Henry was what many people would call a “loser.” For most of his life his mother could barely take care of herself so Henry had passed through a series of foster homes. Today he was scheduled to appear in juvenile court for shoplifting. As it turned out, Henry wasn’t actually a very good thief. 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 (alternate first reading: Sir 3:2-6) probably wouldn’t have meant much to Henry. His father had been only a somewhat shadowy figure in his life at best. Foster fathers had tried, but their attempts at discipline had usually just managed to push Henry farther away until, frustrated, they gave up and Henry ended up back in the system. It seemed that nothing ever went right for Henry.
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 Henry, rather than down at his papers or in the general direction of Henry’s court-appointed attorney, when he spoke. No one in Henry’s entire life had ever looked at him quite this way. What’s more, while Henry’s mumbled responses to the judge’s questions were barely audible, the man actually seemed to hear him.
I cannot say what will happen as a result of Henry’s brief encounter with likely the first adult in his short life to actually treat him with anything even remotely resembling respect. We can only pray that any spark of hope struck in Henry today won’t be snuffed out before it has a chance to take hold. Henry doesn’t know much about a father’s love, but that’s never stopped God before.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Henrys out there, and not every judge is like this one. Henry has encountered the love of God in this courtroom, but what will happen to him tomorrow? If society turns its back on Henry and those like him, who will hear the prayer in their silence?
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.