The following homily was delivered at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at St Gerard’s Parish, Dandenong North, on Sunday 16 October.

It is only every now and then that children get a mention in the Bible, and then it is usually not a personal mention. Children tend to get mentioned when caught up in some event—for example, the innocent children slaughtered by Herod—or they get named in a family ancestry, such as the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

There is one obvious exception to this relative silence about children in the story of our faith—and that is Jesus. He seems to have been incapable of not drawing everyone’s attention to the kids. He pointed them out as the model inheritors of God’s kingdom; he invited them into his circle of friends; he told us adults to be like them; he condemned those who sinned against them.

In the ancient Roman world of the time of the early Church, children were barely acknowledged, and then only for the utility that they might bring to a family in preparation for adulthood. It is striking, therefore, to hear of St Paul’s words to the young man, Timothy, as we did in today’s second reading. Let me repeat what we heard Paul say to Timothy: ‘Remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures.’

There is something really beautiful—and quite unlike the times—about this acknowledgement of Timothy’s childhood by Paul. It is a tender moment of recognition, and an important acknowledgement of how faith played a crucial part in Timothy’s youth. There is an implied sense of gratitude for Timothy’s parents—or some close adult—who must have passed on the Good News of Jesus Christ to him as a boy, and there is a recognition by Paul of what Timothy, as a boy, had received from and learnt to live by the Word of God. This is a reminder of what was once said centuries before in the Psalms: ‘Out of the mouths of children and babes, you [God] fashioned praise to foil your enemies’ (Psalm 8.2).

It has always been a feature of our Christian faith that the formation of our children has resided primarily with the family to which they belong. In the early Church, whole households would come to belief in Jesus Christ together. What was accepted and committed to by the parents would be offered to their children. The same is the case today. Formation in the faith, and growing in discipleship, is meant to especially happen in the family home.

Yes, we can rightly draw on institutions like parishes and schools to foster and assist in this formation. And it is the responsibility of parishes and schools to do this well and faithfully. Nonetheless, it is around the kitchen table, or in the living room, or from the front to the back seats of the car, that the story of Jesus Christ, and his saving place in our lives, might best be shared with our kids. Prayer at home, teachable moments in the back yard, the witness of mum or dad of charitable outreach, the acts of reconciliation and forgiveness—these are all the ordinary and intimate ways in which our children will learn to love Jesus, who has always loved them.

As a parish named after one of the great saints who is especially known for his outreach to infants and children, St Gerard Majella, may you grow in witnessing to the fostering of that gift of faith which brings our young ones to life in Christ. It was the mothers of Italy who took Gerard to their hearts and made him their patron. May he now find his way into the life of your parish, that your children may find their way to God.

Image: Adam van Noort, Christ blesses the children, 1581–1641, oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.