One summer during junior high, I volunteered to help with Vacation Bible School and was assigned to be an aide in the first-grade class. I found the kids to be absolutely precious — so full of wonder, so open to life and all its possibilities, so eager to learn about Jesus. My own faith grew that summer because of those darling children and their receptiveness to life.
For weeks, maybe months, afterward whenever those sweet youngsters would see me at Mass, they’d point me out to their parents, smiling brightly, proudly as if I were some kind of rock star. Of course at that awkward age I felt anything but, and yet I could see in their eyes and smiles that I had come to mean something to them, and the feeling was mutual.
I decided that summer that if I were to become a teacher like so many in my family had, I would teach first grade. Though it never came to pass, first-graders have and will always have a special place in my heart.
Which is one of the reasons I wept quickly and easily as I sat on my bed a week ago and read the Facebook status of my friend Donna-Marie, who lives in Connecticut, about a school shooting that had just taken place: “Oh no! Shooting and fatalities at CT school! Please pray! All Newtown schools in lockdown.” The update had come from her cell phone.
Just a short while later, we knew much more and wished somehow that it wasn’t true.
As is always the case with such things, social networking has been lit up with discourse ranging from everything from gun control to mental illness as a result. I have not entered into those discussions, though I think they have a place and are important. But to me, this is largely a faith thing, a grieving thing, and for me, a time to sit a while and not say a whole lot.
But I have wanted to share this. Not long after the massacre, I had a thought about these dear children. In my mind, they were like little snowflakes falling upward into heaven, and above them, I imagined Mother Mary lovingly opening her arms, gently gathering up those sweet snowflakes, cradling them, welcoming them home.
They are lights to us now, every last one of them, including their teachers; lights that, if we allow it, will guide us all home someday.
Some of you may have come across either one of the two things I’d like to share before closing today. One is an email reflection written in memory of the children in Newtown that has been making the rounds. The other is a video that, when I watched it, made me think on the Newton children because they are around the same age. I hope they will bless you as they have me.
Peace be with you and may your Christmas be merry, bright and extraordinarily meaningful this year…
Memorial to Newton, CT, children (by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, Pa.)
T’was 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38
when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven’s gate.
Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
They were filled with such joy, they didn’t know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
“Where are we?” asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
“This is heaven,” declared a small boy, “we’re spending Christmas at God’s house.”
When what to their wondering eyes did appear
but Jesus, their savior. The children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then He opened His arms and He called them by name.
And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring.
Those children all flew into the arms of their King.
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
one small girl turned and looked at Jesus’ face.
And as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, “I’ll take care of mom and dad.”
Then He looked down on earth, the world far below
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe
Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
“Let My power and presence re-enter this land!
“May this country be delivered from the hands of fools.
I’m taking back my nation. I’m taking back my schools!”
Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
“Come now my children let me show you around.”
Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran,
all displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
“In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT.”