24 July 2009

Sharon on Instructing the Youth

My lovely wife Sharon called me at work to make some observations about the content of this week's St. Louis Review. She was particularly motivated by a sidebar to a story written by the inestimable Jennifer Brinker (this isn't about the writing, Jen, so don't hate!) on the Steubenville conference. The topic of the sidebar was this: "How to Help Your Teen Grow in Faith."

Sharon had her own ideas, and thought I should post on the subject. Well, as I was at work and would never let this blog interfere with my mail route, I said, "How 'bout you?"

And so, here it is, courtesy of Sharon:


So I was reading today's issue of the Review as I ate lunch and came upon the article For Parents: How to help your teen grow in faith. As a parent of a soon-to-be-driving teen (please pray for us!) and a nearly teen, I thought I would see how my attempts in this area stack up to the recommendations of Catholic youth ministers.

Though I agreed with their main points, I must say I was disappointed in the ways they recommended to implement these suggestions. They seemed rather shallow or not specific enough to get the job done. And their overall answer to everything seemed to be “have them participate in youth groups” or “send them to youth conferences.” Now don’t tell me that these groups have been wonderful for your teens. I don’t doubt that they have helped some teens. But it seems to me that, though teens often get swept up in the moment and become more excited about their faith, these “gains” are usually just based on emotions and not built upon a solid religious foundation that will enable them to “grow” a strong faith.

So for those parents looking for more concrete ways to help your children grow in their faith, these are some of the things we’re doing to help our children get to heaven.

1. Put faith first. Family life should reflect how important the Catholic faith is to us. Yes, Mass should take precedence over outside activities (as recommended in the article), but parents should consider attending more frequently -- say, make First Fridays, First Saturdays, Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotions together as a family. The Catholic Faith should be part of our homes. Have a home altar or hang religious art throughout the house. That way the children, and also visitors to our homes, have no doubt that our Catholic Faith is important to our family.

2. Engage in conversation. Talk about your faith with your children, as the article advises. But it’s important that children really know about their faith (and not just that we go to church on Sundays) and why our family is Catholic and not Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, or Methodist. (No offense, Methodist Jim!) Learn more about the Catholic faith yourself and share what you’ve learned with your children. It may even encourage them to study on their own. Discuss Father’s sermon over lunch on Sunday. Talk about current events and how it fits with your faith. Children should learn why the Church takes the stands it does and how everything fits with God’s plan.

3. Do charitable work as part of family life. Help in a soup kitchen, mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor, help clean the church, make a meal for a new mother or sick friend. Practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as a family, and your children will probably continue this practice on their own.

4. Pray. Pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, any of the numerous Litanies, Morning Offering, the Angelus, Lauds, Compline … the list goes on and on. Or attend Adoration. Do this as a family so it will become a natural habit for your children as they grow up.

5. Encourage your sons to become servers. Serving at Mass can bring your son closer to Jesus, both physically and mentally. And those who serve for the Extraordinary Rite seem to see the connection to the priesthood and have a beautiful reverence for the Eucharist.

OK, I’ll step off my soapbox for now. If you have any other suggestions, please pass them along. I need all the help I can get!


Evann said...

Right on target, Sharon! Basically, if it is not happening in the home, youth groups are not going to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I could possibly add to this not surprisingly well-written article, would be to point out that which is implicit in all that you have noted - Family.

We (and possibly theTimman)as parents through our constant (and lengthy)interaction with our children form the catechesis which persists.


Methodist Jim said...

No offense taken Sharon.

By the way, it is nice to read a well-written post on this site for a change.

(Just kidding Timman. But she definitely writes better than Chesterton.)

thetimman said...

My wife wants to know why my daughter gets represented by a picture of Audrey Hepburn while she gets stuck with Japanese anime.

Some people. You just can't please them.

Latinmassgirl said...


Your suggestions are very good. It sounds like we are still right on the mark with our decision to not subscribe to the Review.

About serving . . .
We recently had a story that is similar to the one you had years ago with your son. Our eldest son is starting to serve now at the Latin Mass and knowing our seven year old wants to do everything he does, I told him that he would be serving in a couple of years as well.

Instead of being happy, he looked at me quizzically and said,"No, mama, I can't serve, because I'm not going to be a priest when I grow up."

Now, if that isn't an excellent argument against girl servers, and for the Latin Mass, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Please edit this piece and submit it to the REGISTER as an editorial or to some other Catholic publication. It would do a great deal of good if distributed widely. Father M.

Sister said...

As a religious working with youth, if the parents are not the primary teachers and dispensers of the faith, no matter what is presented to them, the best of teaching, it will fall on rocky soil and only by the grace of God will it take root.
Very well said by someone (Sharon a mother) who truly understands what being Catholic and what is the most important part - that of living the faith. I was drawn to the church because I saw the faith being lived out in so many families growing up...but primarily because of the grace of God to see this and respond.

Shelly Fravala said...

Sharon, I agree. Generally speaking, there tends to be a mindset in youth ministry that we must appeal to a teen's emotional side first and foremost because teens like loud music, running around, giggling, and silliness. While as any good marketer will tell you, you need to know your audience, he would also know that if you want to have your audience respond to a call to action (as Christ asks of all of us in the Gospel), you have to teach them!

Teens need more than loud music. While this is a wonderful fun and social activity. It isn't Sacred Music. They need to experience periods of silent prayer along with the instruction on how this brings one closer to God. They need to be celebrated for their youth, but taught that as they age, their maturity and emotions change... so should their faith grow!

While appealing to emotions may look great with lasers, it is temporary. Emotions are events that come and go, and change over time. Youth ministers need to know that "being a big-kid" with their teens isn't what teens need. They need a role model who will show them the way, someone who will give them the tools and not just the decibels, who will not just walk along side them in their journey, but to walk ahead and lead the way.

We as adults, parents, teachers or youth ministers cannot give what we don't have. We must not only attend the sacraments, we must love, understand and evangelize on the profound realities we celebrate in the sacraments. We cannot be afraid to speak the truth or challenge teens to reach the raised-bar even if it is hard, or... not what the culture would say is cool or something the teens don't want or won't do. There is objective truth. There is a 2000 year tried and true Tradition because Christ made it so! Just because they are teens doesn't mean that they can't handle the deep doctrine of the faith. As knowledge of development shows us, the younger we are, the more we can absorb. That's why we tell parents to teach second languages earlier rather that later. Kids are sponges. Why not treat youth ministry as an opportunity let teans soak up the faith intellectually. They are build for it. Wouldn't a foundation in faith of knowledge and love be more lasting than a foundation in emotional appeals and loud music? Teens have enough friends. They need holy, challenging teachers. And teens do respond to this sort of leadership. I know. I have seen it first hand. They want so much more, but don't always know how to ask for it. As adults we should know what they need and appeal to that more than what we think the want.

HSMom said...

Timman, you need a "like" button on your blog like Facebook has. ;)

We're not there yet (teen years), but it's never too early to heed such solid, practical advice.

Very well said, Sharon.

Peggy said...

I acho and had the same initial thought as Sharon: the family must be at the center of educating, rearing children in all aspects of life, be it instilling the faith or correcting behavior problems, minor and severe. We just can't send our kids off to others to "fix them." We have to be at the center of that activity with our children--well, w/Jesus as the spiritual center of course. This approach is the basis for a concept called attachment parenting which Catholic therapist Greg Popcack (spelling?) and even secular (not explicitly Christian) professionals have come around to. These secular professionals have centered on dealing with children with attachment issues/disorders, owing to starting off in neglect/abuse, being adopted and to create that attachment between parents and children to repair/overcome the damage to the children and create the safe loving environment. Further, the secular professionals also frequently noted that the children need to obtain moral teaching from parents. Popkack isn't trying to do reparative work in the first instance, but has firm views on primacy of parents, of course as a Catholic professional. It's all been very helpful to us in our reparative work with our adopted boys.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Excellent suggestions. I would also share that the teenagers in my catechism class really enjoyed a retreat that the leaders put together just for them. At first, they were hesitant, but once the day got underway, they were willing to put away their cell phones and other distractions in favor of a day of faith formation. I would not have thought that they would have become so involved, but clearly they looking for ways to deepen their faith and will open up to it in the right environment. I think your suggestions can help to create that kind of environment.

Anonymous said...

This is very progressive of you. Letting Sharon teach her wisdom on your blog. Next you’ll be advocating for women lead homilies!!!


Anonymous said...

Bless you

Anonymous said...

Good suggestions. However, I would encourage my daughters to serve as well. They are just as worthy as the boys down the street, and serving in this role helps to bring them closer to the holiness Christ calls them to.


thetimman said...

Lee, I appreciate your view, but it isn't a question of one's inherent "worthiness" when it comes to liturgical roles. The presence of altar girls, I believe, has done great harm to the cause of priestly and religious vocations. First, the presence of girls tends to depress the number of boys who want to serve-- at a certain age, boys are more focused on cooties to see the higher calling. Secondly, it sends the subtle message to girls that they can be "little priests", just like the boys. And then, why not real priests. And yet it is ontologically impossible for them to have a priestly vocation.

Which of course then leads to the conclusion that it is not leading them to the holiness Christ calls them to.

I write the above with some trepidation, as I don't wish to offend. Undoubtedly you and your daughters would have them serve with the best of intentions and without any designs on storming the priesthood. But the general effect of altar girls is the point. And certainly, the fact that many good Catholic parents are encouraging their daughters to serve is a sign of the confusion I note above.

Anonymous said...


Let's get something straight. No altar server is a "little priest," whether the server is male or female. Only priests ordained by a bishop are priests, and no altar server had better be given the idea that he's been ordained by a bishop. We're talking primarily about children here. Good faith formation will ensure that children don't confuse themselves with grown-ups who have completed many years of theology and the like. They're on the road to holiness, we hope, even as children, but they are not "little priests," and they shouldn't be encouraged to think they are, regardless of gender.

Second, I know of no canonical movement or principle that has anything to do with "cooties," or a child's desire to stay away from that which he (or his culture, sadly) deems uncool. We don't ban girls from serving as altar servers because boys are afraid of them or don't find them cool. That's your cultural problem, and maybe your son's as well (I don't know them, so I won't assume), but it has very little to do with Christ or Christian good will.

Possibly it is not the "many good Catholic parents" who are confused, but you -- for embracing a boy's aversion to serving alongside a girl instead of teaching him about how boys and girls, men and women, can get along and work together in the service of the Lord.


thetimman said...

Thanks, Lee, I am so glad that my fears of causing offence were unfounded.