SCRIPTURE READINGS: [JUDGES 13:2-7,24-25; LUKE 1:5-25]

In both scripture readings today, we have two couples who were childless.  In those days, it was deemed a curse to be without children.  A woman who was married and unable to conceive was considered to be less than a woman.  It was such a humiliation.  Having a child was always considered to be God’s blessing.  The more children the woman had, the greater the blessings of God.  In fact, to be barren was more than just being childless; it was a symbol of the lack of life and fertility.  Therefore, the barrenness of the two couples were also indicative of the spiritual impoverishment of the people of Israel. They were lacking a real relationship with the Lord, which led to the misery and sufferings of the people.  Without God, they led a life contrary to the commandments of God and found themselves divided and not able to withstand their enemies.

Why were children considered a great blessing of God?  Firstly, in the time of the Old Testament, the idea of resurrection was still not in the mind of the Israelites.  They thought that with their death, they entered into nothingness.  So children were the extension of what they believed and who they were.  They immortalized the life of their parents.  They perpetuated the legacy of their parents.  This was true in many races as well.  Parents found their fulfillment and place in their children.  Children often took after the trade or profession of their parents.  That is why many parents prefer male children to continue their family name.

Secondly, children were their insurance for old age.  The elderly were well looked after because their children lived with them even when they were married.  This provided financial stability for the family.  Most of all, they would be well looked after in their old age. However, it is also good to note that in the bible, 70 years was considered a long life.  It was a blessing to live until 70 years because most died much younger because of poor healthcare.

However, if we see children in this way, then we have a very narrow and self-centered view of the reason why God gives us children.  Of course, when God gives us children, they are meant to help us to grow in love and find meaning as we care and nurture them.  Nevertheless, our children are not our property to be used for ourselves.  They are not to be seen as our social security or even as an investment for our old age.  We do not own our children.  This is unfortunately the attitude of most parents.  They think their children belong to them and they own them.  If they are our property, we can do with them as we like.  We can order them to do things to satisfy our interests and our needs.  But when we treat them as such, they become more like our slaves than our children.

The truth is that children primarily belong to God. “Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”  (Ps 100:3)  Parents must be reminded that the children that God gave them do not belong to them.  We all belong to God.  Parents are just guardians on behalf of God to help them grow to become true children of God.  God entrusts the children to our care so that we can look after them, help them to grow and fulfil their vocation in life.  In his encyclical, Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI wrote, “it is the design of God that man develops and fulfills himself, for life itself is a vocation.”  Our task as parents is not to impose our will and selfish ambitions on our children but to help them find their vocation in life so that they can serve God and humanity. Indeed, parents cannot be selfish and keep their children for themselves.

Our great joy as parents is to consecrate our children to God and to humanity.  This explains why in the Old Testament, parents had to offer the first-born child or even animal back to God.  In other words, they must be consecrated for God’s service. This was what Manoah and his wife did, and so did Zechariah and Elizabeth when they gave birth to Samson and John respectively.  Manoah and his wife were told, “Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s Nazirite from his mother’s womb.”  A Nazirite is one who takes a vow to dedicate himself for the service of God.

In fact, the angel told them of God’s mission for their children.  God has a plan for everyone of us as He did for Samson and John the Baptist.  Samson was to begin the process of rescuing “Israel from the power of the Philistines.”  In those days, the Philistines were the strongest warriors as they were more numerous and had better weapons.  They were the major enemy of Israel and a threat to them.  Of course, only during the time of David, the Philistines were crushed completely.  (cf 2 S Sm 8)  But it was important that Samson began the task of fighting against the Philistines.  So too, the angel told Zechariah of the mission of John the Baptist.  “He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.”  It is important to take note that their mission was not for themselves but for the good of the people of God and humanity.  They were not chosen even for the sake of their parents or to serve them.  Rather, the parents were to offer them for the service of God.

Clearly, God has a mission for each one of us in life.  We all have our vocation.  A vocation means that it is a call from without, a call from God.  Self-fulfillment in life can only be found in God who is the ultimate goal of every human person.  To fulfill ourselves, we must seek to do what the Lord has planted in our hearts.  Indeed, we read that “the child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him in the Camp of Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”   That God stirred the heart of Samson is what a vocation is all about because He has planted in us a desire to do something.  That is why we speak of a calling, a call that comes through circumstances, hereditary gifts, existential needs, talents and the cry from without.  If this is one’s call, then the individual must respond accordingly. The parents’ task is to discern with their children to answer to the voice of God.

This is where parents must be God-fearing themselves, like the two couples in today’s scripture readings.  Parents must have faith in God.  Unless parents are God-fearing and see themselves as being entrusted with the responsibility of raising their children to serve God and humanity, they will only mold their children to be self-centered, caring only for themselves, making themselves rich and successful.  Most parents want their children to do well, which means getting a prestigious job that pays well and can benefit themselves.  But vocation and self-fulfillment come from fulfilling God’s will and His divine plan for us.  All vocation is at the service of His people.  It is in giving ourselves according to our talents and charism that we find our happiness in life.

We must be ready to sacrifice our children for the service of God and humanity so that they can find their fulfillment and happiness.  Let our children be a blessing to us by being a blessing to the world.  The greatest pride parents could have is to see their children making a difference in the lives of others.  With the psalmist we all can say, “My lips are filled with your praise, with your glory all the day long. ”  There is no greater joy in life than to know that our children are continuing our spirit of giving, serving and loving God and our fellowmen.  This is the key to fullness of life, otherwise we are short-changing their happiness.

When we help our children to realize themselves, they too will be grateful to God and to us.  They too can make this prayer their own.  “It is you, O Lord, who are my hope, my trust, O Lord, since my youth.  On you I have learned from my birth, from my mother’s womb you have been my help. I will declare the Lord’s mighty deeds proclaiming your justice, yours alone.  O God, you have taught me from my youth and I proclaim your wonders still.”  They will thank us for giving them not just a life or an academic degree but most of all, teaching them to live their life to the fullest.

There is also a warning that we will be struck dumb if we fail to help our children to find their vocation in life.  Like Zechariah, he was struck dumb because he failed to trust in God’s power and ability to do good.   The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.”   Let us not be silent but be able to sing praise to God and our fellowmen because our children have become a blessing to the world.  In this way, their birth into this world would not be a life given in vain but life-giving to others.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.