Monday, 11 November 2019 15:08

Guardians of the Youth

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A young mother recently told me a story about her five year-old daughter. The little girl was reading a children's book with colorful pictures about dinosaurs. She asked, "Mom, is there like a zoo or something where we can go and see the dinosaurs?" Her mother laughed and said, "No, honey, dinosaurs are extinct." "Extinct, what does that mean?" "It means they're gone, they're dead, they all died." "What does dead mean?" "Well, it means you stop breathing, you die; all animals stop living at some point, they die." "Us, too?" "Yes, us too." "What happens then?" "We get buried in the ground and covered by earth." "Ah, okay." The little girl went on playing happily as if nothing had happened. 

Late that night her mother heard sounds of crying from her daughter's bedroom. She got out of bed and went to check on her. Between sobs, the little girl said, "Mommy, I don't want to die, I don't want to be buried in the ground." The girl's mother didn't know what to say. She is a non-believer. If you can't speak to your children about Christ crucified, you can't speak to them about Heaven and eternal life. 

After celebrating Mass on Ash Wednesday to a group of about 160 young people between the ages of 10 and 13, I was told I should have used the formula, "Convert, and believe in the Gospel," instead of saying, "Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return." Apparently, the phrase I used is too strong for children and young people. It seems "death" has been added to the list of taboo subjects. 

That same morning, a teacher in social ethics class raised the subject of sentiments and how we should express them and not repress them. In the course of the following conversation, several students opened up about their feelings to the point that, afterwards, in the school corridors, about a half a dozen students were crying. Other teachers thought the tears were provoked by my homily on Christ's response to the mystery of death. They reported me to the headmaster. Thankfully, the confusion was cleared up, and I was not forbidden from visiting the school to address the children. Not yet, anyway. 

On another occasion, that is exactly what happened. A fellow priest and I visited a class of about twenty-five boys of 13 and 14 years of age. We showed the boys a Catholic Stuff five-minute video about spiritual warfare. Then we asked them, "Would you say that there are forces out there in society that actively press you guys to make decisions that could ruin your lives, or is that video we've just seen about spiritual warfare way over the top, just hysterical scare-mongering?" The boys unanimously responded that yes, there are such forces in society. "Name some." One boy said alcohol abuse, another mentioned drugs, another mentioned gambling and a fourth, bullying. 

"All of those things are real dangers, I don't deny it, but there is another force out there that seems to me to be an even more immediate danger for you guys, and the fact that none of you has even mentioned it seems strange to me. It's a taboo subject that you're not allowed to talk about, and that makes it even more dangerous. You're not even aware of it." Intrigued, the boys tried to think of what it might be, but failed. I asked, "What about pornography?" The reaction was spontaneous and unanimous: "Of course, how come we didn't think of that!" Except for one boy at the back who didn't hear what I said and asked out loud, "What? What did he say?" I repeated, "Pornography," and he said, "Oh, yeah, yeah!" with such conviction that everyone laughed. 

Then I asked them, "In what way is pornography a force that could ruin your lives?" One boy answered, "It degrades women." Another said, "It creates addiction." I asked, "What does addiction mean?", with the intention of leading the conversation towards the discussion of freedom, true freedom and false freedom. We never got that far. The teacher jumped to his feet and shouted, "I'm taking back control of my class, I'm taking back control of my class!" 

He kicked us out. It was an all-boy religion class in a Catholic school. At 51 years of age, I got kicked out of class again. I asked him why. He said, "You were meant to talk about Jesus Christ; pornography has nothing to do with Jesus Christ." I said, "Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.'" He wasn't interested. That was the end of that. 

In the U.S. nowadays, the expression "snowflake generation" is becoming common. It means that parents raise their children nowadays (all one or two of them) telling them repeatedly that they are precious and unique and beautiful, like snowflakes. Only thing is, snowflakes immediately melt when they come into contact with hard reality. That is happening to young people too. Universities designate "Tenderness Zones" on campus where students can go and cry and be embraced and consoled (instead of attending class) when the wrong candidate gets elected president. Anti-depressant pills are prescribed in massive quantities as the "Index" of forbidden words gets longer and longer. I mean words like death, sacrifice, duty, obedience, virtue, purity, suffering, chastity and Christ crucified and carrying your cross. Are the "Guardians of the Youth" doing us or our children any favors? 

The first story I've just told above, the one about the little girl and the dinosaurs, happened in the United States. The second one, about Ash Wednesday, happened in Spain. The third one, about me getting kicked out of class, happened in Ireland. The following story also happened in Spain. 

A group of professional speakers paid by the local town council came to visit a high school to give the students, aged 10 to 16, a talk on sexuality. The talk was so extreme that one teacher stood up and said, "Enough". In Spanish, "Basta". She happened to be a leftist and non-believer. The speaker said to her sarcastically, "Lady, what century are you living in?" The parish priest got his hands on the materials being used by these people and invited a Catholic speaker approved by the local bishop to give a talk to the parents of the children in the parish who attend that same school. As soon as she began to speak, three parents got up and left. In the end, a group of parents and two teachers combined to ask the school headmaster not to invite these people to speak in the school again. Faced with a group of organized parents and teachers, the headmaster acquiesced. Not because he was convinced by what they said; he just didn't want problems. 

There are parents and teachers who organize themselves and decide to act. When they do that, things happen and they achieve results. There are also parents who refuse to send their children to Catholic summer-camps because it might be too tough for them. If they succeed in summoning the courage to send them, they suffer sleepless nights until the children come home, and call them so often during the day that they upset the children and prevent them from enjoying the camp and benefiting from it. 

How do we inject a certain healthy steeliness in our children, while at the same time offering security. How do we achieve that fine balance between protection so that they are not hurt and exposing them to risk so that they may grow? Invoke the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the best protection we can give them is to be tough and steely ourselves in the battle for their souls. 

How does God do things? We've had stories from the U.S., Spain, and Ireland. Now for one more, from France. Once upon a time, through the Archangel Saint Michael, God addressed these words to a 13-year-old peasant girl: "You must live differently because you are the one whom the King of Heaven has chosen to carry out the reparation of the kingdom of France... You will dress as a man and be a leader in war. All affairs of the kingdom will be governed by your counsel." She answered, "But I'm only a poor girl who doesn't know how to read a horse or command an army in battle." The little 13-year-old girl became Saint Joan of Arc. She saved France and was burned at the stake and enjoys great glory in Heaven. One way or another, that is what parents are called to, and one way or another, that is what their children are called to. Their destiny is glory, not extinction, and the way is the Way of the Cross.


Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".