By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published February 7, 2019 | En Español
Each year at our archdiocesan Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. youth event, the performance of the kindergarteners from St. Thomas More School captures the hearts of the audience members. Even as they demonstrate all the traits and antics one expects from a group of precocious 5-year-olds, these youngsters are charming in their innocence. Even more profoundly, though, they offer us a hopeful glimpse into the meaning of Dr. King’s dream that pointed toward a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
These youngsters represent an image of a world we long for, with their openness to a united common future and their obvious love for one another. We all need images like these to offer hope to our hearts, so often dispirited by the hatred that seems to dominate social media. They are the very picture of innocent promise, and they help to reassure us that the future is not lost.
When we consider the power of images on our hearts and minds, we need look no further than the commercials that air during the Super Bowl. Often as memorable as the game itself, these 30-second snippets of amiable, funny, poignant and memorable promotion are designed by the wizards of Madison Avenue and beyond not merely to sell beer, chips and trucks, but to leave a lasting impression on us. They teach us through the power of visual display, and occasionally they succeed in inspiring us to hope and lift our hearts. They, too, can help to counter the endless images of violence, hate and intolerance that flood social media.
These ads are clearly secular in content. They are neither religiously inspired nor doctrinally driven, but they often do appeal to our better selves. They may be intended ultimately to help sell a product, but we often feel better about ourselves, our society and our country after we see them.
Such corporate images can sometimes anger folks. Several years ago, General Mills aired a commercial depicting a biracial family in which a little girl poured Cheerios over her napping father to “protect his heart.” General Mills received a number of hostile responses from people who disapproved of the image of a happy biracial family. Thanks be to God, General Mills did not relent and, in fact, aired other spots featuring this same family. Even corporations understand that our society needs positive images to advance us as a people—despite the objections of those whose hearts may have grown bitter, threatened and intolerant.
Our church needs to make better use of such images to advance our Christian values, joy and principles. St. John Paul II mastered and Pope Francis continues the art of providing images that inspire, charm and encourage us. John Paul would regularly wear the headgear of the native peoples he visited. At the youth event in the St. Louis hockey arena during his 1999 pastoral visit, he used his cane in a slap-shot gesture to the delight of the young people in attendance and hockey fans everywhere. Those images evoked his humanity and the depth of his Christian joy.
Pope Francis allows babies to pinch his nose, lets youngsters sit in his papal chair and kisses countless infants that are thrust into his arms at papal events. These images bring the papacy into a warm relationship with people everywhere.
Those precious kindergarteners at St. Thomas More School, the inspiring and motivating Super Bowl commercials, the warmth and humility of the Holy Father—disparate and seemingly unrelated images that all provide glimpses into the people of joy and hope that we are called to be!