Encouraging Children in Spiritual Pursuits

LMS Pilgrims at the site of the Holy House in Walsingham on Sunday, picture by Joseph Shaw

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. ~ Rev 3:15-17
As a father and in my role as a parish catechist for many years, I have found that young people quickly reject anything inauthentic and long for authenticity. I suppose it has long been demonstrated that young people especially are looking for a "peg" on which to hang their identity. An essential part of being a parent is ensuring that the environment which forms them is a positive rather than a negative one. My own experience of youth ministry is that it tends to appeal to a certain kind of young person. It can be very clicky and if you don't fit in, you are quickly put on the outside and a very worthy "spiritual" reason given, which can be utterly devastating for the young person involved.

In this context, I found this post from Joe Shaw very good. I remember when I started really looking for answers about my faith. At the age of about 20 the post-concilliar Catholic faith was what I had grown up with and although I would say I had a relationship with God, I was fairly convinced the Church was wrong about almost everything. In the absence of any teaching, although I had been through the youth service, a Catholic school education and sacramental preparation, I had formed my opinions at adds with Catholic teaching and by virtue of secular culture.
Confession? Nope.
Mass? Rarely.
Sin? A lot.
Other religions? Intermittently.

I had a friend who had a Baptist background and he started vehemently attacking Catholicism (his direction of attack was largely inspired by Jack Chick perhaps not directly, but I would definitely say Jack Chick would be a good summary of the kind of things he believed about the Catholic Church).

I wasn't hugely bothered, but some of the accusations he made were so outrageous, they sent me to the (then nascent) internet in search of verification. One of the first places I found on-line was Beliefnet. At the time it had discussion forums for a wide range of different faiths and I joined the Catholic one to find some answers to the questions (or more properly accusations) my friend had asked/ levelled. I remember that when I joined I was sure I knew everything there was to know about being Catholic, but immediately found I knew absolutely nothing. I found myself embroiled in discussions where I tried to argue against Catholic doctrine with my subjective secular neo-pagan, new age "wisdom" and was constantly blown out of the water. It stung, but it also captivated me. Why? Because I realised for the first time how much more there was to the Catholic faith than I had been taught - and it made sense - a lot of sense - certainly a lot more sense than the hazy secular relativism I had adopted. Most importantly, I discovered that embracing my Catholic faith constituted more than anything else a lifelong pursuit of beauty, truth, justice, honour and integrity. It struck me as a journey towards the truth of what it means to be a human person, alive and living in community with others. It is not a way of being but a way of training. This started me on a voyage of discovery which provided the answers to questions I had actually (all but) left the Catholic Church seeking.

The point being, despite knowing a number of priests personally growing up, despite going to Mass every Sunday until I was in my very late teens/ early twenties, I had not engaged with my faith in terms of connecting praxis with my beliefs. What I mean is, I believed in God, but did not believe in the Catholic Church. Catholicism in the 1970's and 1980's seemed insipid, remote, irrelevant to me. It certainly wasn't beautiful or powerful. It was the domain of old ladies and I certainly knew better than them!

I have some recollection of my trying to take the faith seriously at some point growing up. I remember we were fortunate enough to have daily Mass at our school and I went every day for a good while, but the priests (we had a Jesuit chaplain) ridiculed my devotion and my peers found it amusing. There was no culture to allow my young self to develop as a Catholic, no encouragement, no environment conducive to Catholic flourishing.

Joe speaks to this eloquently in his post:
When young Catholics ask what resources the Catholic Tradition might have which would help them in living with the accelerating melt-down of ordinary social norms, because they want to live in decency and raise children formed in purity, the Catholic ‘mainstream’ has nothing to say. Actually, it is worse than that: too often it is implied that it is improper even to ask such a question.
Why should it be amusing or ridiculous to seek virtue? To value honour? Integrity? Beauty? Young people often harbour idealistic visions of life and relationships which have yet to be tempered by the bitter realities of experience. And yet are these well ordered instincts not to be nurtured and encouraged? Isn't that what we should be doing as parents? If our children find the beauty & grandeur of the Tridentine Mass attractive, are those not virtues we should encourage, are those attractions not, in fact, well ordered? I think they are!

Look at the literature being studied by your teens in school right now. Are the stories about heroism, honour, integrity? Or are they about sex, death, depravity, rejection of God, betrayal? Our culture seeks to corrupt our children from a very early age, should we be so quick to allow them to "grow up"? Pop music and culture encourages depravity and condemns chastity and virtue; it advocates an abandonment and individualism which can only lead to a spiralling animalism.

Joe speaks as an experienced father when he writes this about the kind of intensity we see when our children pursue something:
Actually, these young people are often people who have changed, who have struggled with temptation, who have resolved to live a life at odds with the expectations of the modern world out of respect for the teaching of the Church. Yes, they are imperfect, and they suffer from the lack of formation common in our parishes and schools. But they are the ones who are trying to think things through and do better. If you see young Catholic women wearing mantillas, or young Catholic men even going to church on a Sunday, you are looking at people who are almost certainly scorned by their work colleagues, their college contemporaries, and quite possibly their parents, for taking the Catholic Faith seriously. It is depressing to see self-described Catholic moderates joining the pile-on.

If you think they’ve got in wrong, point them towards resources which will help them. If you think they shouldn’t be allowed to discuss issues which make you feel uncomfortable, then you are part of the problem.
This is what we need as parents; we should not discourage our children from being the best they can be in spiritual pursuits as well as sporting and academic ones.


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