Bobby asked, ''If the
Alvarez' are our neighbors, why don't we ever ask them to come over and play with us like we ask the other neighbors?'' They had an invitation the next day, because children know what it means to ''love your neighbor.''

     A national survey, ''The State of our Nation's Youth'' by the Horatio Alger Association, found 84 percent of teens predict future success depends on whether they have close family relationships. A quarter of teens said school violence is caused by parents spending too little time with their children, second only to the bullying of students by others.

     Comments by children are important in the Oklahoma City Memorial.

     Visitors can read the words of Kristin Bramble, a young Oklahoma girl, who recited her original poem at the initial prayer service, four days after the bombing:

I am the voice of the children -
simple and honest and clear.
Forever the light in the darkest of night.
I have not gone away. I am here.
Remember the trust of the children.
Darkness will not have its day,
Take hold of my hand, and we'll both understand
That the children will show you the way.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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