Twelve-year-old George was what many people would call a “loser.” Passed through a series of foster homes, this morning he was appearing in juvenile court for shoplifting. As it turned out George wasn’t actually a very good thief. He hadn’t learned yet about security cameras and alarm systems. But, depending on the outcome of this morning’s hearing, his education could be just beginning.
“God sets a father in honor over his children …” Sirach’s words probably wouldn’t have meant much to George. His father had been a shadowy figure in his life at best. Foster fathers had tried, but their attempts at discipline had pushed George farther away until they threw up their hands in frustration and George ended up back in the system.
It seemed that nothing in George’s life had ever gone right.
Nothing, that is, until today. Had anyone been looking when the judge entered the courtroom they would have seen something curiously different about the man. White haired and rather tall, the judge looked directly at George, rather than down at his papers or in the general direction of George’s court-appointed attorney, when he spoke. No one, in George’s short lifetime, had ever looked at him quite this way. What’s more, while George’s mumbled responses to the judge’s questions were barely audible, the man actually seemed to hear him.
I cannot say what happened as a result of George’s brief encounter. It probably was the first adult in his short life to actually treat him with anything resembling respect. We can only pray that any spark of hope struck in George won’t be snuffed out before it has a chance to take hold. George doesn’t know much about a father’s love, but that’s never stopped God before.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Georges out there, and not every judge is like this one. George had encountered the love of God in this courtroom, but what will happen to him tomorrow? If society turns its back on George and those like him, who will hear the prayer in their silence?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.