Babies and young children have been in the news this week – from the death of an infant in Upper Hutt sparking a homicide enquiry, to the forcible removal of children from their parents in a political stand on migration, to the happier news of the birth of the Prime Minister’s first child.  The horror and sadness of child abuse; the delight and joy of new birth.  And, our Mass today coincides with the theme, as we honour another birth, John the Baptist – admittedly one of the great figures in the Christian faith – but still a child being born, weak, vulnerable, totally dependent on parental support.

For parents who love and care for their children, neglect and cruelty of little ones are hard to imagine or understand; when we see the little ones here at Mass or hear their laughter in the playground, we can’t believe they could be harmed in any way.

Also today, we welcome members of the Order of Malta which has St John the Baptist as its patron.  The Order is not well known here but its 900-year history is rich with service to the weak and vulnerable, the sick and disabled.  John the Baptist is the ideal patron for this service.  He stands at the crossroads between the faith of people awaiting a promised Messiah who would bring healing and strength – open the eyes of the blind and set the downtrodden free – and the fulfilment of that promise in Jesus, who gave himself to children and to the poor, to the sick and to sinners.

The adult John would baptise Jesus and John’s martyrdom would launch Jesus into his mission to reveal the presence of God in the ordinariness of human life, and especially where there is hurt or sorrow, weakness or injustice.  The Order of Malta continues this mission, with both international and local projects, like our own group’s initiative in providing winter coats and shelter for Wellington’s homeless.

“What will this child turn out to be?” the neighbours wondered, as the parents chose the name ‘John’ for their son – a name foreign to the family tradition… And we all wonder what children will become as we gaze on their uniqueness, and marvel at their potential.

I’m greatly disturbed that so many little ones know fear before they know joy, are victimised and blamed for behaviour not their own.  In the spirit of the Order of Malta, you and I can identify with the vulnerable, holding them in prayer, becoming active in their defence, contributing to their welfare, supporting social service efforts to help dysfunctional families.  Supporting the DCM book fair is a simple but practical way of helping.

Our Eucharistic Prayer today asks God to “open our eyes to the needs of our sisters and brothers”.  What do your eyes see?

What will our children, the children of our nation, or any nation, turn out to be?  I remember, years ago, a 12-year old answering the question, What do you want to be when you grow up?  He said, Alive!  I thought the answer strange, at the time.