Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: I Wonder

The kids were watching the movie Wonder, about a 10-year-old boy with severe facial deformities who is going to school for the first time. (Mother, played by Julia Roberts: "I can't keep homeschooling him!" Me: "Yes, you can.") Some of the kids at school are mean to him, openly mocking him with Star Wars-derived taunts such as "Barf Hideous". 

"Who would do that?" I said. "Nobody does that."

And then I thought about the boys in my confirmation class, and I had to backtrack, because just the other week I had to speak to several of them about making cruel remarks about people. They were under the impression that they were being very funny.

"Gentlemen," I said. "I can hear you. We do not speak about other people that way. It isn't befitting of their dignity as children of God, and it isn't befitting of you either. I'm not going to contact your parents this time, because I believe that you are old enough to correct yourselves, and that I won't hear anything else like this from you."

I think that the student offended against would have preferred me to make a more public example of the young men, but I explained that I followed the fine example of my father, who knew that a word in time was worth more than any amount of lecturing, and who trusted to the Holy Spirit to act upon the word that was planted.

The next week I wondered about this strategy. We were going to Confession as a class, and I challenged the class to sit in silence before the penance service began.

"How many of you have much silence in your lives?" I said. "Do you have what it takes to stop making noise, and listen to God?"

I've never had to separate so many people during a class period, and not only before the service but during it as well. The need to whisper, giggle, and poke each other carried through the confession lines and throughout the rows of kids doing their penances. I assume they comported themselves in the confessional, anyway.

This is not to say that all my kids are hooligans. In fact, there are quite a few who listen to me and seem to understand, and there is one young man who does quiet acts of service for me every week in a way that indicates that he's internalized the gospel and is living it out. But the majority do not seem to be moved by theological concepts, or interested in reading the Bible (or even capable of looking up a passage), or to realize that any part of the gospel message is directed at them, personally. There is no apathy like the apathy of the bored teenager.

I know that God loves these kids. I know that there is in each of them a spark of the divine, some aspect of God's creative love that is manifested uniquely in them. I've told them so, many times. But it's buried so deep in some people -- not just my kids in class, but in general. There are so many humans on this earth, and God loves each and every one of them personally. He delights in them. How can we uncover this delightfulness? How can we see what God sees? How can we help them see it for themselves? I've been reading through Exodus, and I feel a great affinity with Moses, interceding for a stiff-necked people, fickle, ungrateful, and unreflective.

Internet Catholics are not a homogenous lot, but we do have one thing in common: we care enough to read and write about the faith, and we have the ability to express ideas in words, in writing. I've been removed from the fever swamps of online discussion for the past few weeks -- hell, I've even been removed from the fertile valleys of discussion -- and, from laboring in the trenches with the Catholics who are my literal neighbors, I can say: whatever it is that the denizens of St. Blog's are e-debating, the people around me don't care. Your controversies are not their controversies. The battle lines drawn online mean nothing to the average Catholics in the pew. 

Not only that, but most people do not live the examined life. I know that having intellectual affinities doesn't make someone a better person -- I see smart jerks around, and intelligent people who have no moral sense. But at least in those cases you have the illusion that you can reason with such folk. I feel like the Holy Spirit has been putting me through a course in humility, so that I will realize that it is not my own erudition, personality, or presentation that will move my students. The battle belongs to the Lord.

 And the Holy Spirit's timeline is not my timeline. Most weeks my words seem ineffectual, and I have to trust that he will plant the seeds and nurture them, even if I never see a return. Likely I'll never know the future stories of the kids in my class, other than the few that I know personally, or whose parents I see around. 

In the meantime, unlike Julia Roberts, I'm fully prepared to keep homeschooling my own kids. I've had enough vicarious mean kids drama to last me a while.


Foxfier said...


Yeah, I can be pretty blunt when folks press too hard on the "properly socialized" thing for my kids. Apparently my mom had no idea what was going on at the high school, or it probably wouldn't be standing... and I had no idea it wasn't normal.

Jeffrey Kinney said...

Thanks for your articulation of the work of the common catechist. It's good to have high minded, broad discussions about our faith. But above all other things, the hard effort of planting seeds in rocky soil is what I see we are sorely lacking. Were that those who spend so much time discussing solutions come to do something. I grow too weary of waiting around for the 'right' youth director, pastor, DRE, etc. to allow me to jump in and serve the way I want to. God is calling us. Now. The ideal time or situation may never come, and each year, the children of God miss opportunities to learn of Him through me.