Carl Hunley, Jr./unsplash.com
Carl Hunley, Jr./unsplash.com
Every Christmas my son and his family drive from North Carolina to spend Christmas and the following week with us, and after every visit I am left with an invaluable gift of inspiration for the New Year from one of my granddaughters.

On the day before they were scheduled to go home this year, my 9-year-old granddaughter returned from visiting a family friend with her mom and dad and sisters, ran into the house and threw her arms around my neck for a bear hug as I sat in the recliner.

The friend had recently moved into a lovely new home and it was the first time my granddaughter had seen it. “Did you like Katie’s new house?” I asked her.

“Yes, it was nice,” she replied, “but I like your house better.”

“Why do you like this house better?” I asked.

“Because you are in it,” she replied, squeezing me tighter.

I could feel the tears welling up and my face contorting to hold them back. Often, I feel I am not worthy of such love, so her words lift my spirit and brighten those moments of darkness that sometimes plague each of us, moments when hope seems elusive.

I imagine it’s the kind of thing we would hear God say to us, if we actually listened, awakening our memories of who we really are – God’s beloved who carry the divine spark within us.

Looking back over the past two years of living through a pandemic, it seems that spark has dimmed for many. In a contentious world, marred by animosity and downright hatred, the world appears to be growing dark and her people losing sight of their nobility and value as God’s children.

How many times, I thought, do I, do we, pass up the opportunity to remind others of just how much they are loved and treasured, by us and by God? How would the world, our Church, our families, be different if we did?

I remember a story from a World Youth Day some 20 years ago. Young people were, at times, given the floor to share the graces they felt they had received from their experience.

A young woman, probably in her 20s, came to the microphone and said, “World Youth Day saved my life.”

She explained that she had been homeless and living on the streets since she was 15 years old, had become an addict, alcoholic and a prostitute. “I am dying and was about ready to end it all,” she said.

She recalled how the kids from the parish youth group took her in, cleaned her up and invited her to go to Toronto with them. “And here, I’ve met an old man who has changed my life,” she acknowledged. “This old man told me he loved me. … He told me God loved me, and that I’m actually God’s work of art. He told me that the God who made all the stars actually knows my name. He told me God enjoys me so much he wants me to spend eternity with him, and that he sent his Son, Jesus, to help me get there. This old man told me I actually share God’s own life deep inside of me. This old man makes sense. This old man got through to me. I now want to live.”

The old man to whom she was referring was Pope John Paul II, who had a remarkable ability to renew hope and help people know and believe how much they are loved by God, and one of the most remarkable truths of our faith, which this Pope, now a saint, reminded us of, is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, who abides in us and we in him.

One of the youth who attended that special day, shared something he learned. “I was encouraged to treat myself with dignity and respect because God lived in me. It reminds me even today, that if God lives in each person, I must treat them the same.”

Mary Clifford Morrell is the author of “Things My Father Taught Me About Love” and “Let Go and Live: Reclaiming your life by releasing your emotional clutter.”