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Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Complex and Troublesome Problem

  In the past week there was another school shooting. It took place in the state of Washington.  Also there were reports of young Americans joining with ISIS terrorists.  What do both of these situations have in common?  Troubled youth.

   Please don't get me wrong.  I am not offering excuses for this kind of behavior.  By the time these things happen the perpetrators need to be prosecuted.  What I am suggesting is that we need to look into the causes that lead a young person to want to join terrorist groups that hate their own country or commit senseless violence against their peers and in many cases against themselves.  Hopefully we can do a better job of spotting trouble before it happens and get the kind of help that is needed.

   One problem is that there is no one size fits all explanation.  In many cases there is a lack of a solid family life in a loving home.  In many cases as well the young person is a type of loner or suffers from mental illness.  There are some cases however where the individual involved and the family seem to be just fine but there is nonetheless anger and rage seething below the surface.

   I believe that careful study needs to be done by competent people and better programs of intervention need to be established in schools.  I think that churches can be a big help in spotting troubled families and offering programs both spiritual and emotional to help them.  The churches, even more importantly, can lead the way be praying for the healing of our young people. I also think that we need to ask why so many minors can easily get their hands on guns.  No, I'm not talking about gun control laws or changing the second amendment but something has changed since I was a teenager.  I do remember a few kids who carried knives but I didn't even have a clue as to where I could purchase a gun. 

   I'm sure that there are many other things that can be offered to improve this troubling situation. I'm also aware that realistically there will always be some kids that just can't be identified as problematic, but can we do a better job of prevention and intervention before kids want to join terrorist groups or shoot up a school?  I think we can.

   Lastly I don't want to give the impression that we have a generation of disturbed kids.  There are many wonderful young people whom we never hear about.  Just the other day 2 fine teenagers were honored before the second game of the World Series for essays they wrote in the Breaking Barriers essay contest sponsored by Major League Baseball.  One of them is the grandson of a good friend of mine. I'm sure that there are many more kids like them who will become our future leaders. May there be even many more.

  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

He Welcomes Sinners and Eats with Them.

  There has been a great deal of "buzz" these days about the message coming from the Synod of Bishops in Rome.   The secular media which quite frankly doesn't have a clue as to how things work in the Church has given their own "spin" to things and making it look like the Church has gone mad and is caving in to modern trends.   Others, reacting out of fear, suspect that this may be true.  I have seen homophobic ranting as well as virulent Catholic-hating comments regarding what has gone on.  With this in mind I offer some of my own thoughts.

   The Synod is not changing doctrine, but rather attitude.  It is not a new attitude but one that is encouraged by Jesus himself and for which Jesus received criticism from religious leaders.  In Luke 15:2 He is criticized for "welcoming sinners and eating with them."  In response to this criticism Jesus offers three different parables of mercy.  All too often we in the Church have been quick to label people and then to dismiss them. You're gay or you're divorced or an addict or something else becomes an excuse for dehumanizing people. It becomes away of saying "get lost."

   During 43 years of ministry as a priest and one as a deacon before that some of the most grace-filled moments that I have had both within the confessional and outside of it have come from encounters with people who fit one of the above-mentioned labels.  Their experience has been not one of rebellion but rather of struggle to maintain their faith while dealing with real-life situations that seem contrary to that faith.  I learned early on that simply quoting doctrine and morals to them right away does not work.  What does work is to walk with then and to validate their lived experience.  Validate does not necessarily mean condoning behaviors but it does mean understanding where they are coming from.  This was how Jesus worked.

   Way back in my seminary days there were several wonderful professors of moral theology who explained to us the difference between the teaching of the Church and the pastoral application of that teaching.  Pope Francis and the Synod are calling us back to that very important part of our tradition.

   I pray that all who read this will give some careful thought to this.  To assist in this endeavor I refer you to another and more well-known bog than mine. It contains quotes from Pope Francis' papacy and has the text of the "relatio" from the Synod.
                                                                                Whispers in the Loggia