I am taking on a new endeavor this fall. I am going to be working with the Junior High kids at my parish in the EDGE ministry. The EDGE program (at least at my parish) is being based on the philosophies of the Salesian order and St. John (DON) Bosco. 2 Timothy 22-26 states:
So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart. Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.
This is some basic “biblical” teaching on how to approach teaching others, particularly in matters of faith. This is especially true with our youth. While many of them would not “return” to the devil’s snare (since they are quite young to be culpable for sin), they may be on their way to a sinful life. Many of the children are brought to youth groups as a “social” event. Their parents’ may think they are fulfilling parental duties (of teaching the faith) by dropping them off once a week to a youth group. It is our duty, to give the children a safe, loving, and caring environment, where we can hopefully plant a seed of faith into them.
We are following a method of teaching developed by St. Don Bosco. John Bosco was born in 1815 in Italy. His father died when he was only two years of age. He was raised by his mother Margherita , who taught him to see God in others such as the poor and homeless. At the age of nine, Don Bosco had the first, great dream which marked his entire life. He saw a multitude of very poor boys who play and blaspheme. A Man of majestic appearance told him, "With meekness and charity you will conquer these, who are your friends". And a Lady, just as majestic, added,"Make yourself humble, strong and robust. At the right time you will understand everything." In 1841, at the age of 26, he was ordained a priest after 6 intense years of seminary. He immediately hit the streets to find and help young boys such as the ones he dreamed of. He discovered many of the parish priests in the area understood the problem with the young boys in their town, but expected them to follow traditional parish catechism classes. This was the industrial revolution, so it was a dynamic time of change that was not always conducive to traditional catechesis. It was necessary to try new ways, to invent new schemes, to try another form of apostolate, meeting the boys in shops, offices, market places. Many young priests tried this. Don Bosco met the first boy on December 8, 1841. He took care of him. Three days later there were nine, three months later twenty five and in summer eighty. They were pavers, stone-cutters, masons, plasterers who came from far away places, he recalled in his brief Memoirs. Thus was born the youth centre (which he called oratorio). This was not simply a charitable institution, and its activities were not limited to Sundays. For Don Bosco the oratorio became his permanent occupation and he looked for jobs for the ones who were unemployed. He tried to obtain a fairer treatment for those who had jobs, he taught those willing to study after their days work. The oratorio, or as we call it: The oratory, is what we are trying to emulate in our youth group.
The Oratory is not just a place. It is not just the classroom, or the church, or the home, job, school, etc. It is all of these. The children will learn to LIVE the life of a Catholic. The method is actually of “lifestyle” of pastoring, mentoring, educating, and creating a spiritual heritage. As we begin to learn our new positions as catechists (we have until November when the kids will join us), we learn to understand that we are not spending a lot of time in front of the class lecturing. We need to get on their level, learn what interests them, what they are all about, and incorporating a simple cathecetical message into our interactions. While the kids may be not be able to rattle of huge chunks of the Catechism of the Catholic Church after a year, they may be so inclined to come back and open up a little more next year. If we can, by the grace of God, help to plant a seed of interest and love for our Lord and our Church, we can help to change their lives.
I hope and pray that we don’t forget our children in today’s fast paced world. Many households are forced to have Mom and Dad both working. With that, traffic, school, and everything else in life, we can loose our children in the mix. Pretty soon, we will realize that we never stopped to smell the roses. My Catholic church did not have much of a youth group when I was in Junior High. My parents probably would have had to drag me to it anyway. I joined a High School Group at a Community (protestant) Church at one point. God Bless those people, I made some great friends there during some rough times in High School. It did not, however, do anything at all for me spiritually. Apart from a few renditions of “Our God is an Awesome God”, we did not have much faith development. Probably a good thing, because it was not a Catholic Church. The point I am making, is that we have a duty to our children. We are responsible to put them on a path of righteousness. We can have a direct impact on their salvation. I don’t want to explain to St Peter, or even my wife a hundred years from now, why we a hanging out in Purgatory, and our children are in Hell…because we forgot to set them straight. Don’t let this happen. Be active in your church, or at least catechize your children. Do it for real! Not just a “token” dinner prayer, and a few trips to Mass. Talk, pray, make it a LIFESTYLE. Be Catholic first, then be American, a worker, a PTA mom, etc. 100 years after the death of John Bosco, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of "Father and Teacher of Youth" upon him. We could all take a lesson from him, and maybe ask him for help. For more information of St. Don Bosco go to http://www.dbpc.org/ABOUTSALE.html.